How often do we, even in the church, think that we are saved by living a good, moral life? I think that this is one of the greatest deceptive attacks by Satan. It is easy to equate morality with Christianity. Jesus gives us an example in His parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 19. Jesus said in Verses 10-12, “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. (Tax collectors were considered the most dishonest people in Jewish society. People would walk on the other side of the street to avoid being near 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.’”
Note how the Pharisee prided himself in his morals. He would be the man that would be the president of the civic club. He would probably be the one elected to public office. He prides himself in going beyond what the law requires. The Jews were only required to fast one day a year on the Day of Atonement and yet he fasts twice a week. Maybe he thought that this would get him in with God’s good grace. Certainly he would be a saved man!
However, in Verses 13, 14 Jesus said, “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying ‘God be merciful to me, a sinner’! I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
The tax collector, though he was in a bad profession, knew that he deserved judgment. He was so ashamed of himself that he would not even lift his eyes to heaven. In Verse 13 the literal translation should be “God, be merciful to me, the sinner.” He saw himself as a sinner in need of God’s grace. The mistake of the Pharisee was his sovereignty over his own life. He was determining what he needed to do before God to be saved. However, Jesus disagreed. To know God in His holiness is to know ourselves as sinners. To know Him as love is to see ourselves as loved though unlovely. We do not know anything properly unless we know Him. Our morality will not save us.
In Matthew 19 we read the story of the rich young man who approached Jesus and asked in Verse 16, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus said… “If you would enter life, keep the commandments. He said to him, ‘which ones’? And Jesus said ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not bear false witness, honor your father and mother, and, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Verses 17-19). Notice that Jesus is quoting the second table of the Ten Commandments. At this point the rich young ruler is feeling good about himself. He lived a moral life. He said to Jesus… “All these things I have kept. What do I still lack?” Why would he ask this question? He may have been wondering whether he was good enough. Is there some additional demand he can satisfy?
Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, and come follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
Why would he walk away sorrowful? Because he had not kept the first commandment which reads, You shall have no other Gods before me. (Exodus 20:3). What Jesus was telling him is simply this: If we will not keep the first commandment we will not keep the last six. The rich young ruler was unwilling to part with his riches thus putting them first instead of God. If we are not willing to honor God first with our life, it does not matter how moral we are. We may keep the last six commandments, which are a good rule of life, but that obedience will not save us. Only if we love God as Jesus said with all our heart, soul, mind and strength will we then live a life of obedience that honors God. Will morality save us? No. Will obedience to God and loving Him through His Son Jesus Christ save us? Yes and the life we live is evidence of that.