What if your sin problem isn’t that you’re wicked? What if it’s that you’re good?
In Luke 18:18-25 we find an exchange between Jesus and a very good person, a rich young ruler who keeps the law:
And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
The question that the rich young ruler actually asks is not, “What must I do to be saved?” The question he asks is, “What behavioral modifications must I make to put you into my debt, to make you do for me what I want you to do?”
Sound familiar? I believe that the bulk of American evangelicalism is built on this idea that “my behavior makes God owe me, and that what saves me is my works.”
The rich young ruler fails to understand what many of us fail to understand: that Christianity is not a religion. The mantra of religion is, “I obey therefore I am accepted.” The Scriptures, however, teach against this idea constantly.
Confidence in Goodness
The message we usually hear from the pulpit is “repent of your wickedness.” Stop sleeping around. Stop doing drugs. Stop partying. I would agree that these things are sinful and need to be repented of, but that’s not the message of Luke 18. Instead of calling out the overtly wicked, Jesus says this: “You good husbands, you good fathers, you small-group-leading, church-going, morally righteous men and women—you repent.”
Trying to earn your salvation through good works is just as God-belittling, cross-mocking wickedness as anything on the pagan, dark side of the fence. We tell ourselves, “I’m a better man than my father was…I’m a good husband…I’m a good dad…I’m a good wife…I’m a good mother…I’m a hard worker…I’m involved in the church.” Jesus says, “Repent! That does not save you. That does not justify you.”
A Path to Repentance
So here’s the question: How do you repent of being good? Do you stop practicing righteousness and start practicing unrighteousness? Of course not.
Paul addresses this when he says, “Should we sin all the more so that grace might abound?” In other words, if we sin more, won’t we just demonstrate God’s grace to a greater degree? To which Paul responds, “May that never be,” which can translate more strongly into, “You’re damned if you do.” There’s no Holy Spirit in you if you think that way and walk that way.
Romans 8 says that those in the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit and that those in the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh. So how do we know if our mindset is a mindset of the Spirit? To understand that, we must understand what the Spirit does.
So let’s look at what the Holy Spirit does:
In John 16, the Holy Spirit glorifies Jesus.
In John 16:14-15, the Holy Spirit reveals Jesus.
In 1 Corinthians 12, the Holy Spirit leads us to understand Jesus as our Lord.
In Romans 8, the Holy Spirit empowers us to live like Jesus.
In John 14:12-16, the Holy Spirit gifts us to do ministry like Jesus.
In John 14:26, the Holy Spirit reminds us of Jesus.
In Acts 1:8, the Holy Spirit empowers us to tell the good news of Jesus to the world around us.
It seems that the Holy Spirit is just a bit obsessed with Jesus. The Holy Spirit glorifies, the Holy Spirit exalts, the Holy Spirit reveals Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. So if your mind is set on the Spirit, then your mind is set upon what the Spirit is set upon, which is Jesus Christ.
Repent of your Righteousness
Do you possess a desire for, affection for and an exaltation of the person and work of Jesus Christ in the cross and in the resurrection? Or do you hang all of your hope on managing your morality and church participation?
If your hope, confidence and satisfactions are in being a good husband, being a good wife, being a good father, being a good mother, being a good churchman, you’ve severely misplaced your hope in something that cannot and will not save you.
Repentance means coming back to the cross and confessing. We repent that we’ve become satisfied with serving Him rather than knowing Him. We ask God once again for mercy.
Do you need to repent of goodness? Do you need to ask forgiveness for your righteousness? Throw yourself on the mercy of God. Put your confidence in His cross, not in the fact that you’re “better” this year than last.
The Bible says that if we could earn the favor of God with our behavioral modifications, then the cross of Christ was for nothing (Gal 2:21).
So is your confidence in your goodness? Repent. We have no confidence outside the goodness of Christ. Your goodness is a myth. Repent of worshiping your own righteousness and set your mind on the things of the Spirit—set your mind on Jesus Christ.