Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Healthy View of Yourself

I was reading of a story a missionary in the Sudan told of a meeting he was holding one day.  It was one of those places where the natives might or might not show up with clothes on.  But it was one prominent village elder's attire that really caught his eye.  Evidently the man had been rummaging through the missionaries trash and happened upon his wife's corset.  But don't get ahead of me.  To this man this fancy piece of clothing was not to be wasted wrapped around one's waist but worn on one's head like crown!  To make matters worse, this was all he felt necessary to wear to the meeting.  Of course, to the missionary this man had not impressed him with his fancy covering but merely became an object of pity and repulsion.

Now it isn't too difficult to see the similarity of such a story with what the natural man does when he thinks he can impress the Holy God with some good deed or religious ritual.  No matter how wonderful you think you are and how many "worthy" deeds you do in this life, in that great meeting, read Judgment Day, in the sky you will stand naked and ashamed unless you are clothed with the clothing given to us from God; the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

But perhaps there is a lesson for the saints as well.  Too often we soon lose that sense of need and unworthiness that we had when we first came to Christ.  We clean our lives up, memorize some Scripture, tithe and wear fancy suits and dresses to church and we begin to feel pretty smug about ourselves before the Lord.  We compare our "good" works with all the lost around us and fool ourselves into thinking that God has to be more than a little impressed with us.

Of course, by the time this happens we can be sure he is quite displease with our efforts.  Anything done without his glory in view out of thankfulness is no better than when the lost do it.  Isa. 64:6 reminds us of how God sees such activity, "We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away."  To parade our good works before the Lord is like wearing this on our heads!  It is no accident that the elders of Revelation 4 cast their crowns before the throne.  Whatever we do in this life is merely because it was given us from the Lord.

There is no doubt it is a struggle to serve the Lord without pride getting in the way; to walk humbling before him and others, always bearing in mind that I am nothing more than a sinner saved by grace.  It is easy to forget that without the imputed righteousness of Christ I would be walking around in all my naked sinfulness and not only would I not have enough sense to be ashamed but I would be proud of myself.  So let us preach the gospel to ourselves daily.  When we see some poor soul lost in his sins and doing some evil thing that disgusts us let not our first thought be how awful they are but let us think of ourselves first and praise God for loving us while we were yet sinners; "There but for the grace of God go I".  Perhaps we will walk more humbly, love more intensely and serve more effectively.


  1. I would agree with much of what you said, except this:

    "Judgment Day you will stand naked and ashamed unless you are clothed with the clothing given to us from God; the righteousness of Jesus Christ."

    Where does Scripture speak like this? I know it says on Judgement Day we will be judged according to our works, but that makes no sense if there is really another criteria being judged.

  2. Hi Nick, thanks for stopping by. My descriptions are based on the overall theme of Scriptures which to put it simply is that as sinners we are under the just wrath of God but Christ came to forgive us our sins and to give us his righteousness which is the only righteousness God will accept. This is what the Bible means when it speaks of justification. We are made righteous in Christ.

    Let me mention just a few of the scriptures that address this either in illustration or specifically. Rom. 10:11 says that those who believe in Christ will not be ashamed. Eph. 1:6, when speaking of how God choose to save the elect Paul states that the result is that we are accepted (KJV) in the Beloved (Christ). Remember when the Father said of Jesus, "This is my Beloved Son"?

    Matt. 22:11 Speaks of those who show up to the kingdom not wearing the proper wedding garment will be sent to Hell. Then there is Phil. 3:9. Here Paul's whole point is that trusting in his works amounted to trusting in a pile of manure. Verse 9 says, "and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith--"

    Why is it that in The Book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ John speaks of the lost calling on the rocks and mountains to fall on them when Christ comes back in judgment? It is because the shame of their sin has not been removed in Christ; they aren't ready to meet their God.

    As to your question of whether there are two criteria for our judgment; the short answer is yes. Let me just point to one passage for times sake. Rev. 20:12 says that at the general judgment books will be opened and then The Boook of Life will be opened. The Book of Life lists the elect, those in Christ who have been saved by faith in his work alone. If you aren't in that Book then the wrath of God awaits in Hell; if you are in it you will enter into Heaven. But the books are you deeds in life that all will be judged by. Not in determining whether you are saved or not but for degrees of punishment in Hell and rewards in Heaven. There are other passages that teach these things but I hope this helps clarify why I said what I said.


