There are two main incorrect approaches to forgiveness and getting right with God. Either, people try to clean themselves up as much as they can on their own and then go to God or they “accept” God’s forgiveness and then try to pay it all back. In both situations people are trying to earn the forgiveness and righteousness they receive.
How strange would it be if someone won millions of dollars in the lottery, more money than they could possibly ever earn through their job, and then before cashing in the ticket, they tried to save up as much money as possible to pay for it? If they first tried to pay off their student loans and credit card debt and whatever other debts they might have by their own work and then started to “earn” the money they won in the lottery. They could work their fingers to the bone and never make enough to “pay” for the lottery.
Or how strange would it be if someone accepted the winnings from they lottery ticket and paid off their debts and then worked as hard as they could at their regular job to pay it back?
Either situation is bizarre and foolish and yet many of us do something similar with forgiveness and righteousness.
“As it is written:
“There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.’
‘Their throats are open graves;
their tongues practice deceit.’
‘The poison of vipers is on their lips.’
‘Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.’
‘Their feet are swift to shed blood;
ruin and misery mark their ways,
and the way of peace they do not know.’
‘There is no fear of God before their eyes.’
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. – Romans 3:10-20
We know that no one will be “declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law”, but for some reason we try to get as close as we can, even though we know that our very best “righteousness” is “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).
“But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” – Romans 3:21-24
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” – 1 John 1:9
“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.” – Ephesians 1:7-8
“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Colossians 1:13-14
Both forgiveness and righteousness come freely from God through Christ. We can’t earn them on the front end or pay for them on the back end. Our works do nothing to redeem us from our sins even a little bit or earn any righteousness towards God. Both are 100% the work of the Lord for all time, it is grace before we come to Christ and grace afterwards. The only thing we accomplish by trying to do any of it on our own is delay or limit our experience of His perfect forgiveness and righteousness in our lives.
We need to stop trying to earn our standing with God or paying Him back for the position He has graciously and freely given us. Christ has broken our chains, let us not try to fashion new ones to replace the ones He has destroyed for all time.
Let us humbly receive God’s free gift and live in the position and power that come to us through it. Let us glorify Him more fully without trying to take any of the credit or responsibility on ourselves. Let us live in the perfect freedom that Christ has given us.
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” – Galatians 5:1