Q.62. Why can’t the good we do make us right with God, or at least help make us right with him?
A. Because the righteousness which can pass God’s scrutiny must be entirely perfect and must in every way measure up to the divine law. Even the very best we do in this life is imperfect and stained with sin.
Every day we do nice things for others. But if we are honest, many of those nice acts are done, at least to some degree, because it is in our interest to do them. We refrain from yelling at another, not because we love them, but because it will make our life more difficult – they may yell back. The same can be said of almost every good deed we perform, there is always something in it for us. Because of this, our righteousness fails to conform to the law which calls us to love God and love our neighbor, but our actions are tainted by a love of self. This is a far cry from perfect love. Even our good is stained by the desires of an evil heart. Read Jeremiah 17:9.
To further complicate the matter, even if we succeeded in performing one act of selfless love in our lifetime, that single act could not erase all of all failures. It wouldn’t even come close to removing any part of our sin, for a holy and perfect God demands holiness and perfection all the time. Even one transgression of God’s law leaves us under his wrath and subject to the curse of death. Therefore, we cannot depend upon our efforts to be right with God, they cannot save us. Read Leviticus 18:5 and Deuteronomy 27:26.
Since righteousness is conformity to God’s law in every detail, and since we cannot be saved by our ability to live the law, what is the purpose of God’s law? The purpose is two-fold. First, it makes us aware of our sin and all the ways we violate the Law of God. Second, it creates a desire in us to flee the law and turn to the Lord in faith to receive the promise of life. Read Romans 3:20 and Galatians 3:21-22.
Is there any hint of righteousness in our persons apart from Christ? The answer is an overwhelming, “No!” We are broken people in whom nothing worthy of offering to God resides. Read Psalm 143:1-2. We are unrighteous, yet that is what makes the gospel promises so wonderful. In Christ, we receive righteousness and are then told to offer ourselves as living sacrifices. In Christ, we become acceptable and pleasing to God so that our life is worthy of presentation to the King of Kings. Read Romans 12:1-2.
If human effort and human action were required to become righteous then the way of salvation would have changed from the Old to the New Testaments. Faith would have been enough for the saints of old. Read Genesis 15:1-6. But then after Christ, human effort would also be needed. However, this is not the testimony of the Scriptures. They declare, from beginning to end, that the ‘righteous shall live by faith’ and not by human effort. Read Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11.
Read Ephesians 2:8-10. Do you see that all human work is excluded from righteousness? Our works do not allow us room to boast or demand relationship with God; on the contrary, any good we do is truly God doing it through us. We are vessels carrying on his work in the world and so we cannot rely on our efforts, because they aren’t ours. They are God working in us. Praise the Lord.