IV. THE REALITY OF HUMAN SIN.
A. Did Jesus teach that there are some people righteous enough that they do not need a Savior (Mark 2:17)?
1. In (Mark 2:17), Jesus said, "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." By the word "righteous" Jesus was not referring to those who were actually righteous in God's sight, but rather to those who were righteous in their own eyes, such as the scribes and Pharisees (see Luke 16:14,15). He came to minister to people who humbly acknowledged that they were sinners and needed a Savior. Jesus had no ministry to the self-righteous except to announce their condemnation before God.
2. What a dichotomy we see here! The sinners who trusted in and followed Jesus in faith were made righteous as a result of Christ's work at the cross. By contrast, those who were self-righteous (like the Pharisees) blindly sank deeper into sin and were ever more condemned by God.
B. Did Jesus teach that only those who are sinless (pure of heart) will ultimately end up in heaven and see God (Matthew 5:8)?
1. In the well-known section of Scripture known as the Beatitudes, Jesus said, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God" (Matthew 5:8).
2. As a backdrop to understanding Jesus' statement, let us begin by noting that the term blessed carries the meaning of "happy." The word refers to the inner happiness and serenity of a true follower of Christ. The self-righteous Pharisees might exert an outer appearance of being blessed, but in truth only those who follow Christ are blessed. The Pharisees were corrupt through and through on the inside.
3. The word "heart" is often used in Scripture to refer to the center of one's being-including mind, emotions, and will. To be pure in heart, then, would involve being pure in mind and emotions and will-indeed, in one's whole being.
4. It is important to realize that purity is not measured according to the standards of mankind. The Pharisees thought they were pure because when they measured themselves against the external behavior of other people, they convinced themselves they were righteous. But they were using the wrong standard. Purity is measured by the character of God Himself, and it is here that human corruption comes into- such clear focus.
5. Of course, one who has trusted and followed His will in Christ has been made pure, because he or she has had the very righteousness of Christ imputed to him or her. These individuals are accounted as "pure of heart" before God (Romans 4:5; 5:1; Hebrews 10:14). God's declaration of righteousness is given to believers "freely by His grace" (Romans 3:24). The word grace literally means "unmerited favor." It is because of God's unmerited favor that believers can freely be declared righteous before God.
6. This does not mean that God's declaration of righteousness has no objective basis. God did not just subjectively decide to overlook man's sin or wink at his unrighteousness. Jesus died on the cross for us. He died in our stead. He paid for our sins. He ransomed us from death by His own death on the cross (Romans 4:25).
7. There has thus been a great exchange. As the Reformer Martin Luther said, "Lord Jesus, you are my righteousness, I am your sin. You have taken upon yourself what is mine and given me what is yours. You have become what You were not so that I might become what I was not."
8. Allow me to illustrate. If I look through a piece of red glass, everything appears red. If I look through a piece of blue glass, everything appears blue. If I look through a piece of yellow glass, everything appears yellow, and so on. Likewise, when we believe and follow Jesus as our Savior, God looks at us through the "lens" of Jesus. He sees us in all the white holiness of His Son. Our sins are imputed to the account of Christ, and Christ's righteousness is imputed to our account (Romans 5:18,19). Hence, because of what Christ has done for us, we can be counted as "pure in heart" and will indeed see God, for we will dwell in His very presence for all eternity.
9. How different it was for the self-righteous Pharisees! These pompous individuals counted themselves as righteous in themselves, not knowing how truly vile they really were before God. Because they were not pure in heart by God's standard, and because they rejected the only One who could make them righteous (Jesus Christ), they will not dwell in God's presence for all eternity.
C. What chance of salvation do people have in view of Jesus' teaching that sin is not just external but is an internal reality (Matthew 5:28)?
1. In (Matthew 5:28), Jesus said, "I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." It is clear from verses like this that none of us stands a chance of salvation--for not for the saving work of Jesus Christ our Lord. None of us is righteous enough in ourselves to warrant salvation. But because of what Jesus has accomplished at the cross, salvation becomes a reality for those who believe and obey Him (John 3:16).
2. Let us look at the backdrop of (Matthew 5). In verse 27 Jesus said, "You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery." This statement points to the external act of adultery as sin. But then Jesus went to the root of the problem and said, "But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (verse 28).
3. Over the years the Pharisees had codified the law into 365 prohibitions ("Thou shalt not...") and 248 commandments ("Thou shalt..."). The Pharisees communicated the idea to their followers that so long as one externally followed these commandments, they were considered righteous before God. Christ challenged the Pharisees, however, and stressed that externally keeping these commands was not enough-not nearly enough.
4. In the case of adultery, for example, Jesus said it is not just the external act that brings condemnation to a person. (The Pharisees taught that only a physical sexual union is adultery.) Jesus emphasized that if one lusted after a woman in his or her heart, that too constitutes adultery and therefore brings condemnation. Adultery begins in the heart. The lustful desire is where sin emerges.
5. Sin, seen as something that begins in the heart, renders us all guilty before our holy God (see Jeremiah 17:9; see also Genesis 6:5; Ecclesiastes 9:3; Matthew 15:19,20). None of us can be righteous enough in ourselves to earn salvation. But because of what Jesus accomplished at the cross, those who believe and obey Him have their sins washed away, and will live with Him forever (Romans 4:24,25; Hebrews 10:14).
D. Did Jesus advocate maiming our bodies in order to become saved (Matthew 5:29, 30; 18:8, 9; Mark 9:43-48)?
1. In (Matthew 5:29) Jesus said, "If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell" (see also Matthew 18:8,9 and Mark 9:43-48). I do not think Jesus is actually teaching self-mutilation, for even a blind man can lust, and a man with no hands can yearn to steal. (Remember, sin begins in the heart-Jeremiah 17:9.)
2. Rather, I think Jesus is purposefully using very strong and graphic language to stress how utterly dangerous sin is and how it can lead to eternal condemnation. Many scholars believe that Jesus is using a hyperbole in this verse. A hyperbole is a figure of speech that purposefully exaggerates to make a powerful point.
3. In the present case, the hyperbole is used to emphasize the need for drastic action in dealing with sin. To keep from offending God by sin, radical changes are often necessary. Disciples of Christ must take immediate and decisive action against anything that would serve to draw him or her away from allegiance to Christ. Christians are to make no provision for temptations; every occasion that may lead to sin is to be eliminated.