“The righteousness of Christ is the only righteousness that makes us acceptable in God’s sight. We can add nothing to it.”
Imagine the Pharisee’s surprise when a woman notorious for her sinful life crashed the dinner party Simon threw for Jesus. She wept as she anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume, wiping her tears away with her hair. Simon grumbled, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner” (Luke 7:39).
Not everyone appreciated that Jesus was a friend to sinners. Simon was right in his moral assessment of the woman’s past. Jesus confirmed it when He said that “her many sins have been forgiven” (v. 47). While it was easy for Simon to see the woman’s sin, he had trouble recognizing his own. It might have been true that Simon had sinned less than her, but he was still a sinner.
This inability to recognize our own sin was not just a Pharisee problem, we struggle with this today. Our morality does not make us less prone to sin. It only makes us less conscious of it. Jesus once said that “it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19:23). It is just as hard for the moral person, for the same reason. “Christianity tells people to repent and promises them forgiveness,” C. S. Lewis observes. “It therefore has nothing (as far as I know) to say to people who do not know they have done anything to repent of and who do not feel that they need any forgiveness.” The righteousness of Christ is the only righteousness that makes us acceptable in God’s sight. We can add nothing to it.
This means that, before a moral person can be saved, we must let go of our moral accomplishments the same way the notorious sinner has to let go of sins. We cannot look to our own efforts, no matter how good, to lay claim to acceptance by God. If, as the saying goes, a man is known by the company he keeps, it is no wonder that Jesus is called a friend of sinners (Matt. 11:19). But because Jesus is also a savior, a sinner is no longer a sinner when they have Jesus as their friend.
For Further Study
To learn more, read God’s Abundant Grace by D. L. Moody (Moody Publishers).