The Gospel is good news to those who trust in Jesus—those who trust in His righteousness . . . His perfect life . . . His sacrificial death . . . His forgiveness. But for those who trust in themselves the Gospel is not so good. In fact, it is bad news! The Gospel is of no use and it provides no benefit to those who trust in themselves.
[Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt. “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’” (Luke 18:9-12)
Like the Pharisee in this story, far too many in the church today are counting on their good works—rather than Christ’s finished work on their behalf—to cause God to move on their behalf with forgiveness, blessing, and eternal life. The Pharisee’s problem did not lie in his good works; he actually did fast twice a week and he did give tithes of all that he had. To the watching world, the Pharisee was a model of piety and righteousness. The problem lay in the fact that he was trusting in his good works to broker God’s favor. In so doing, the Pharisee minimized the holiness and justice of God, and magnified the goodness and purity of his own good works. For all those who are trusting in their own righteousness—their own goodness and good works—the good news of the Gospel is not good news at all! In fact, it proclaimed catastrophic bad news to the self-righteous Pharisee when Jesus judged his condition and rendered a verdict of “NOT JUSTIFIED!”
We must all remember the truth of Isaiah 64:6, that what we perceive to be “good works” are nothing more than filthy rags in the sight of our thrice holy God. Yes, good works are good to the extent that they benefit others. Although God does not need them, our neighbor certainly does! But when we are banking on our good works to do for us what only Christ can do, the good news of the Gospel becomes bad news—the very worst news! Jerry Bridges explains, “At the end of the day this fact remains: no amount of personal performance will ever gain the approval of a holy God.”
Being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. (Romans 10:3-4)
This is why we should preach the Gospel to ourselves every day. We need daily reminders to rely on the righteousness of Christ and not on our own perceived righteousness. The Gospel is God’s great good news to fallen, broken people who truly have no hope apart from Christ. Those who understand the depths of their own sinfulness and the height of God’s holiness cry out these words from the old hymn: “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness . . . On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.”
One final thought: what the Pharisee failed to understand was that even with all of his “good works,” he was still exactly like other men: extortioners, unjust, adulterers, and even tax collectors—great sinners in need of an even greater Savior. The Pharisee was judging and comparing by outer appearances and forgot that God judges the heart.
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!