When you take a plate of cookies to your new neighbor, that is a good thing to do. They appreciate it. When you stand up for a friend who is being bullied, that is a good thing to do. Your friend appreciates it. When you control your temper instead of yelling at someone, that is a good thing to do. Everyone appreciates it. From our perspective, those are all good things to do. But are they pleasing to God? Is he impressed by our “good deeds?”
Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, knew the answer to this question. In Proverbs 15:8, he wrote, “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, but the prayer of the upright is his delight.” Solomon saw that God is not fooled by our outward actions. He sees straight to the heart. A wicked person cannot fool God into thinking that they are a good person just because they offered a sacrifice. God sees right through that hypocrisy. The point is that nothing you do can please God, because he sees your sinful heart. And apart from God’s influence, sinful man cannot please God.
The Lord Jesus spoke about this in Luke 18:9-14. He told the story of two men who went to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee who was a respected, religious leader. During his prayer, he listed all the good things he had done: “God, I thank You that I am not like other men — extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.” You can smell his arrogance from across the room! And if you are honest, you have probably compared had the same kind of attitude. “I’m not as bad as that guy!” By comparing yourself to someone who is worse than you, you will come out looking pretty good. This man thought his good deeds impressed God, but God saw straight through to his sinful heart and was not pleased.
The other man had quite a different response. “And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!'” He saw himself from God’s perspective and knew that there was nothing he could do to please God. So he did the only thing he could: he cried out to God for mercy. And what was the result? The Lord Jesus proclaimed that this man was justified by God rather than the other. The point is that you are a sinful man who cannot please God. Your only hope is to turn to God and beg for his mercy.