  3. I think it's important to stress the fact faith in Christ is critical for passing the Final Judgment, but I don't think that amounts to the sole criteria.

    In regards to your Revelation 20:12, I don't see what you're getting at. It plainly says the judgement was based on what they had done, and in v13, "each person was judged according to what they had done."

    In Revelation 21 there is an important detail as well: "7 Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. 8 But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars"

    Notice that "unbelieving" is one of many sins that can damn, meaning one can be a believer and yet kill, fornicate, etc and be damned.

    There are numerous other texts that speak on "judgment according to our deeds" (e.g. 2 Cor 5:10; Rom 2:5-10; Gal 6:7-9), and nowhere do I see any evidence for a judgment based solely on Faith.

    I think one modern mistake is conflating Conversion (justification by faith) with Final Judgment (being worthy to enter Heaven based on our deeds).

  4. Hi Nick,

    I think it would be helpful to address the text in Phil. 3 that I alluded to before. It confirms what I said earlier that the entire Bible has one theme which is how does sinful man get right with God or justified. And the books of Romans and Galatians in particular are written to make the very point that no work can justify.

    Therefore I don't think you help your point to keep pointing out verses that talk about being judged by works as I agree that we all must give an account for what we have done in the body whether good or evil. I would rather hear how your view supports what Paul says in Phil. 3:9 for instance.

    I would point out two things you said in your second response that I think exposes problems in your interpretation. In your first paragraph you said that while faith in Christ is critical it isn't the sole criterion. Again, read Galatians where Paul's point is that to add anything or work to faith in Christ is another gospel and such a one is to be damned. Any doctrine that robs Christ of glory and gives it to man will always be proved to be false.

    Then it seems you contradicted yourself in the verses from Revelation. You said that "unbelieving is one of the many sins that can damn which means one can be a believer... and yet be damned". I can make no sense of this since if one is a believer he can't be an unbeliever at the same time. It seems rather obvious that vs. 7 speaks of believers and vs. 8 speaks of unbelievers and the accompanying works of these two groups.

    Justification by faith alone is far from a modern concept. Abraham was justified by faith. In fact Rom. 4:2 says that if he was justified by works he would have something to boast about before the Lord (at the Day of Judgment)and 1 Cor. 1:29-31 makes it crystal clear that God doesn't save anyone in a way in which they can have a part in the credit. That alone rules out works as the basis of getting into Heaven. Our views must be supported by all of Scripture not just the ones we pick.

    Hopes this clarifies my position. Thanks

  5. Hello Nathan,

    I think the more fundamental point is whether Philippians 3:9 (or any similar text) is equating 'getting right with God' as being synonymous with 'being worthy to enter Heaven'. I see those as two distinct scenarios. Upon conversion, I am forgiven of my sins and a new creation, but from there I must fulfill my duties to live a Christian life. This is why Paul can say he can fall away and become reprobate (1 Cor 9:27) while at the end of his life saying there is a crown waiting for him because he persevered (2 Tim 4:7-8).

    You do mention something very interesting regarding Romans 4:2 though, but I think you got it backwards:
    "If Abraham was justified by works, he WOULD have something to boast about, but NOT before God."
    You said if Abraham was justified by works he would have something to boast about before God. Did you mistype?
    If Abraham was justified by works, even that wouldn't give him room to boast before God. How do you explain that?

  6. It would appear that you believe we can be initially justified by faith but from that point on we have to live righteously enough to take ourselves the rest of the way. The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints means that God gives us the strength to remain faithful to him but this at once means that he must get all the glory for our continuing as well.

    Your argument fails in Galatians alone. The whole point of the book can be found in 3:2-3, "Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" Their error was to think you could be converted by faith but after that you had to keep the law to continue to be saved. His whole argument is that this is not grace because at the end of the day it is still up to us to get to Heaven or as you put it, "being worthy of Heaven".

