I noticed the above sign on my way to work. The message is not too different from the typical slightly clever pithy statements that various churches put on their signs; however, this sign troubles me for two reasons. First, it begins with a half-quote from an important passage of scripture, leaving out the best part.1 Second, the sign’s ending contradicts the missing half of the quote. A half-quoted verse is a scripture easily twisted. A twisted scripture is a gospel easily corrupted. A corrupted gospel is a deceit easily believed, leading to destruction.
The intended message suggests that one must stop sinning in order to avoid the judgment of God. It places the work of salvation in the hands of the hearer. Any message of salvation that requires one to save oneself through works, or by adhering to the law, is a message that can lead to either a sense of self-righteousness, or a sense of self-loathing.
One adherent to the message may happily say, “I’m a good person. I’ve obeyed all the law and done good works. I’ve earned my salvation.”
Another adherent may moan, “What a miserable horrible person I am. I can’t obey. I keep sinning. I’ve not done enough good to save my wretched soul.”
Yet, if death is the result of sin, then all who have sinned will die whether or not they “quit before payday.” Quitting does not negate the just penalty. Hope only exists in the fully quoted verse in its context of the good news of Jesus the Christ.
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.2
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.3
It is true that we can not save ourselves. We can not even stop sinning by our own power. Yet, God in his kindness has freely given salvation as a gift. Those who trust in Jesus have been justified, redeemed, and made righteous in the sight of God. An adherent to this message may say, “What a miserable horrible person I am. Thanks be to God, who saves wretched sinners such as I, redeeming us from the grave, conforming us into His likeness, bringing us into His kingdom, and giving us eternal life in His Son to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen!”