We are sinners. The Syro-Phoenician woman knew that. (Mark 7:26). The Tax Collector in the temple knew that. (Luke 18:13). Mary knew that. (Luke 1:46). We know we are sinners.
No one believes in Jesus Christ the savior unless they see a need in Him. Martyn Lloyd Jones, sermon Isaiah 1:10, Repentance and Salvation.
Before we are saved, we are blind to our sin. After the Lord graciously gives us the ability to see ourselves as we are, the scales having fallen off our eyes so to speak, (Acts 9:17-18), we repent of our sins. But that does not mean we stop sinning. We have the Power to resist sin thanks to the Holy Spirit in us, but we still sin. (Matthew 16:24). We will continue to sin until we are glorified.
Legalists like the Pharisees to whom Jesus contrasted the Tax Collector, believed they would attain heaven by their good works. This belief is not expired. People believe it to this day. If you watch street pastors Ray Comfort or Todd Friel, when they ask people on the street if they expect to get to heaven and how, the people always respond that they are a good person doing good things so surely they will go to heaven.
We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. Are you so foolish? (Galatians 2:15-16)
After we are saved, however, we still have a tendency to give in to our to our sinful nature. We can easily start to believe satan’s propaganda that we earn God’s regard by doing good things, that we maintain our salvation by doing good works. Or we start to make lists of the things we must do to preserve our good name before the Lord. Paul addressed this in Galatians 3:3, asking rhetorically,
Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?
John MacArthur said of the verse,
The notion that sinful, weak human nature could improve on the saving work of the Holy Spirit was ludicrous.
We should always remember that it is by grace through faith that we have been saved, not by works. After salvation, the good works that we do are an inevitable result of our gratitude for this great gift, and it is the proof of the existence of the new creature. But our works do not save us and they do not add to the preservation of our salvation. Martin Luther said,
We all carry about in our pockets His very nails.
Erik Raymond at The Gospel Coalition succinctly said,
Legalists keep lists in their pockets, while Christians keep nails.
What’s in your pocket today? Lists? Or nails?