Good Works or Ghastly Works
December 6, 2015
Read Lu 14:1-6 – “What one thing will keep more people out of heaven than any other?” What one thing? I can tell you without reservation what I think it is. It is people’s good works. Most people are counting on their goodness to get them there. And the Bible is unequivocal. That simply won’t do. Paul specifically says in Titus 3:5, “he saved us, NOT because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy.” He says “not of works, lest any person should boast” (Eph 2:9). Good works are ghastly works when someone is counting on them to earn favor with God. Good works and ghastly look exactly the same – only difference being motivation.
It’s like someone once said. Good works are like wearing a hospital gown. You’re never as covered as you think you are! Good works are great for demonstrating faith; they are useless for covering sin. If that is what motivates a good act, it just became a ghastly act because it’s not doing what you think it is. None of us can buy God off. There’s not enough coverage.
People trying to earn God’s favor are legalists, or moralists. To them, life is an accounting system. My goodness puts God in my debt. I lose a few points when I slip off the wagon, but I earn it back with some extra credit later. That is moralism – the belief my goodness puts God under obligation. That is the problem Jesus addresses here -- showing moralists they all come up short. Their books say one thing; God’s books say another. The solution to sin is not moralism, but repentance. Jesus here gives 3 ways moralists fall short.
I. Moralists Lack Comprehension
Their authority is human wisdom. They rely on their own intellect rather than on God’s revelation – a common issue in our own world. Background: V. 1: “One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully.” Friendly start, right? Jesus is invited to lunch at the home of a leading Pharisee and He accepts. Warm and cozy!
But ominously, at the end of the verse – “they were watching him carefully.” They who? We’re not told. Probably friends of this big wig, other like-minded individuals who make up the party. They are watching Him carefully. Because they revere Him? Quite the opposite. Luke has just told of Jesus’ mourning over Jerusalem for its lack of repentance. Then he moves directly into this account. He is showing us a real life example of Israel’s failure. This is rejection leading to destruction. So when he says, “they were watching him carefully (lurkingly, suspiciously),” it’s not for a good purpose. It’s a trap.
In fact, the very next verse show the means by which they hope to get Him to break the Sabbath so they can accuse Him. “2 And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy.” Dropsy is a buildup of excess fluid in body tissues caused by something else. It could be cancer or liver or kidney or even heart problems. Whatever it is, this man has a serious physical condition.
He could be an uninvited courtyard guest, but I think he’s invited. Either way, it’s a setup. They spotlight a needy person and they expect Jesus will do what He always does – heal the man – and then they can bring charges that He has broken the Sabbath regulations against work. It is a setup all the way.
Jesus sees right thru the ruse. It’s not hard. This man, whose condition the Pharisees believed is brought on by sin, would not normally have been invited. They have placed him where Jesus cannot miss him, so while Jesus views him with compassionate eyes, they view Jesus with something else in their eyes. Jesus sees human need; they see rules. That’s how you know you’re a moralist. Rules mean more to you than people. So the trap is set. Even as they pass the potatoes, they are waiting for Jesus to act so they can accuse Him.
So, v. 3: “And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees.” Jesus responds? To what? No one has said anything. No, but this shows Jesus sees thru the setup. He responds to the situation knowing exactly what they intend. As they wait with eager anticipation, he dashes their plans with 1 question. “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” Not “Wouldn’t it be compassionate to heal on the Sabbath?” That would have led to fruitless debate. Jesus goes to the core of the issue, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?”
Their reaction is telling. “But they remained silent.” Jesus has put them on the horns of a dilemma. If they say, “Yes it’s lawful”, they could not object to a healing. But if they say, “It’s not lawful,” they would be the heartless bad guys and Jesus the good guy. Jesus had them in a bind!
But Jesus has caught them out on an even deeper issue. When Jesus said, “Is it lawful?” everyone knew He was asking, “Does God’s law revealed thru Moses prohibit healing on the Sabbath? Would healing violate God’s law?” And they all knew the answer. Nothing in the Mosaic Law to prohibited healing on the Sabbath. Nothing! The only thing healing would violate was their own additions to God’s law to define it according to their own liking. Healing would violate them – not God!
By this one question Jesus has pointed out a major issue of all moralists. They lack comprehension. They misinterpret and abuse God’s revelation by their own additions that they keep and that others don’t to make themselves look good. For them, it’s about a religion they’ve defined, not a relationship that God defines. They turn God’s Word into a list of do’s and don’t’s rather than the living invitation to a relationship it’s intended to be.
You say, “Well, wait a minute. Aren’t the Ten Commandments found in the Bible? Seems like a list to me!” And that’s true. But they were never intended to save anyone by keeping them. They were intended to illustrate we can’t keep them; therefore, a sacrifice for sin is needed leading to a relationship based on grace, not law. The Bible never says, “Be saved by keeping this list.” Never! What it says in Gal 3:10 is, “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” You don’t get saved by keeping the list; you get cursed. Because you can’t do it. But the moralist never delves deeply enough into the Word to find that out. He never realizes that he is most cursed, not by his sin, but by his goodness. [Repeat]
God says in Rom 3:24 we “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” “Freely, by His grace” the KJV has it. Someone says, “Surely I must do something, be holy for many years and then get it!” No – “freely by His grace”. “But I have been praying and I do not believe God will forgive me unless I do something.” So you would make God a liar. He says it is “freely by His grace.” Spurgeon says, “If you bring in any of your deservings, you shall not have it. God gives away his justification freely; and if you bring anything to pay for it, He will throw it in your face.” Your deservings ruin everything. It is “freely by His grace.”