    But as I pointed to 1 Cor. 1, our salvation cannot be accomplished in such a way in which we get something to take credit for. Which brings us to Romans 4. Please read some good commentators. Paul's point in Rom. 4 is what I am saying. Let me quote Calvin, “If Abraham was justified by his works, he might boast of his own merits. But he has no ground of boasting before God. Therefore he was not justified by works.” Remember this verse, 1Co 4:7 For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? The biblical truth is that no man ever has any reason to boast about anything. Therefore it is because God is working in you to do his pleasure that is the only reason we continue on. If Paul had fallen away it would have only meant that he was never in Christ to begin with.

    It is the fact that Abraham had nothing to boast about before anyone and certainly before God that proves he was not justified by works. Verse 16 sums it up nicely by stating that our salvation must depend on faith so that it may rest on grace and of course grace is the gift of God. Keep in mind the context Paul is addressing, in the previous chapter he says, Rom 3:26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Rom 3:27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. Rom 3:28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.

  7. Hello Nathan,

    I think your Galatians 3:2-3 example highlights my point a bit: Paul asks did they receive the Spirit by faith or by works of the Law. But who says "receive the Spirit" is a synonym with being worthy of Heaven? If anything, receiving the Holy Spirit is a necessary condition to be able to live by the Spirit or abuse this gift as Paul sternly warns in 6:7-9.

    This is not to say we can boast in our efforts, for without the Spirit our efforts are of no avail.

    I'm not sure how you are interpreting Romans 4:2, but I examined some commentaries and they seem to be saying what you said: that IF Abraham was justified by works, he COULD boast before God. The problem with that is this hypothetical is specifically excluded by Paul in 4.2: IF Abraham was justified by works, he COULD NOT boast before God.

  8. So let me see if I understand what you are saying; we can be justified by works but when we are we still cannot boast before God? If this is what you mean then I think you are in an extreme minority at least among those who hold the Word of God to be our infallible and only rule of life. The texts we have looked at alone clearly teach that there is no such thing as being justified by works and the very reason we cannot is because of two things: We are totally ruined by sin and because God must receive all glory for all that we do.

  9. There is such a thing as being "justified by works" according to Romans 4:2. What does being "justified by works" mean? Whatever it means, boasting before men is fine but boasting before God is still excluded.

    Here is how I see the commentaries interpreting the passage:

    "If Abraham was saved by works tainted with sin, even though there is no such justification as that, he could boast before men, but not before God"

    How is that an intelligible argument?
    I'm saying it makes no sense to project "tainted by sin" onto the passage.

  10. Please notice the word "If" in 4:2. It is a hypothetical statement to show the absurdity of thinking you can be justified by works. It is absurd because everything fallen man does is sinful.

    We must always keep things in their context. Read chapter 3 very carefully especially noticing vs. 20. Rom 3:20 "For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin." The whole argument is salvation through faith alone apart from works.

  11. I agree it is a hypothetical, but a hypothetical does not mean absurd or incoherent. I don't see any reason Paul would make a hypothetical suggesting sinful works can justify or why sinful works can be used to boast. Do you? Maybe you're seeing something I'm not.

  12. Again, Paul was not suggesting sinful works can justify but that they can not justify. You cannot try to interpret a verse disconnected from the overall context. Go back and study chapter 3 in light of the entire book beginning in the first chapter. To jump into ch. 4 especially when your presuppositions are the opposite of Paul's only lends to confusion.

    By the way, ch. 3 made it clear that we are incapable of doing any good works to begin with.

  13. I have one quick question, and this will be my last post: Why did Paul say "he [Abe] would have something to boast about" in 4:2?

  14. Let's follow his argument starting in vs. 1. He first asks what could Abraham gain by works of the flesh. What I am saying is that his hypothetical statement in vs. 2 shows why Abraham could not be justified by his works; because if he was he would have something to boast of before God and there is no way sinful creatures are going to be able to do this. Finally, vs. 4 confirms that this is what Paul is saying. Rom 4:4 "Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due."

    If we have been following his treatise from the beginning of the book we understand exactly what he is saying in vs. 4. Wages are earn and since salvation is of grace (gift) then wages will not enter into the picture. No one can be justified by works. The only wage sinners earn is death, 6:23. Read 6:23 in light of this. Thanks for the posts.