And have put on the new self, which is being renewed in the image of its Creator. – Colossians 3:10
I have been reading this really old book by a man named Arthur Dent. It is called “The Plain Man’s Pathway to Heaven.” It is kind of hard to read, at least for me, so it has been pretty slow going. But, one thing has stood out to me and has made it more than worth the effort. Here is the question that gets answered: Can a person please God without having been converted?
We humans tend to think way better of ourselves than we really are. Before I was born again, and even years after my conversion, I would defend myself as a good person. I would point out the fact that I went to church, believed in God, and tried to do good for others. After God began to change my heart, I began to beat myself up and could find very little good inside of me. I learned that plenty of church people hadn’t truly been converted. I learned that people who had zero problem doing some pretty vile and sinful things actually believed in God. I also found out that “good” could be done with some seriously bad intentions. No wonder we need to be “renewed” in the image of our Creator.
Romans 8:8 says “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” The truth is, until we are in a state of grace, there is no pleasing Him. Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). Until we are in the state of grace granted by God upon our request for salvation, even our best intentions and our best actions are sinful. Every single one of us is born corrupt. Without Christ, we are constantly growing even more corrupt. Sure, there are good character traits and some morals coursing through all of us, but make no mistake about it, we are all born with spiritual cancer and that sin is eating away at our souls and corrupting our decisions from the moment we enter this world.
As soon as we are born again and truly give our life to Christ, there is a great reversal that happens. It isn’t that God magically makes us better people, but what He does is begin to renew us into His image. Right after I was saved, I honestly thought because I still sinned that salvation didn’t work. I didn’t realize that salvation was a slow-going process that God used to make me like Him. Twenty-nine years later, I don’t really deal with the same sins I dealt with in my youth. Yet, the closer I get to God I find new sins that, on my own, I would never have even called sin. I even find that, like Paul, there is this good that I want to do that I just don’t do. There also exists in me things I hate that I end up doing anyway. I used to beat myself up like crazy because of these things. Now, I trust in God to deal with them in His own good time. He has changed me so much these past twenty-nine years, I suppose He will do a lot more over the next twenty-nine.
Here is a difficult truth to swallow: Christ-less people fail in the manner of doing good because they do not do good out of faith in God, love for God, zeal for God, consciousness of God, or any sense of simply being obedient to God. This makes sense when we think of Cain’s offering. He honestly thought he was doing good by bringing God his offering, but his offering was not made out of thankfulness to God. The Pharisees prayed, but not out of love for God. Ananias and Sapphira gave an offering, but not out any sense of being obedient to God. The Israelites fasted and gave offerings, but not in the right spirit. The prophet Isaiah came along and flat out told them that their religious activity was meaningless.
The “Ten Dollar” story that I shared a couple of weeks ago helps me make a little sense of all of this. Had that student simply asked me for ten dollars to go have fun at the arcade, I would have just given it to him whether I knew God or not. In an unconverted state, that act of kindness would have been of no eternal value to me. It isn’t like God is going to let me into heaven simply because “Look, Lord, I do good! I gave that kid ten dollars!” As it stood, God Himself asked me to give him the money. I essentially told Him “no” because apparently, I had my own “good” reasons for not obeying. I missed that opportunity to do good simply because God asked it of me and out of a sense of trusting Him. In His great mercy, He still used that whole situation to teach me and I’m so thankful. He still asks me to do hard things. I’ve learned to just pray and say, “Lord, help me complete the good you are asking me to do. I would never have done this on my own. Let it not be me, but You, Lord.”