The gospel is a message that crushes any sense of moral “better-ness”. The gospel levels any and every sense of moral superiority that might make one man feel more “righteous” than the other. And there are a few reasons for this:
The first is because, as Paul says, “He will render to each one according to his works” (Rom 2:6), and, “For all who have sinned without the law will perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified” (Rom 2:12-13). In other words, whether you have revelation from God or you are without God and without hope in the world, you die as a law breaker. The gospel levels all human boasting by revealing the heart of the matter: every single human that has ever existed is a sinner. It doesn’t matter if you’ve read the Bible your whole life, and you know God’s word inside and out–you are still as sinful as the pagan next to you. There is no higher class of human. All are imprisoned under sin, and need to be saved.
And the second reason that the gospel removes any sense of moral self-righteousness is because there is only one Person through which we may be saved. God didn’t give us choices when he offered salvation. He didn’t offer the “really hard way of works”, and the “lesser way of grace”–no, God offered salvation through one man: Jesus Christ. And what this means is that rich and poor alike are called to be saved through Jesus Christ. The philanthropist and thief alike are called to come to Christ. The law keeper and the law breaker alike are called to this man Jesus. This levels us all because we all must go down the same path: through Christ Jesus. No man can go another way. Every man, whether we like it or not, needs Jesus.
But this same gospel that levels every man also unites every man. Paul says in Ephesians 2:14-16 that Christ “himself is our peace, who has made us both (Jew and Gentile) one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in the ordinances, that he might create one new man in the place of two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility”.
Paul says that in Christ, God makes one new man in the place of two, and thereby kills relational hostility. What hostility is Paul talking about? He was talking about the hatred that Israel had for the Gentile nations. The Jews hated the Gentiles. The reason is because the Jews saw the Gentiles as morally inferior–for the Jews, they were “on the outside” of God’s purpose and people, and were therefore unwanted and dirty. Israel commonly called the Gentiles “dogs”–the imagery here is that the Gentiles were like stray dogs, unwanted, untamed, passionate, and uncontrolled. But implicit in this name is the assumption that the Jews were tamed, controlled, and obedient–they were God’s nice and neat nation. I mean, after all, they had the Mosaic law. They knew God and his ordinances, and were therefore morally and religiously elite in comparison to the Gentiles.
Hopefully you can see the arrogance in that. And of course, the Jews needed to be taught the arrogance in that mindset as well–and they were taught it. The error of Israel was the assumption that because they had the revealed Torah of God, it made them “better than”. Far from correct. Having the law does not make you better–it is only if you keep it that you can call yourself morally superior. And of course, Israel learned the hard way that they couldn’t keep the law. The Jews miserably failed to keep God’s law, and were repeatedly spurned violently by God for their disobedience.
As Paul says, the law was a tutor to the Jews that taught them they were sinners just like the Gentiles (Gal 3:24). They too needed salvation. The law compounded the sinfulness of the Jews so that it stopped their boasting. And this resulted in every mouth on earth being stopped, that the whole world may be held accountable to God (Rom 3:19). Every man now, both Jew and Gentile, is under sin. What a glorious and humiliating position mankind is in!
But, Paul says in Ephesians 2 that Christ has come, and he broke down every relational dividing wall by “abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create one new man” (Eph 2:15). What Paul is explaining here is that when Christ came, he both fulfilled and abolished the Mosaic law that held the Jews accountable to God. And what this means is that if Israel desires salvation, she needs to come to the one who has fulfilled the law. This Jesus kept the law perfectly on Israel’s behalf, and now offers salvation if they just admit their own moral guilt and come to him. This radically levels Israel. Whereas the Gentiles were seen as the immoral ones needing salvation, now Israel is guilty too! Both are in need of a savior. And they both meet in the same savior, the God-man Jesus Christ. This is where Israel and Gentiles meet as one new man. Both need the salvation of Jesus, and neither can go another way. And this means that both, united to God in Christ Jesus, are united one to another. No longer can either see themselves as better. And no longer can they have enmity with one another, for they have both found peace together in Christ.
All men are leveled by the gospel and made aware their sin, all men are saved by the same Christ, and all men are united in and through the same Jesus. This is the wisdom of God in debasing all men that he may resurrect them in one Man, Jesus (Eph 1:10).
And so you, Christian, may never exalt yourself above any man. You may never think thoughts of moral excellence. You may never at any time think that you are any better than any other human being. For God has stopped the mouths of both Jew and Gentile, that he might bring them in one new man to himself, and all to the praise of his glorious grace (Eph 1:6).