(Image courtesy of http://blogs.ancientfaith.com.)

This morning I was playing basketball with some other men before school. I was growing frustrated because I wasn’t playing up to the level I wanted and I was letting it negatively influence my mood. I was starting to get mad and think negatively of myself and my team. In between games, I went to get a drink of water. I was alone, so I began talking to myself. “Okay, I gotta change my attitude. I need to be more positive.” Then it hit me: What was I attempting to change? My attitude. This I could do. I had been trained in morality by my parents to have self-control, to be kind, to do unto others as I would have them do unto me, and to be patient. Having upstanding moral character is definitely a good thing to possess, and it is part of what separates the believer from the non-believer, but it is not what justifies a man before God. This is where, I fear, many professing Christians have been deceived.

Most non-Christians refer to Jesus as a good teacher, one who taught upstanding things about how to be a morally good person. But Jesus did not come to teach us how to become less of a sinner and how to live morally good lives. He came to make peace between Man and God. He was more than a good man and a good teacher. So much more.

Jesus did not come to teach humans a list of rules to live by that lead to righteousness. We cannot achieve righteousness by ourselves, no matter how much “good” we do. The most that we as humans can achieve in our own strength is a certain level of external decency. But the Lord Jesus did not come to give us a checklist of ways to look good. He came to give us life and make us righteous - things that no man can earn. The work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer produces righteousness in the heart which directly impacts our external choices. Apart from Christ, we are dead in our sins no matter what level of external decency we achieve. “You must be born again,” said Jesus.

We are all at the mercy of God. Stop working in your moral-goodness to achieve salvation. Repent and believe in the Son of God. There is salvation from the second death no other way.

Obeying the rules of morality apart from Christ will achieve in our physical bodies longer life, yet no man who does what is right will be able to physically live forever. Their choices may help them avoid an early death or a damaged body, but living morally good lives is not even enough to save our physical bodies from death, much less our souls. But Jesus is the very power of God and His perfection and sacrifice is enough to save many souls, not from the physical death, but from the second death, the spiritual death. Praise the Lord!

Many well-meaning “Christians” are deceived by their moral obedience, misinterpreting it as the means to salvation. They say they believe and then they work and strive and stress and worry about their salvation, because they are trying to reach God in their own strength.  Certainly, good works are a result of justifying faith, as God prunes and gives growth to those whom He has saved.  But it is not the works which save; the works are a result of sanctification by the Holy Spirit's power at work in us.

In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, Jesus teaches a lot of morally good teachings. He says things to the Jews like, “You have heard it was said ‘thou shalt not commit adultery’. But I tell you, even if a man looks at a woman lustfully (longingly, wantingly) he has committed adultery with her in his heart.’ If your eyes cause you to sin, gouge them out. If your hands cause you to sin, cut them off. It’s better that you lose part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into Hell.” What is Jesus saying to the crowds? Is He saying they need to try harder to be morally good people to avoid the coming Judgement? Is He saying they need to mutilate their bodies in order to be saved? No! Jesus knows no man is capable of keeping the whole law, much less the new things He is saying. Jesus knows Man’s heart is sinful, never desiring God. If Man tried to accomplish the things Jesus was teaching, the best he could do is look good on the outside, but his heart would still be full of sin. No, what Jesus is teaching His audience is this: You have a heart problem and you cannot fix it; only I can. If you listen closely, you can still hear Him, saying, “Don’t you get it? You can’t do this apart from Me! You can try, but you cannot cut off enough body parts to save yourself from being thrown into Hell. Why? Because sin is in your heart not your body parts! Repent from this wickedness and believe in Me, then you will have peace with God and peace within your heart, for only We have the power to change hearts.”

Friend, are you living a morally good life, yet have never been saved by His grace? The Word of God says “even your most righteous acts are as filthy rags in God’s sight”. But “the Gospel is the power of God, for the salvation of everyone who believes”. May salvation find you this day, oh sinner - of which we all are/were and of which every man, even those who are justified by His grace, struggle with every day.  "But thanks be to God who gives us the victory [over the second death] through our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Corinthians 15:57).

"... [The Gospel] is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes" (Romans 1:16).