Many voices today, religious or otherwise, push us to see ourselves as basically good people. We are told to believe in ourselves, get rid of any negativity in our lives, and only put ourselves around those who affirm us just as we are.

Against this widespread belief, the cries and confessions of Christian worship stand in stark contrast. Consider the words of these hymns:

“If Thou iniquities does mark,
Our secret sins and misdeeds dark,
O who shall stand before Thee?”

“Behold the Man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice,
Call out among the scoffers”

“Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it;
Prone to leave the God I love.”

The practice of Christians for two thousand years has been to readily acknowledge their “wretchedness” (Rom. 7:24). The Christian church has long had confessions as a regular part of their services, where believers tell God what he already knows: that they are sinners in need of grace. That on their good days as well as their bad days, they desperately need God’s mercy.

But doing this is near impossible if you don’t know grace. If you believe your worth and identity are determined by your goodness, your efforts, of your living up to some standard, you won’t be able to face the ugliness of your sin, past or present. If you believe you have to be inherently good, just as you are, either for the approval of others or God, you will hide and pretend and numb yourself to what’s in your heart and mind. And you’ll attempt to convince yourself that you’re basically good.

But if we are basically good in and of ourselves, if our worth, value, and identity are established and secure in and of ourselves, then we don’t need God.

You don’t have to read the Bible very long to realize that God delights in and receives those who recognize their need for him. The proud, self-righteous, and those with all their needs met—they don’t have time for Jesus, and thus Jesus doesn’t spend much time with them.
But those who readily confess their neediness and dependence on Him, receive not only mercy, but identity, worth, comfort, and hope. They don’t need to hide, fear, or prove themselves to others or to God, because they know that the God of the universe loves them deeply and holds them in his hands. And no one’s opinion matters more than his.

Though great our sins and sore our woes, His grace much more aboundeth;
His helping love no limit knows, Our upmost need it soundeth.
Our Shepherd good and true is He, Who will at last His Israel free
From all their sin and sorrow
From all their sin and sorrow