The Pharisees of Christ’s time were very religious people. In fact, you could say that they were in church every time the doors were opened. As well as that, they gave money to the church according to the strictest rules of the Jewish law, and they prayed, and they read their Bibles. They could quote many passages of Scripture, and they could recite the Ten Commandments perfectly. The Pharisees were proud of their righteousness. But Jesus said to His disciples, “Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). In other words, Jesus said they appeared righteous but not righteous enough for heaven!
Case two: A wicked, condemned criminal
When Jesus was nailed to a cross, there were two thieves crucified on either side of Him. Crucifixion was a horrific method of capital punishment in the Roman Empire. At first, the thieves mocked Jesus, but as they drew near their own death, one of the them began to have a change of heart. He said to the other, “Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we, indeed, justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds.”Then turning to Jesus he said: “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” To which Christ replied: “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:40-43).
Outcome: A moral dilemma
According to Christ, the religious Pharisee was not good enough to get to heaven, but the thief, guilty of horrendous crimes, was promised paradise on the same day he was crucified for his evil deeds. How can the seeming good person be eternally condemned while the publicly condemned person be assured an immediate place in heaven? Does this make sense?
The religious man thought he was good enough to be accepted by God, but his pride blinded him to the reality that by nature he had a huge debt of sin to pay and any one sin would keep him out of heaven (James 2:10). The criminal, on the other hand, knew that his sin debt would keep him from being accepted by God. He knew he needed mercy to get into heaven, so he confessed his sin and called upon Christ. Unlike the self-righteous Pharisee, the repentant thief was willing to own up to his guilt and cry out for mercy. In doing so, he recognized two things: first, that Jesus Christ was Lord and, second, that He needed His saving grace.
Do you know what this means?
This means that any sinner can gain acceptance with God! Any guilty person can be set free from condemnation and be assured of everlasting life with God. Every saved sinner is declared righteous because the merits of Jesus are transferred to them. Sinful souls who believe on Christ are given all the
perfections of Christ in a “borrowed” righteousness. Then, and only then, are they qualified to stand blameless before God and accepted by Him for all eternity.
Here’s what that means for you!
No matter what you’ve done, if you accept Jesus’ free offer of pardon, you will be accepted by God! In His love, God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to be the substitute for those who would believe on Him. He kept the law of God that you have not or could not have kept. By dying on the cross for your sins, He paid the penalty for your violations of God’s law. His righteous life can be substituted for your sin-stained life. His death sentence can be substituted for your death sentence. All that is required of you is to realize that you cannot stand before God by your own self-righteousness and claim the Lord’s acceptance.
Here’s what you should do!
Confess your sin and believe that Christ loved you and died for you. To accept Christ’s free offer of salvation from sin, you should go to Him right now in prayer. Call upon Him to be your substitute. Tell Him that you know you cannot be accepted into heaven by your own personal goodness, and claim His promise, “Him that cometh to me; I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37).
Now, with the full assurance of salvation, you can begin to live your life in a way that is pleasing to Him, and enjoy the Lord’s daily love and mercy. As a true disciple of Christ, you will also need to begin attending a church that will teach you faithfully about the Lord and His ways from His Word. My friend, there may be many things you will regret doing in your life, but finding Jesus will not be one of them.
Rev. Ian Goligher is minister of Cloverdale FPC in British Columbia, and presently serves as Editor of Current.