I’m pretty sure there are two types of people: those who see themselves as too bad or too sinful for salvation, and those who see themselves as capable and not bad enough. When I heard people talk about “works righteousness” or trying to save themselves by their good behavior I would often think to myself “that’s not me.” And it wasn’t. You see, I have long struggled with a form of morbid introspection that only intensifies the more sinful I feel. This introspection leads to overwhelming guilt which then often leads to despair. In these moments I can’t see the gospel as good news for me. I don’t believe God’s promises are true in my life. And I don’t trust that the blood of Jesus actually covers sin like mine. I’m too bad. I’m too broken. I’m just too sinful.
It’s really easy, if you are like me, to see the pride of the Pharisees or the self-sufficiency of the less “guilty” people and judge them. You might think that they don’t see their sin like you see your sin. You might wish you could be more like them. Either way, both mindsets are wrong. One spectrum contains people who hide behind their good works and trust in their own righteousness. But the other spectrum hides behind the veil of guilt and shame. Both need the same thing—more trust in the blood of Jesus. For me, my failure to trust in Jesus is actually saying that his death is not sufficient for my sin. Sure, he is powerful enough to save even the vilest of sinners, but not me. I’m just too bad.
The Evil One wants nothing more than for us to believe these lies. He wins when I fail to repent of my sin and trust in the shed blood of Jesus to cleanse me of my sin. He wins when I think I’m too bad for salvation. He wins when I don’t trust that the gospel of Jesus Christ is truly good news for people like me. And I need a daily reminder that Jesus came to save sinners just like me.
Something that really helped me recently is listening to a sermon by C.J. Mahaney called “Only One Gospel.” In this message he basically lays out what the gospel is and what it does for us. He provides three points that describe the gospel. They are:
1. The gospel is God-centered
2. The gospel is objective
3. The gospel is complete
The last one really hit home for me. Even though I don’t try to earn my salvation by doing good things, I do fail to believe the completeness of the gospel when I refuse to repent of my sin and trust Christ for forgiveness. The gospel is objective because it does not depend on me or my capabilities (praise God!). And the gospel is God-centered because it took the Son of God coming to earth to die for my sins that I may be saved.
Does that encourage you? It did for me. When I feel the temptation to trust in my own work (or lack of work) as the basis for my cleanness before God I want to remember that everything necessary for my salvation has been completed and finished by the perfect, holy, gracious Son of God. He is my only hope and plea for righteousness.
“When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within
Upward I look and see him there,
Who made an end to all my sin!
Because the sinless Savior died,
My sinful soul is counted free.
For God the just is satisfied
To look on him and pardon me!”