Can any human being by his own efforts merit or earn acceptance before God?
By W.R. Downing
Ans: No. By any attempt at justification by good works or self–effort man only sets himself against the grace of God in his own inescapably sinful self–righteousness.
Isa. 64:6. But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.
Titus 3:5. Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.
See also: Lk. 18:9–14; Rom. 1:16–17; 3:9–18; 5:1; 10:1–4; Eph. 1:6–7; 2:8–10; Titus 3:5.
The great question concerning our relation to God as sinful human beings is, “How can a man be right with God?” (Job 9:2). To be “right” means to be “just,” i.e., justified [declared to be righteous] before God. God sent his eternal Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to live and die for sinners to answer his claims of justice [the righteous demands of his holy Law] against them. By the active obedience of Christ [his perfect life lived under the Law], he fulfilled its demands. By his passive obedience [suffering and death], he paid the penalty demanded by that broken Law. Thus, by his life and death he satisfied every requirement of Divine Law. Both the impeccable life of the Lord Jesus and his sacrificial suffering and death were necessary, and both are imputed to believers. The Gospel message is a message of justification, forgiveness of sins and reconciliation through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness (Rom. 1:16–17; 1 Cor. 15:1–4). The Christian stands before God justified through the imputed righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ by faith alone.
What is self–righteousness? It is anything that we can do in our own strength and by our own efforts to make ourselves allegedly acceptable to God [our most fervent, holy and religious actions]. It is a righteousness that attempts to set aside or bypass the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ as Mediator, Redeemer and Surety. Because we are sinners by imputation [original sin], by disposition [a sinful nature], by domination [reigning power of sin] and by commission [personal sin], we can do absolutely nothing to merit [deserve, earn] God’s acceptance or achieve the standard of his absolute righteous requirements. Any departure from grace in principle or performance is self–righteousness (Rom. 11:5–6). Self–righteousness [righteousness by works, self–effort, self–determination or human ability] may be very subtle. For instance, if faith and repentance are considered in some way as meriting our acceptance before God, they, too, are only the manifestation of a works mentality, a deceptive self–righteous and graceless state.
Saving grace is the redemptive work of God in the salvation of sinners through the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. To say that “salvation is by grace,” is to say that the saving grace of God is both free and sovereign, i.e., there is nothing that men can do to merit [earn] it [or it would no longer be grace but works, human ability, mere self–determination]—it is free grace. It is likewise sovereign grace, i.e., God sovereignly bestows this saving grace on whom he will. If there were any admixture of human ability—works, mere self–determination—whatsoever, then salvation would not be by grace alone (Rom. 11:5–6; Eph. 1:3–14; 2:1–10). Do you know grace as a reality in your life?
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