Paul declared, “Not by works of righteousness that we have done, but according to his mercy, he saved us” (Titus 3:5). We are not saved – by good works. Nothing you do can save you. Our righteousness, our best efforts are like “filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6). We have both an overblown sense of our goodness and a diminished sense of God’s holiness. As a result, we do not see ourselves in desperate need of the grace of God. And increasingly, our generation sees Jesus as a sinner who could not have lived a sinless life – “After all, no one is perfect!” Our cynicism has taken us hostage. It has blurred and distorted our view of God, himself. We have traded the “perfect Christ” for a model of the severely flawed Greek gods with Jesus as just another option in the pantheon of gods. As a result, we end up with a divine view of mankind, and gods who are like us, and therefore are no help to us at all.
According to Scripture, you and I are not saved because we are good. We are saved because God is good. You may be surprised to learn that goodness is not the goal. Christ did not come to make men better. He came to make men new (II Cor. 5:17). You and I did not need a patch on our lives – we needed radical life change. We deserved to die. So Christ came, not to enrich our lives, but to end our lives (Mk. 8:34; 10:21; Lk. 9:23; Gal. 2:20). This is what baptism is all about. It is the burial of the old man, the old life, and the resurrection to new life (Rom. 6:4).
Thus, Christianity is not improved righteousness, it is the righteousness of Christ imputed (Rom. 4:3, 5-6, 9, 11). And yet, imputed righteousness never takes place without producing in us an improved state of righteousness (Rom. 6:13, 16, 18-19). We have been given the “gift” of righteousness (Rom. 5:17). Like the undeserving soldier who went home wrapped in the seamless robe of Christ, we have been given the righteous covering of Christ. What would it have been like to have wrapped that robe around us, and walked through the streets of Jerusalem? Imagine, as true Christians, we are now wearing the invisible robe of the righteous Christ. Every angel in heaven must know that garment. So must every demon. Wow! Wrapped in the righteousness of Christ.
And yet, to be given such a holy and precious gift, and to wear it over dirty flesh is unthinkable! (II Cor. 7:1; Heb. 10:23) How could we? The righteousness of Christ compels us to cleanse our fleshly ways. The goodness of God always leads to repentance (Rom 2:4). And to not get that, means that we have not understood such a gift! The conclusion is simple and simultaneously searing. We are the “swine” before whom pearls have been cast (Mt. 7:6). Our nature is revealed by our lack of being dazzled and dynamically altered by grace (II Peter 2:22).
Faith without evidence of transformation means that our faith is dead. James ask, “Can that kind of faith save?” (James 2:14) The answer is “No!” And yet, the gospel is not faith, plus works (Gal. 2:26). We do not begin in grace and move to works. It is not conformity to some moral norm, it is transformation. It is not “faith – plus works.” It is a faith that works.
Sadly, the church is full of people who have trimmed back the edges of their morally outrageous behavior, they have conformed to a pattern of generally accepted holiness, but inside they are dead! (Rom. 12:1-2) They have never been transformed. They are not saved.
Read more writings by P. Douglas Small and find prayer resources at www.alivepublications.org.