The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?
But on this one will I look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, And who trembles at My word.
Though mankind is corrupted by sin, God has given each person a conscience that alerts them to the sinful things they do in thought, word and deed. Because people are not able to escape this ever-present warning system they spend their lives debating with it and rejecting its testimony against their sin. They prefer to think of themselves as good people, and so they diligently throw out all the testimony to the contrary. They accuse their conscience of bearing false witness and are thus able to prop up their fabricated dignity. In duping themselves they mistakenly imagine that they deceive God as well. And so they are able to live day to day in rebellion against God, all the while imagining that they are more upright than their neighbor.
As long as someone continues to justify themselves and diminish the seriousness of their sin they cannot be reconciled to God. God gives grace to the humble but opposes the proud. Jesus proclaimed it is only those people who are poor in spirit that can lay claim to the kingdom of God. Until a person is convinced of their guilt before God they cannot be saved. Jesus Christ did not come into the world to save the righteous, but sinners. So those who refuse to admit the truth of their own sinfulness before God disqualify themselves for salvation.
Is it possible for a self-righteous, deceptive and sin loving heart to come to this place of humble confession? With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. When God comes to win a heart for Christ His first act is to convince the person of their sinfulness before God. He does not come to build up their self-esteem, on the contrary, He comes to tear their self-esteem to shreds and show them that they are nothing but a blind, poor and naked wretch. The Bible declares, “Open rebuke is better than love carefully concealed” (Proverbs 27:5). God is not primarily concerned with making people feel better, He is concerned with saving their souls. He wants to set them free from the power of sin, and the first step in that process is to make them face up to the depth of their corruption.
Only the Spirit of God is able to open someone’s spiritual ears so they can begin to listen to the conscience they have long since silenced with self-justifying lies. The Spirit of God does this work through the preaching of God’s law. Before we tell people how to be saved we must present them with God’s perfect standard of righteousness by which they will be judged on the Last Day. We must let them know the he who has broken one of God’s commands in thought, word or deed has broken the entire law, and is guilty of rebellion against the Lawgiver (James 2:10-11). This doesn’t mean we condemn people, there is no need for that, because they are already condemned (John 3:18). We simply put the mirror of God’s law right before their eyes so that they can see how wretched they really are. This is not because we revel in making people feel bad, but because we, like our Father in heaven, desire people to come to repentance so they might receive eternal life. And our Father has made it clear that unless they are convinced of their sin and humbled by that revelation, they will never find life.