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With You there is forgiveness,
that You may be reverenced.
Psalm 130:4

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Many believe they will go to heaven because they have "lived a pretty good life", "tried to help others", "prayed every day", "read the Bible regularly", "gone to mass frequently", "been baptized", and/or "given to charity", etc.  They believe God will accept them on the basis of their own goodness or righteousness.  But the Bible says “all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags” (Isa 64:6 NKJ) and Jesus said “No one is good except God alone” (Mark 10:18 ESV).  Many think they'll be fine as long as they make a decent effort to keep the commandments or "live by the Sermon on the Mount".  But according to scripture, “whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.  For by the works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Rom 3:19-20 ESV). 

Apart from the grace and mercy of God, all sins are deadly, not just the so-called "Seven Deadly Sins".

That is, God gave us the law not as a means to justify ourselves but to show us our sinfulness so that we might look to Him for a remedy:  “the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Gal 3:24 NKJ). It isn’t good enough to just keep most of the law nor to just avoid the "really bad sins" because “whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10-11 NKJV).  And when scripture lists sins, it often lists those we consider to be smaller sins right in with the bigger ones. Consider these samples:

They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.  (Rom 1:29-32 ESV)

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  (Gal 5:19-22  ESV)

And we are told that those who live this way deserve death and judgment and will not enter the kingdom of God.  Moreover, God sees even the sins of our heart including those in our thoughts, attitudes, and motives:

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.  (Jer 17:9-10 ESV)

And Jesus said we can be guilty of great sins in our heart even if we don't physically act upon them:

You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, 'You fool!' will be liable to the hell of fire. ...

You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not commit adultery.'  But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. (Matt 5:21-22 & 27-30 NKJ)

Similarly, John writes "Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer " (1 John 3:15 ESV).  So in God's sight, one may be a murderer or adulterer without ever actually committing murder or adultery.  Another prevalent sin of the heart is pride.  What's scary is that our pride may even blind us to our pride.  And, though the world often praises, rewards, and exalts the proud, scripture tells us that “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble”  (James 4:6 ESV).  Jesus addressed pride in one instance as follows:

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt:  "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other 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.'  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!'  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.  (Luke 18:9-14 ESV)

Another sin of the heart is covetousness (greed) which the tenth commandment forbids.  Col 3:5-6 says "Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.  On account of these the wrath of God is coming"  (ESV). So while people usually think of idolatry as worshipping a golden calf or something like that, we see from this verse that God also considers greed to be idolatry and something worthy of His wrath.  Anything we place ahead of God is an idol.  In the West, we are too sophisticated to bow down to a literal idol but how quick we are to set our hearts on nicer cars, bigger houses, and larger pay checks.  We may even worship sports if we are more passionate about our team and it's progress than about God and His purposes.   Almost anything can become an idol to us if we're not careful.  Some may say, "So what's the big deal?".  They do not realize what absolute devotion we owe to God.  If you read the previous article entitled "Our Great God" then you've already seen how incredibly worthy God is of our total devotion.  He is perfectly holy, just, good, loving, kind, merciful, gracious, faithful, patient, etc.  The whole universe belongs to Him and every good thing we have is from Him, including our very lives.   So we shouldn't be surprised that when someone asked Jesus what the greatest commandment is, He replied:

'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.'  This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.  (Matt 22:37-40 NKJV). 