If I could preach justification for $10, who would go out without being justified? If I could preach justification by walking 100 miles, would we not all become pilgrims tomorrow, every one of us? If I were to preach justification by ritual, we’d all be there. But when it is freely, freely, freely, people turn away. And thus moralism kills for lack of comprehension.
II. Moralists Lack Compassion
The Pharisees have no response to Jesus’ question, so Jesus heals the man and sends him away. The man’s been used enough. Jesus graciously removes him from further humiliation. But now, knowing full well that His action offends the Pharisees despite their cowardliness in not answering, He asks another question – this one clearly showing them for the hypocrites they are. 5 And he said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” 6 And they could not reply to these things.” No reply. Why? Because they know He is right.
Jesus point is despite their long list of do’s and don’t’s, they give themselves waivers. So, while their Sabbath rules inconvenience others – with regulations against such things as a tailor “carrying” a pin in his toga, or a housewife cooking any kind of meal, yet they allow for their own benefit that if a son or an ox falls into a well and life is endangered, they can pull him out.
Open wells were a constant danger in Palestine. A child or even an animal seeking water might easily fall into one. Would it be work to get them out? Absolutely. It might take intense labor. But for their own benefit, the small print on their list gave them the go-ahead. They knew that Jesus had it exactly right. But his question pinpoints their own hard heart. They would go rescue their own child, or even one of their animals – yet they were incensed tho Jesus had expended no discernible labor to heal a man who had a life-threatening condition. Their hypocrisy was boundless, and Jesus’ question was meant to help them face that fact, repent and get right with God.
They knew the law could be summed up in two commands – love the Lord with all your heart, and to love others as yourself. They failed on both counts. They did not love God as shown by their amending His revelation to suit their purposes. And they care more about their own animals than they do a fellow human being. Sure, they may do something nice for someone once in awhile, but only to pad their own list of virtues. They use others, not love them.
They think themselves better than others. Moralists always compare. They may do right things, only to look good. But who can blame them. Their salvation depends on it! Ask, “Why do you think you are going to heaven?” Answer: “Because I am just as good as anyone else and better than most.” Moralists have to condescend to others. To humbly admit that they are sinful would destroy the very thing they are depending on to save them. This is why the Pharisees despised the common people. Their salvation depended on being better. Modern moralists are just the same only more subtle about it. Deep down they only use others to convince themselves that they are okay.
A teacher wanted to encourage students to avoid colds. So she told a heart-wrenching story about her little brother -- a wonderful, fun-loving little boy who went out with his sled, got cold and wet, got pneumonia and died. When she finished the story there was dead silence; she thought she had really gotten thru. That is until a voice in back asked, “Where’s the sled?” That boy was a Pharisee to the core. No compassion, just a burning desire to use someone else for his own gain. So moralists use others to bolster their self-image and convince themselves they are good enough for God on their own. And so their good works take them straight to hell because no one can be good enough.
III. Moralists Lack Christ
Rather than accepting Christ and believing in Him, these men were watching Him to catch Him out, right? As we’ve seen before, they were judging Him, not believing Him. And so, in the end, by far their greatest lack was they lacked Christ. They didn’t feel they needed Him.
Moralists today are not so blatant in that regard. They will talk about Christ, and maybe even believe the facts about His life. But for their salvation, they trust in their goodness. If Jesus had never been born, it would make no difference to them! That is the most telling feature of their religion. It doesn’t need Jesus. He was a great example, but, if He hadn’t been there, they would copy someone else. Their salvation is their list of do’s and don’t’s. Their salvation is their morality and their judgment that they are good enough.
Want to see a moralist. Lu 18:10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 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. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ We think we’re not Pharisees, but how often have you heard someone give testimony or pray like that. “Praise God, we came to Christ, raised our kids right, and now they are missionaries in Africa, and we are grateful for what we could give to the Building Fund. It’s great to have Jesus!” Be very careful, Beloved. Some of our prayers sound just like that guy because we are moralists just like he was – thanking God that we did all the right things. But read on: “13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” And Jesus’ verdict? “14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.” Who got saved? Not the guy who did everything right, but the guy who admitted he got nothing right and threw himself on God’s mercy. He got Christ; the other went away empty-handed.
Conc – What’s going to keep more people out of heaven than anything? Good works -- made ghastly because we trust them for salvation. Christian Smith quotes a 15-year-old MS boy whose belief parallels that of most people: "If you do the right thing and don't do anything bad, I mean nothing really bad, you know, you go to heaven. If you don't, then you're screwed [laughs], that's about it." So –be good for goodness sake!
But, the Bible teaches differently. It teaches “none righteous, no, not one. . . . no one does good, not even one.” If we get heaven by being good, God’s verdict is, “Everybody out.” But thankfully, Jesus came to fix what we think we can fix but can’t! A sign at a plumbing shop read, “We repair what your husband fixed.” Jesus came to repair what you and I fixed – because it’s not really fixed until He moves in. He turns ghastly good works (those intended to earn favor with God) into good, good works (those demonstrating saving faith). So, are you a moralist or a believer – trusting in your goodness or in His goodness? We can never be good enough, Beloved, but He already was. Let’s pray.