I AM LOOKING FOR SINNERS
If you are reading this and you feel that you are a good person, this is not for you. You may as well cease reading this paper and put it down. At this point in your life, at least, you have no part in these things. “How dare I write such a thing about a good person such as you are,” you ask? It is because Jesus said the same thing that I dare to write as I do. He said, “They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Mark 2:17). Of course there are none who are truly righteous, but the point is this: if you feel that you are righteous, if you feel that you are a good person, you have no interest in the work of Christ. He came to call sinners to repentance, not good people. This is not for you.
If you are reading this and you feel that your religious observances and good deeds are pleasing to God and therefore you have a place reserved in Heaven, this present article is not for you either. I write that on the authority of what Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8, 9. He wrote, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” You may go on feeling that your religion, your observance of religious holidays, your church activities, your works of kindness, your being a good neighbor, your giving of money to good causes – you may go on feeling that these things will secure God’s favor for you if you wish to do so. But to do so is to think contrary to the revealed Word of God. This writer is well aware that the general opinion of the world is that Heaven is gained by working your way there, especially by being religious and a “Christian” in some sense of the word. But the majority of mankind is on the broad religious road that leads to destruction as Jesus said in Matthew 7:13, 14: “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” Often we think of the “broad way” as being the way of drunkenness and debauchery, but it is in contrast to the way of salvation by grace and most certainly includes the “broad” or popular way of religion – that way of salvation-by-works that is so popular with humanity the world over.
It is an incontrovertible fact that every religion in the world except Biblical Christianity teaches that a person is saved because of his good works – especially by his religious observances. One group says you must abstain from certain foods, observe prayers five times a day and make pilgrimages to certain holy sites. Another says you must bathe in a certain sacred river. Even some “Christian” groups teach the same basic thing. One group says you must be baptized, faithfully attend church services, take the Lord’s Supper every Sunday, and continue in good works. Others say live by your conscience, observe the “golden rule,” and be sincere and that these works will get you into Heaven at last. All these religions teach essentially the same thing whether pagan or “Christian:” they all teach that good works will earn you favor with God. But the Bible, God’s Word, still says that salvation is “not of works,” and that is the truth. Neither does the Bible say that salvation is partly of good works and partly of grace for this is an impossibility. Works and grace cannot be mixed as Paul so strongly stated regarding election in Romans 11:6: “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.” This is a principle that you must understand. Grace is unmerited favor. If you work for something it is not given to you by unmerited favor: rather you earned it. So it is with salvation. It is either by works or by grace. Salvation cannot come by a mixture of the two for the two cannot be mixed without destroying the intrinsic nature of both works and grace.
During the earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, most of the religious leaders in Israel were known as Pharisees. Those who specialized in studying and copying the Old Testament were known as scribes. These religious zealots went to excess in their ritualistic observances of the Old Testament law. None were more strict and faithful in their religious exercises. Outwardly they were correct and righteous in their observances. About these people the Lord said, “For I say unto you, That 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). Outward observance is not enough! Inward purity and genuine love for the Lord is required as well as unselfish love for your neighbors. Would you compare yourself to the Pharisees? Are you as zealous for your religion as they were for theirs? Are you as zealous about keeping all the commandments as they were? If you are trying to get to Heaven by your religious zeal and good works, your righteousness must exceed that of these ancient devoted people. Jesus said so!
So I am still looking for sinners. If you are reading this and feel that you are no worse than the average person, this is not for you. Comparing yourself with others and assuming that because you are no worse than those around you does not make you prepared for Heaven. Paul wrote about some people who made these kinds of comparisons. He wrote that these people who were “measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise” (2 Corinthians 10:12). These people were not thinking clearly. “Others” are not the standard by which we are to measure ourselves! In Romans 3:23 it is written: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” The revealed glory of God is the Lord Jesus Christ (John 1:14; 14:9). Jesus Christ, by His life and character, showed us what the Father is like. So if you would compare yourself with the right standard, compare yourself with Him! If you do so, you will find yourself coming far short in your life and character!
But I am still looking for sinners! As I preach and visit with people I find it is the same everywhere I go. Everywhere it is the same. Human beings are “good enough” in their own eyes. They are ignorant of the Word of God and thus are often satisfied with themselves: convinced that they are “good enough” to meet God. They think that their good deeds will somehow cause God to overlook their base sins and wicked hearts.
I am looking for sinners: the kind of sinners who feel their sin. I am looking for sinners who ashamedly admit to being sinners. I am looking for sinners who dare not compare themselves with others. I am looking for sinners who know the emptiness of religion without Christ and who are in despair over their sins. I am looking for sinners who are helpless and hopeless to do anything about their sin and know it. I am looking for sinners.
I am looking for sinners who, like the wicked thief, see that whatever happens to them in this life and the next is the “due reward” of their deeds (Luke 23:41). I am looking for sinners who expect God to be just and know in that justice they will receive eternal punishment for their sins in the Lake of Fire. I am looking for sinners who know that whatever good they might do henceforth, they can never erase or cover their past sins. I am looking for sinners who know they are powerless to cease from sinning. I am looking for sinners who see themselves in a hopeless and helpless condition.
Where shall I find such sinners? Such sinners as these are sinners in whom God has begun a good work (Philippians 1:5). Such an understanding of self and an honest view of self is not natural to any person: it is a result of the work of God through the Word of God in the heart of the individual. And say! I have Good News for such sinners as these! I can tell them that Christ suffered the “due reward” for their deeds. I can tell them that Christ bore the payment for their sins! I can tell them that Christ met the just demands of a holy God and his holy law! I can tell them that salvation is not of works that could never un-do their past sins, but is of the free grace of God. I can tell them that while they are indeed helpless to do anything about their condition, they are not hopeless for there is hope in Christ for all to whom God makes known in a feeling way their sin. I can tell them that Christ is the Savior, the Redeemer, the Justifier, the Sanctifier, and the Glorious Shepherd of His people!
I can urge such sinners to trust Christ and His finished work at Calvary! I can tell them that Christ has paid the sin-debt for His people. I can tell them that only Christ brings them to see themselves as helpless and hopeless sinners in order that they might see their need of Him. And I can tell them that Jesus said, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. (John 6:37). On the basis of the finished work of Christ and His promises, I can urge such sinners to come to Christ, knowing He never turns away even the worst of sinners.
Sinners who have felt the weight of both their sin nature and their acts of sin are like Paul who wrote, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15). Paul, though a moral and upright man, considered himself to be the chief of sinners! God had begun a good work in him (Philippians 1:6) and Paul was insistent that Christ came into the world to save sinners – even the chief of sinners! What a glorious Gospel we have to herald far and wide – to sinners!