The Insanity of Thinking You Can Keep Yourself Right with God
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Read time: 5 minutes | by Mark Carter with Rachel Posadas
Do you ever find yourself trying to do everything you can to earn back God’s favor after you’ve messed up?
- Maybe you tell yourself you’ll try harder from now on.
- Maybe you believe God has plenty of grace for OTHERS, but He’s about had it with YOU.
We all stumble in many ways (see James 3:2), and part of remaining in a human body (for now) means that even well-meaning Christians are going to fall. At times, especially after a season of progress, you may even be surprised how easily you gave in to certain sins.
But shame and guilt come along, deceivingly urging you to either find ways to win back God’s favor or to just give up and stay away from Him for a while.
It doesn’t make sense to believe in Jesus as your savior while also thinking your salvation depends on what you do. If salvation were dependent on your efforts, then Jesus didn’t need to die for you.
And here is the rub that keeps so many people perpetually frustrated and depressed: Believing we have to win back God’s favor after falling reveals we are actually opposing God’s grace through depending on our own righteousness again.
This is precisely Paul’s point to the Galatians. I especially love the way the Message Bible phrases it:
Let me put this question to you: How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off to please God? Or was it by responding to God’s Message to you? Are you going to continue this craziness? For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God. If you weren’t smart enough or strong enough to begin it, how do you suppose you could perfect it? Did you go through this whole painful learning process for nothing? It is not yet a total loss, but it certainly will be if you keep this up! (Galatians 3:2–4, The Message)
When you start thinking this way, it’s time to preach to yourself.
We can’t review this enough, so let’s consider it again.
- You were unable to keep the Law (Romans 3:20) before you trusted Christ to do it for you and save you from the consequences of breaking it.
- You are STILL unable to keep both the Law (and little rules you create for yourself).
- When you run into the safety of Jesus’ arms and confess your inability to get it right or fulfill the Law (which He has done for you – see Matthew 5:17), He is faithful to forgive you, cleanse you (see 1 John 1:9), and empower you to keep walking in the assurance of His love.
- He Himself will continue to increase your obedience (Just as He promised in Phil 1:6), as you genuinely keep clinging to the hem of His robe faith (see Hebrews 3:14 and Matthew 9:20–22).
That means, despite your awareness of the continued presence of sin in your life, you should continue to run toward Jesus (instead of away from Him).
So what do you do when you’ve stumbled and fallen . . . Again?
You have two options:
You can get frustrated and tell yourself you’ll try harder, which usually leads to more frustration.
You can recognize that you died to “being good” as a way of keeping God happy and go back to simply relying on the same Christ who “made you right” to “keep you right” with Him.
If I was “trying to be good,” I would be rebuilding the same old barn that I tore down. I would be acting as a charlatan. (Galatians 2:18, The Message)
“So I died to the Law — I stopped trying to meet all its requirements — so that I might live for God.” (Galatians 2:19 NLT)
So what do we do?
Four Shameless Daily Decisions
- Shamelessly preach the gospel to yourself and LET GO of the idea that you have to earn your salvation (as if such a ridiculous ideas were even possible).
- Die to ( or Refuse to return to) rebuilding the old barn of right by good behavior that you tore down to come to Jesus. Then you just trusted that He loved you. Trust that again.
- Cling to the person of Jesus, crying out for him to remove sin from your life, believing that He will.
- Enjoy the fact that God’s love for you doesn’t change like your behavior does.
God loves you just because He does. Stop trying to improve your score with Him.
The truth is you are going to fall sometimes and when you do, always run toward Jesus.
He saved you once. He saves you still.
Is there an ‘especially bad’ sin that you tend to feel like you need to ‘work off’ before approaching the throne of God’s grace?
Thank You for accepting me and loving me as I am. I thank You that Your acceptance does not depend on my ability to keep Your rules or anyone else’s. Help me remember these truths when I am tempted to run the other way and try to earn back Your favor through my own efforts. Thank You for accepting me and loving me just because You do. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Want to go deeper?
Check out Carter’s sermon series on Galatians, Shameless.
The Devil Doesn’t Want You to Enjoy Being Forgiven