Jim Black, former Speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives, has been an exceptional achiever. He secured a college education and a doctor of optometry. He served in the United States Navy. He's been a successful businessman, garnering an estate of approximately $3.3 million.
As Speaker of the House, Black (72) served a record-tying four terms with former House Speaker Liston Ramsey. He has been, without question, one of the three most powerful men in the state, along with Governor Mike Easley and Senate President Marc Basnight.
Black has given more than 25 years of his life to public service. Current House Speaker Joe Hackney recently told the Raleigh News & Observer that Black had been a champion for alternative schools, small businesses and small pharmacies. He worked tirelessly for higher education, more specifically community colleges. The News & Observer rightly noted that most state initiatives in the last eight years "bear his fingerprints." The list of Black's efforts to improve the quality of life for North Carolinians is most impressive.
But in recent days, a haggard looking Black stood before a federal judge in Raleigh and plead guilty to a felony charge of accepting illegal gratuities, amounting to $29,000 from three chiropractors in exchange for favorable legislation. Only days later, Black would stand before a judge of the Wake County Superior Court and plead guilty to bribing former Rep. Mike Decker with $50,000 as well as a $46,000-a-year job for his son, Mike, Jr. Decker's vote for Black as Speaker would broker a power-sharing deal with former Rep. Richard Morgan, which would keep Black as Speaker and make Morgan co-Speaker. According to legal experts, Black is now facing jail time.
Some have expressed sympathy for the former Speaker, while others have argued that he's getting his just desserts. Still, as Gov. Mike Easley said in a prepared statement concerning Black: "Unfortunately, these matters of misconduct may well overshadow his 25 years of public service." Indeed, it will. Most will not remember the good that Black did.
Imagine for a moment you had served passionately. You had achieved great things. Yet because of certain failures all the good you had done would be forgotten. The twilight of your life had come to a shameful and humiliating end.
Such is not only the situation Jim Black faces, but also the circumstance Jesus said untold millions would similarly face when they stand before the bar of God's justice on the last day. Jesus said: "Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then I will profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity" (Matthew 7:22-23).
This passage of Scripture depicts that great host of people who at the end of their lives anticipate that they will attain God's favor and eternal life by their many good works. Instead they find themselves rejected and condemned, shamed and humiliated -- their good works unable to save them. All the good they've done is ultimately dismissed as they hear the saddest words ever uttered by Jesus: "I never knew you: depart from me" (Matthew 7:23).
It's hard for many to understand the depths of human depravity -- the extent to which every person has utterly failed God. Every faculty of man has been affected by his sinful nature -- his emotions, his mind, his will. Even when he may be exceedingly altruistic or philanthropic, his actions are likely laced in some way with selfishness or pride. Over and again, despite his best efforts, man's actions fall short of God's glorious ideal. He can never satisfy the demands of a perfect and holy God.
Yet, said the late great Baptist preacher W.A. Criswell: "There are those who hope to save themselves by good works. If I am good, I will go to heaven. They look upon their lives as a ladder with rungs that are good, better, and still better. They leave off one vile thing and another iniquitous thing and they cast yet another unmentionable sin out of their lives, and they go up and up and up and finally they think they will place that ladder against heaven itself. The Lord says that in His sight all of our righteousness is as filthy rags. But we do not think so. We think we will be good enough to be saved."
It is said that when the great prominent Puritan and colonial leader, Thomas Hooker, was on his death bed, a friend said to him, "Brother, you are going to receive the reward of your labors." "Brother," Hooker replied humbly, "I am going to receive mercy." Mercy is the great need of mankind. If the hope of each person's redemption lay in receiving one's just desserts, there wouldn't be any hope for anyone beyond the grave -- only hell in waiting.
Thus, the Bible teaches: "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9). Eternal life is a free gift, not something that can be earned. It can only be received on the basis of faith in Christ and the finished work of His life, sacrificial death on the Cross, and resurrection from the dead. The work of Christ, the God-man, offered in man's behalf purchases his redemption in full. There is nothing to be added, except to cast oneself upon the mercy and grace of God in Christ. Those who trust Christ alone for salvation and not their good works, the Bible teaches, are spiritually born anew and come to know Him. He comes to live in one's heart and genuine good works then naturally flow out of the new life of Christ within. Eternal life is received and assured.
The point of this article is certainly not to say that former House Speaker Jim Black is going to hell. God forbid! That's between Black and his Maker. Black should be fervently and regularly remembered in prayer. But it is meant to warn that all those who trust in their own righteousness -- their own merits -- as their hope of heaven will at the final Judgment come to the same shameful and humiliating end that Black has currently come to in this life -- standing guilty and condemned before a Judge -- with all one's marvelous achievements tarnished and to be forgotten.
Dr. Creech is a regular columnist for Agape Press, the national news wire of the American Family Association. His columns have also appeared on numerous other sites across the web, including: The Christian Post, MichNews.com, The Intellectual Conservative, Capitol Hill Coffee House, The North Carolina Conservative, The Conservative Voice, Worldview Weekend Network, Renew America, as well as a number of others.