The Pharisees meant reproach to Christ when they charged Him with this: “This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.” But what they meant to shame Him is to His great, eternal glory (1 Cor. 1:30-31; John 10:17-18; 17:4-5)! They separated themselves from Christ because sinners joined themselves to Him. They could not fathom that their need exceeded the needs of those upon whom they looked with the greatest disdain. They must be saved in the same way that the prostitutes and tax collectors were saved: by Christ alone, out of God’s free grace alone, as a sinner, in looking to Christ alone, bringing no merit or works of their own (Eph. 2:4-10). We can learn about ourselves from these men.
Legal requirements imposed on the proud heart of sinners blinds them to their own sinfulness. Men naturally turn the requirements God puts on them — which are designed to humble them by exposing their true nature, their wickedness, their guilt and corruption and helplessness before God in their sins — into a weapon against others. They use God’s law, not as a testimony against their own sinfulness and of their own helplessness, but to highlight wickedness in others, to condemn others so that they might exalt themselves by comparison (John 8:1-11). Such is the natural tendency in the heart of man. Shamefully, this is my tendency. I believe it is the tendency of us all by nature (Psalm 14:1-3; Jer. 17:9-10). We deflect the light that God shines in our own conscience in an attempt to produce the opposite of what it is designed to do. We turn God’s law outwardly towards others, highlighting the failures of others so that we might exalt ourselves on their ruins. We try to make ourselves acceptable by our occasional and superficial efforts to live right (Isa. 64:6). But this is printing a counterfeit righteousness. It surprises us when by God’s grace we learn that the law of God is not meant to set a standard before us so that we might obtain promised blessings and favor from God, but to show us that we have already forfeited all rights to blessing and earned only the wages of eternal death from God’s hand (Rom. 6:23).
When we strive to conform to God’s law with the motive of making ourselves acceptable to Him — trying to please God by our own personal obedience — we hide our own failures, and the true nature of the evil of our minds and motives. When we do this, we remove ourselves from the company of people Jesus came to save: sinners in heart and life, helpless and apart from grace, utterly hopeless.
The law of God exposes what we are. It leaves us guilty and naked before God. In the light of the law of God, we try to hide in His presence (Gen. 3:10). But the law will leave us naked in the presence of God until God comes to our rescue by His salvation in Christ alone, which is by His grace alone, and which we receive only by faith that He gives: sight by which we see that we have failed in everything, are horribly evil in our very heart, shameful and excuseless, and yet, by that same faith, see that God has overcome every barrier in Christ (Gen. 3:21).
It is impossible for us to overcome even one barrier that separates us from God. But “with God nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37). He appointed and accepted Another, the Lord Jesus Christ. By His obedience, the Lord Jesus did all that God required for righteousness, and by His own blood cleansed sinners who had made themselves enemies of God, and are unwilling and unable to do one thing about it. This is salvation by grace alone, through Christ alone, received and applied to us by the Spirit of God in God-given faith alone, and all to God’s glory alone! It is because He was lifted up on the cross, that the Lord Jesus draws men of every nation to Himself (John 12:32). Because He was made lower than the angels for the suffering of death, to taste death for every son, He is crowned with glory and honor (Heb. 2:9). The salvation of sinners is God’s great glory (Isaiah 45:21-25). God is love. It is His glory to forgive sin (Ex. 34:7). May we see the glory of God in Christ our Savior and Lord!