by Howell Ferguson
Three men meet at the end of a dock on a Florida beach. One is an alcoholic and homeless. The second man is just an average guy. The third man is a fine, honorable man, well respected in the community.
Suddenly the alcoholic runs and jumps off the edge of the dock, landing 5 feet out into the water. The other two men standing on the dock yell, “What are you trying to do?”
The man in the water yells back, “I’m trying to jump across the Atlantic Ocean!”
The second man, the average Joe, says, “Watch me. I can do better than that!” He quickly runs across the dock, jumps and lands 10 feet out into the water, twice as far as the alcoholic.
The third man, the outstanding man, laughs and says, “That’s nothing. Watch this!” He backs up about 50 feet and makes a mad dash across the dock out into the water and lands 20 feet out, twice as far as average Joe, and four times as far as the homeless alcoholic.
If we were to actually see such an attempt, we would think these three men were crazy for attempting to do the impossible — jump across the Atlantic Ocean! But people trying to earn their own salvation are even more foolish.
God can’t be approached by man on the basis of man’s own moral goodness. Sometimes people are heard to say, “I’m a good person. Won’t God accept me and bring me to heaven?”
This question shows a woeful lack of understanding of the grave nature of an individual’s sin and the absolute holiness of God. If we were so good that we deserved heaven, salvation would be owed as a debt rather than something to be received as a gift of grace (cf. Romans 11:6).
A truth made absolutely clear in the Bible is this: “No, God will not accept me because I am not a good person.”
Isaiah wrote, “But we are all an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags: and we all do fade as a leaf: and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away” (Isaiah 64:6).
A person may look moral when compared with other people, but when compared with Christ, all people fall perilously short. This is why Paul states, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
No matter how moral any person might be, he has fallen short of the perfect mark of God’s righteousness. This is why in the next verse Paul declares that we have been “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).
There are a lot of people who do great things for others and demonstrate a level of morality. However, there is a big difference between morality and righteousness.
Righteousness is defined and revealed by our “righteous Father” in heaven, or seen in his Son “Jesus Christ the righteous” (John 17:25; 1 John 2:1; Hebrews 4:15). To become righteous before God means that you are innocent or faultless in his sight. Such a person doesn’t exist (cf. Romans 3:10).
The only way anyone can stand in the presence of a righteous God is to be forgiven and declared righteous by faith in God’s work in Christ (Philippians 3:9). We are only accepted “in the beloved” because we believe and trust in the righteous work that he did (Ephesians 1:6).
When a person finally realizes this, he is on his way to realizing and receiving the free gift of God through Jesus Christ (Romans 6:23).
Howell Ferguson is from Bells, Tennessee
by Howell Ferguson