I've been giving some extended thought to the lyrics of Joseph Hart's 1759 hymn "Come ye, Sinners, Poor and Needy." What an honest picture it paints of both man's utter unworthiness before God and upon God's amazing grace toward unworthy sinners. Plus, it's just super catchy to boot.
Sinners like me are "poor and needy," "weak and wounded," "sick and sore," "weary and heavy laden," and "lost and ruined by the Fall." But Jesus, our sinless savior, is "ready to save us, full of pity, love, and power."
Even if a sinner knows he needs to repent, in his pride he will find ways to justify continuing in unworthiness and delay repentance. Hence, the sick man will tell convince himself that he should "tarry till he's better" so that he might fancy himself as more presentable to a holy God. That's the path to damnation, of course, as one who attempts to tarry till he's better "will never come at all." When God is offering mercy and forgiveness in Christ, He doesn't require the sinner in need of salvation attempt to clean himself up first. Rather, "the only fitness He requires is that we feel our need of Him."
Of course, I've read Dietrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship (honestly, it's one of my favorite books), and anybody who knows true Christianity knows that he was right to say that "grace is costly." But that fact shouldn't make us hesitate to affirm Jesus' promise in Matthew 11:28-30:
"Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
For as costly as following Jesus can be, being in God's grace through Jesus is nevertheless an easy yoke and a light burden. God requires nothing of sinners coming to Jesus except for them to recognize their helplessness and total need for a Savior. Our salvation cost God much, but the cost required of us to follow Him is ultimately a joyous privilege once the Holy Spirit has worked a miracle of regeneration in our hearts.
The amazing truth of God's willingness to save us in spite of our sin motivated my preparation of two recent sermons which I delivered this past October at my home church. The sermons formed a two-part mini-series, with the first installment establishing the problem of "self-ruined men" and the follow-up drawing attention to God's grace in saving the self-ruined man.
"The Self-Ruined Man" sermon grew out of one of my children's Sunday School lessons on Proverbs 20. I saw enough connections between verses 18-21 to warrant presenting them as a unit about an ungrateful and impatient son who ultimately brings ruin upon his family's legacy and upon the people under his stewardship. It's a sad story that doesn't have a happy ending.
"The Prodigal's Father: Redeemer of the Self-Ruined Man", on the other hand, speaks hope to the self-ruined man, not because he can hope to pull himself out of the ruin he's made for himself, but because his heavenly Father stands ready to redeem Him. I preach from the famous "prodigal son" passage of Luke 15, but for this sermon I chose to focus upon the Prodigal Father's grace rather than retreading the prodigal son's failures.
So there it is in a nutshell--ruined sinners we are all, with a holy Heavenly Father who nevertheless stands ready to redeem us on account of the work of a perfect sinless Savior in our Lord Jesus Christ. Don't bother to try and clean yourself off before going to God in repentance; just arise and go to Jesus. The only fitness God requires is that you know your need of Him.