None of us have loved God with the complete devotion that He deserves.   Nor have we done everything for God’s glory as the apostle Paul commands us:  “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31 ESV).  Instead we are often more concerned about our own glory than that of God.  We worry more about what others think about us than what they think about God and we desire to impress others with ourselves rather than with God.  If our hearts were right, we'd care far more what others think about God than about us, not only for God's sake but for their sake as well.  Thus scripture says "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23).  God and His purposes are so great that we should care more about them than even the most essential needs and closest relationships of life.  Jesus said:

"Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you."  (Matt 6:31-33 NKJV)

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  (Matt 10:37-39 ESV)

If our devotion to God must supersede even the most important relationships, needs, and desires in our lives then how much more should it supersede the more frivolous things.  Some who are proud that they do not get drunk or go to wild parties will still drink deeply of worldly entertainment and idle conversation.  Others who wouldn't think of watching an R-Rated movie think nothing of devoting much of their spare time to "clean movies", video games, sports, and other amusements while giving little thought about the "kingdom of God and His righteousness".  Many things that aren't inherently sinful can become sin to us when we make too much of them.  Sometimes such things can be even more dangerous because they are innocent on the surface.   John writes:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life — is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.  (1 John 2:15-17 NKJV)

Along a similar line, James writes: "You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God." (James 4:4 ESV).  Sometimes our love for the world reveals itself when we must choose between standing with God or maintaining our popularity with others.  How easy it is to keep silent rather than to stand for the truth when  friends or co-workers are spouting ungodly views or acting in ungodly ways.  The desire for others' approval can be a deadly snare.  Sometimes we hide this sin under the banner of "political correctness".  But God isn't a politician and sometimes we will have to be politically incorrect if we are going to stand with God. 

Another stumbling block can be religion itself.  How easy it is to be active in church, worship, and other religious activities while our heart isn't really right with God.  To some living like this, Jesus said:

"You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: 'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men'". (Matt 15:7-9 ESV).

So it's not enough to just talk religion or to go through religious motions.  Today, many people base their hope of heaven on the fact that they have been baptized or that they once prayed some prayer (perhaps called the "sinner's prayer") that someone told them or that they read in a tract.  And while scripture does say that "whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Rom 10:13), this assumes that they are calling upon Him in true repentance and faith.  Jesus said:

Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?'  And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'  (Matt 7:21-23 ESV)

So one may claim Christ as their Lord and do many "good deeds" in His name and still be rebels in the sight of God.  We have already seen that we are suppose to love God supremely and love our neighbor as ourselves.  Paul tells us that whatever gifts we may possess and whatever "good deeds" we may perform are worthless if we do not act in love:

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.   And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. (1 Cor 13:1-3 NKJV)

Some do good deeds hoping to earn God's favor or to avoid His punishment.  But that would be like someone doing a bunch of nice things for you not because they love you, but because they were hoping to get something from you.  It's only when we already have God's forgiveness and favor that we can freely live for Him out of love.  Then we can relate to Him as the loving Father that He is rather than as the stern and distant taskmaster that some imagine Him to be.

By now is should be clear that we all fall very short of God's righteous standard.  And we must not try to delude ourselves by thinking that our hearts are actually good but that sometimes we just mess up or fall short of the standard.  Jesus said:

"Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil." (Matt 12:33-36 ESV)

So sinful thoughts, attitudes, and actions reveal sinful hearts.  Sins spring forth from sinful hearts like apples spring forth from apple trees  We are not sinners because we sin.  Rather, we sin because we are sinners.   So it's not good enough for us to just try a little harder because we are corrupt in our very hearts.  We need something far more radical than that.   And God has provided just what we need as we shall see on the next page.

But before we see His solution, let's look at one last thing here: the consequences that accompany our sin.  Unless something drastic happens, our sin will ultimately bring God's just eternal wrath upon us:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
(Rom 1:18-19 ESV)

because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed. 
(Rom 2:5 ESV)

for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.  There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil
 (Rom 2:8-9 ESV)

The wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23 ESV). 

when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might  (2 Thess 1:7-9 ESV)

But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.  (Rev 21:8 ESV)

It is clear that God is very serious about sin.  Yet He does not want us to experience His wrath:

For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.  Ezek 18:30-32 ESV

And God has made a way for us to be saved from our sin and from His wrath.  We're now ready to  discuss that on the next page.

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Related Links:
41 Evidences of Pride by Nancy Leigh DeMoss