Whenever I think I can function apart from God, I am in spiritual danger. This is true even if I manage to live quite well.
One example is the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar. He was wealthy and powerful, but God knew how to humble him. “He was driven from among the children of mankind, and his mind was made like that of a beast, and his dwelling was with the wild donkeys. He was fed grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, until he knew that the Most High God rules the kingdom of mankind and sets over it whom he will.” As he was humbled, he began to realize where his glory had come from.
Unfortunately, this humiliation had no effect on his son, Belshazzar. Daniel said to him, “You have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this, but you have lifted up yourself against the Lord of heaven. And the vessels of his house have been brought in before you, and you and your lords, your wives, and your concubines have drunk wine from them. And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know, but the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored.” (Daniel 5:21–23) Still, this king was not humbled and in less than a day, Belshazzar was dead.
The Gospel has a humbling effect. It offers good news, but unless the bad news is accepted first, the good news has no benefit. This bad news says that “all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.’” (Romans 3:9–18)
Many people hear this bad news and exclude themselves, but the Bible does say “all” have sinned and “none” is righteous. When I read these verses, even as a Christian saved by God’s grace, I have to step down from my high horse. God reminds me that apart from Jesus Christ, I am no different from the “all” who turn aside from God.
The good news is that “A person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” (Galatians 2:16)
The law of God was never given so people could keep it and be justified. Instead, God justifies freely and uses the law to show His people how a justified person should live. If anyone believes in what God has done to save them, then He will give them the life of Christ and they can begin to live in a new way. But “without faith, it is impossible to please God.” (Hebrews 11:6)
Yet even faith cannot be conjured up by sinners. It is the agent whereby God saved me, but it also is His amazing gift. This happens in a moment: God gives the gift of faith and at that moment the changed life begins. Both are God’s doing.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8–10)
Spiritual danger comes when pride has me thinking that I don’t need God because me and my high horse can do it without Him.