All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever (1 Peter 1:24-25).
What in the world does the grass think it's doing, anyway? Just look at it! Constantly reaching up for the sun. Growing, growing, up and up. Imagine a field full of tall grass. Imagine each blade crying out as it strives upward toward the sun, "There! Up there! There's my source! There's my strength! I'm reaching! I want it! I'm growing, taller. I think I can almost grasp it. So close now!"
Almost there! Oops! That's not it!
And trees, too. It's almost silly. All plants, really. Put a house plant next to a window, and just look at it! Leaning toward the window! What could it possibly be thinking?
Blades of grass are thinking the same thing that humans think: They can make it to heaven on their own strength.
Somebody needs to tell them: "You're wasting your time! You'll never make it! Sure, maybe you've grown up a couple feet, but you have 93 million miles to go! You're falling short! Way short (if you only knew)!"
Are we there yet? How far away is that thing?
Men are like grass. We need someone to tell us that we will never in all of our striving be able to work our way to heaven. We need desperately to be told, because it is so natural for us to imagine that our own goodness will somehow count in our favor. As natural as grass growing upward, reaching for the sun.
Salvation by works makes immediate sense to the natural man. Every human being knows deep in his heart that God is perfectly holy. We know that nothing unclean or unholy can enter into his presence. Heaven is for "good people", even perfect people. So the logical next step is to work towards holiness. What could make more sense? Good people go to heaven and bad people go to hell. Doesn't everyone understand that? Work, work, work with all your strength to make yourself holy. At the very least, try to be a good person. Avoid doing the really bad stuff like killing people and robbing banks, and hopefully that will be enough when The Day comes.
If men are like grass, then those who are more righteous are like the tall blades of grass. Those who are more selfish and sinful are the short little stubby blades of grass. Their sin weighs them down and stunts their growth. Some blades of grass are taller than others. Some men are more righteous than others.
For those who are "tall", looking down at everyone around them, it would be easy for them to imagine that they are closer to heaven, or at least closer than those low-life "sinners" down there. It would be easy to build up an inner pride, imagining that they are somehow better than others.
The Apostle Paul said that he had more reason than anyone else to boast about his own righteousness. "If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless" (Philippians 3:4-6).
For those who are "short", looking up at everyone around them, it would be easy to agree. The short ones know they are short. They say, "You're good, I'm bad. You're right, I'm wrong. You're holy, I'm sinful. You're close to God, I'm far away. I'll never make it."
If we never rise above man's perspective, we will never see the truth. What is God's perspective?
With a view from the sun, the Earth itself looks like a pinhead. If you could stand on the surface of the sun and look at the Earth, it would look no bigger than the period at the end of this sentence. Does one blade of grass look any taller than another? Does even a tree stand out? If the goal is 93 million miles away, does one blade of grass dare imagine that he is any closer than another? Where is boasting?
The tallest trees on earth are the redwoods. They can grow over 350 feet tall. In all her righteousness, perhaps Mother Teresa was one of them. Wow! Only 92,999,999.9 miles to go! If she was relying on her own righteousness, her life would be hopeless, and she would be closer to heaven than Hitler only as a redwood is closer to the sun than crabgrass.
"Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin" (Romans 3:20). From God's perspective, the redwood tree is no closer than the crabgrass. Mother Teresa is made of the same clay as Hitler. "There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:22-23).
If God is so infinitely unreachable, what hope do any of us have? The only hope we have is the righteousness that comes from God through Jesus Christ: "But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe" (Romans 3:20-22).
This righteousness from God is Jesus Christ. He is our righteousness and holiness (1 Corinthians 1:30).
"For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering" (Romans 8:3).
God became man so that he could do for us what we are powerless to do for ourselves. God doesn't help those who help themselves. He helps those who know that they are completely helpless and hopeless, and who cry out to him for mercy. "But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners" (Matthew 9:13).
Jesus is the blade of grass who grew all the way above the tree tops, above the clouds, surviving even where there is no oxygen, surviving even the blazing heat and unapproachable light of the sun. Like a root out of dry ground, growing, growing, eating the food of obedience that we know nothing about.
Most pagans have the nicest things to say about Jesus. "Look how good he is! Look how tall he grows!" And then, how sad, they fantasize that they can do the same thing in their own strength.
Somebody needs to tell them: "You're wasting your time! You'll never make it! Sure, maybe you've grown up a couple feet. Maybe you quit your drugs, or quit smoking. Maybe you lost some weight. Maybe you gave up pornography. Maybe you give money to help feed starving children. No matter! You're still just a blade of grass! You still have 93 million miles to go! You're falling short!"
Jesus said that the grass of the field is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire (Matthew 6:28-30). That isn't very comforting, but he also said that if you die to yourself, you will be counted as righteous in God's sight. As righteous as his Son, the Lord Jesus. The seed does not come to life unless it dies.
When the Apostle Paul considered God's perspective, he wrote again about his own righteousness: "But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith" (Philippians 3:7-10).
One of the best evidences that the Bible contains God's revelation to man is that we could never have dreamed it up on our own. Only God could have told us how far we fall short of his glory. Salvation by faith? Faith alone? Christianity is either the only true religion or the most laughable one. The Christian gospel is unique among all the world religions in that it is the only message which says that no matter how hard you work, your works will never get you to heaven. "So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified" (Galatians 2:16).
We are not justified by our works, but by faith. This has always been true, even before Christ was born. "What does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.' Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness" (Romans 4:3-5).
"By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man...And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith" (Hebrews 11:4, 6, 7).
Before Christ was born, God told his people that he was coming. Those who believed God, who had faith that God would make good on his promise, who looked forward to his appearing with eager expectation, were considered righteous in God's sight. It is no different today. Jesus, who is God, has told us that he is coming back. Those who believe that he was telling the truth, who eagerly hope for his appearing, are considered righteous in God's sight.
There are two kinds of righteousness. That which comes from man, earned by works, and that which comes from God, through faith. The righteousness of man, though it is measurable, and is found in some men more strongly than in others, is yet pitiful and small, regarded as nothing in comparison to the infinite righteousness and holiness of God.
Jesus knows the way to heaven. He worked his way there, because he lived a life of perfect righteousness, without sin, and he is right now preparing a place for those he has called as his own. He's coming back, and he wants to take you there to be with him. All you have to do is admit that you can't get there on your own, that you are by nature a sinner. Are you not going to die? Will you be resurrected on your own strength?
"As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord's love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children's children" (Psalm 103:15-17).
You need righteousness, for sure, to get into heaven. But your own righteousness will never be enough. What you need is the Lord's righteousness, the perfect righteousness of Christ, "the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith" (Philippians 3:10).
Surrender your life and your works, and let Jesus take you to glory.