8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.
Isaiah 64:6–7 (NASB95)
6 For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. 7 There is no one who calls on Your name, Who arouses himself to take hold of You; For You have hidden Your face from us And have delivered us into the power of our iniquities.
I like to think of myself as a pretty good guy, and I think I can make a case for that by objective evidence. I make an honest living, pay my taxes, and am faithful to my wife. I go to church on Sundays, am in the bible regularly and even serve the church as a pastor. I help my community as a little league coach, reach out to the poor when I take students on mission trips, and serve those around me as much as I have opportunity.
What’s more is that I believe I can make a case that I am better than many other people. I just read an article about a man who opened fire and killed 10 students at a community college in Oregon. I’m better than that guy. I’ve never killed anyone nor have I ever seriously considered it. The members of ISIS (ISIL) have slaughtered thousands out of jealousy and hatred. I’m so much better than those guys. Adolf Hitler was responsible for creating a regime that was guilty of the systematic extermination of millions. That guy seemed to come straight out of the fires of hell. Is there any question that I’m better than that guy?
Paul and Isaiah are not trying to say our good deeds separate us from God. They are trying to shake us to our senses and wake us up to the reality that we do not produce any good deeds. Any “good” we think we produce is actually disgusting to God. As I was disgusted by the acts of the Oregon gunman, as I have been brought to tears seeing pictures of Hitler’s death camps and watching their stories through movies like Schindler’s List, as I have turned my head away and closed my eyes anytime an ISIS beheading video flashes across my screen, God has been equally disgusted by every Nate-produced smile to a little leaguer, turned His head away from every self-sufficient act of love towards my wife, and been brought to tears over every autonomous counseling, teaching, or pastoral care moment I have ever had. Every act, “good” or “bad”, produced independently of God is a tainted product of my human weakness, or what the Bible would call “the flesh”.
But doesn’t God like who we are and what we do a little? The simple answer is no. The human condition is that of a sinner and thus an enemy of God. Everything we say and do is disgusting to Him. If we don’t start from there, then the amazing truths of Romans 5 will escape us, or we will underestimate the depth of His grace. On our own, we are completely putrefied, rotted-from-the-inside-out sinners. Our every independent act slaps the God of the universe in the face. Our best efforts to be good drive the next nail into the hand of His precious boy, push the next thorn into His head, and tear the next bit of flesh from His back.
That is who we are on our own. Now, here is the foolishness: when we were disgusting and defiant, He gave everything to love us. He gave the sentence of death that our loathsome behavior deserved to the most innocent being to ever walk the earth. God’s righteous, searing anger and judgement was diverted from me and was poured onto the Christ. Anyone who would do that to their Son in our day would be called cruel, sadistic, and abusive. Anyone who would willing accept that punishment would be called insane or a masochist. Instead, our Heavenly Father and His Son call that love, and so should we. Our definitions of love tend to be shallow or flat out wrong which can cause us to underestimate the incomprehensible lengths to which He went in order to demonstrate His perfect love.
May we put aside all miscalculation of our own deeds, recognize our undeniable depravity, and fall into the unimaginable grace of our Creator and Lord.