Tuesday: What God Requires

In this week’s lessons, we see what one must believe to be a Christian, and the necessary response to these truths.
What God Requires

Yesterday, we concluded by saying that because everyone is a sinner, everyone therefore deserves to be separated from God.

Now sometimes people object to this teaching of the Word of God because they think that somehow it makes them the same as the worst criminals. In one sense, I should admit, it does, because both equally need a Savior. Yet this confuses the point. I’ll admit that if you are a fine person with good character, I would much rather have you than a scoundrel for a friend. But, the point I am making is that it is not what satisfies me, but what satisfies God. It is certainly good that people on this earth live by high standards—the higher the standard the better. As a matter of fact, once a person becomes a Christian he is enabled to live by even higher standards and to do it out of right motives. 

But we’re talking about a different dimension entirely. We’re talking about what pleases God. And the point I am making is that human goodness is not good enough for God. This means that although it will see a man through this life, often with flying colors (and rightly so), human goodness will not see him to heaven. 

Now let me give you several reasons for this. First, man’s righteousness is not righteousness from God’s point of view. Righteousness is one of those things, like perfection or wholeness, that loses its meaning entirely if you divide it. Perfection is a whole. You cannot be half perfect. To be half perfect is to be imperfect; it is not perfection at all. To give an illustration, you cannot have a whole half of an orange. You either have a whole orange or you have part of an orange. Righteousness is exactly the same. You are either completely righteous by God’s definition, or by God’s definition you are not righteous at all. So Jesus taught, in what is undoubtedly the most 

important verse in the Sermon on the Mount, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father who is in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). That is the standard. You see, all men fall short of it, and falling short of it, they miss it all. 

If you have a boat tied up to a dock by a chain that has ten links in it, how many links do you have to break in order to set it adrift? Just one, you see. And if there is a churning cataract fifty yards downriver, the boat will go over it and be destroyed just as easily with one link broken as with all ten broken. It’ the same spiritually. Some men break all the links of God’s law, and we call them criminals. We put them in prison if we catch them. Other people carefully pry open just one of the links, and we try to overlook it since all of us are at least that guilty. But we are all adrift as a result, and headed toward the cataract. That is what is meant when we say that all men are equally unrighteous from God’s point of view. 

Now second, the righteousness of which men are so proud is, according to God, an external righteousness. And that’s another weakness. To a certain extent we can pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps morally. If you are an alcoholic, you can discipline yourself to attend meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous and get rid of the habit of drinking. You can get control of yourself and enter into a useful life. People will even admire you for having overcome your problem. But although you can do all this outwardly, you cannot do anything about your inner nature. You can be scrupulous in the affairs of your life, so that you are not the least bit dishonest in business. But you cannot make your heart loving if your heart is not loving. You cannot make yourself humble if you are not humble. You cannot make yourself pure. So the second reason why human goodness will not get anywhere with God is that the only righteousness of which we are capable is external. This in itself produces hopelessness, for God demands a transformation of the heart. 

Study Questions
  1. What is the first reason why human goodness will not enable one to enter heaven?
  2. According to God, what kind of supposed righteousness do people have? Why is this inadequate?

Reflection: What examples of external righteousness are people relying on to be right with God, whether in the church or outside it?

For Further Study: Download for free and listen to Donald Barnhouse’s message, “Becoming a Servant.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

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