I once saw a birthday card that began its greeting with “Everything I love in life is illegal, immoral, or fattening.”
February 8, 2023
After being riddled with guilt for years over his sins as a teenager, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (arguably Hollywood’s highest paid actor) made amends. We are told that he was able to redeem himself. A video posted online shows him returning to the scene of the crime and buying up hundreds of Snickers bars, giving them to the store, and telling them to give them away to anyone who was tempted to steal.
Before making amends, he said three times in one interview that he wanted to “redeem” himself for his theft. The media loved it, saying that he was indeed “making things right.”
Is that true? Can we balance the scales of justice by doing good works? Millions would say a big “amen,” that it’s certainly the right thing to do. This is because doing religious works (or “good” works) is the basis for their religion. After all, wasn’t this what Zacchaeus did in the Bible?
Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.” (Luke 19:8)
Actually, it’s not. Zacchaeus wasn’t trying to redeem himself. He was redeemed the moment he put his faith in Jesus. His righting past wrongs was done as an act of gratitude for God’s forgiveness. It was what Scripture calls fruit of repentance (Luke 3:8). It was evidence that he had just been saved:
And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:9-10)
It was evident that Dwayne Johnson wasn’t trusting in the Savior. Instead, he was trusting in his own attempt to redeem himself, something the Bible says cannot be done:
Those who trust in their wealth
And boast in the multitude of their riches,
None of them can by any means redeem his brother,
Nor give to God a ransom for him—
For the redemption of their souls is costly,
And it shall cease forever—
That he should continue to live eternally,
And not see the Pit. (Psalm 49:6-9)
If Dwayne Johnson bought the entire store and gifted it to the owner, it wouldn’t make things right. Paying off the victim from whom we’ve stolen doesn’t work in criminal court, and it certainly won’t work on Judgment Day. If a one-time monetary payment for theft was able to satisfy God, how would we redeem ourselves for adultery, for fornication, for blasphemy, or for lying? How would we make things right for the sin of lust—which Jesus said is adultery of the heart (Matthew 5:27-28)?
“Good works don’t cover our sins in the slightest. A multimillionaire giving $500 to a store may impress the media, but it doesn’t impress God.”
Good works don’t cover our sins in the slightest. A multimillionaire giving $500 to a store may impress the media, but it doesn’t impress God. Any payment we try to make for sin is an abomination to Him (Proverbs 21:27). Yet millions deceive themselves by pacifying their guilty conscience with what the Bible calls “dead works” (Hebrews 6:1).
Good People and Heaven
On a cold winter morning way back in 1979, I sat in the back seat of my neighbor’s car as they kindly drove me to work. The husband had heard me speak at a service club about Christianity and drug prevention earlier that week. To my surprise, he suddenly asked, “Ray. Good people go to Heaven. Bad people go to Hell. Where does the average person like me go?”
I explained that the Bible teaches that in God’s eyes, no one is good (Mark 10:17-20). Not one. Despite that, most people will say that they are morally good (Proverbs 20:6). That is probably humanity’s most prevalent deception. Perhaps the second is to admit that they have moral failings but believe that if they do good, it will balance the scales on Judgment Day.
“Most people will say that they are morally good (Proverbs 20:6). That is probably humanity’s most prevalent deception.”
There was once a hardened criminal who had murdered a number of prostitutes. As he faced the judge, he had a twofold defense. The first was that all of the victims were prostitutes. He maintained that he had done society a favor. In other words, his crime wasn’t serious. The second line of defense was that even though he was guilty of the crimes, he had been involved in a number of good works during his life. He had often given to charities, and he never hesitated to help others. He said that he hoped the judge would take into account all the good that he had done and, because of that, let him go. What a delusion! No legitimate judge will free a murderer because he has done good things. His “good works” are irrelevant. That’s how justice works. If doing good things doesn’t justify us in man’s court, it certainly won’t justify us in God’s court on Judgment Day. So, how do we awaken the person who is deceived into thinking that their works will justify him before God? I have found the following to be effective.
Most of humanity doesn’t see sin as being a serious crime against God. They believe that they make mistakes or have moral failures. After all, nobody’s perfect. However, the Bible gives us something to show us differently. It says that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). In other words, God is paying us in death for our sins. It is like a judge who gives the death sentence to a flippant murderer. He says, “I’m giving you the death sentence. This is your wages. This is what you’ve earned.” That sentence shows the criminal his crime was serious.
Sin is so serious to a holy God that He’s given every one of us the death sentence, capital punishment. In other words, our death will be evidence to us that God is deadly serious about sin—even if we’re not. Death is an arresting officer with a divine summons in his hand. And God isn’t going to withdraw that summons just because a guilty rich man slaps $500 on a counter. The payment was infinitely greater than that. It took the agonizing death of the perfect Lamb of God to redeem us from the curse of the Law. It is in Jesus alone that we are sheltered from death and from God’s wrath.
While I draw this fleeting breath,
when mine eyes shall close in death,
when I soar to worlds unknown,
see thee on thy judgment throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee.
–Augustus Toplady, “Rock of Ages”