Earning God's Favor

By Beth Hyduke

Understanding our total inadequacy to please God and the futility of attempting to earn His favor based on our own actions is foundational to a proper understanding of God, ourselves, and Jesus Christ. Not only is it normal or okay for a Christian to realize their own personal unworthiness before God, it is absolutely crucial that we do so, integral to establishing and maintaining a right relationship with God and others.

Contrary to popular opinion, Christianity is not a self-help system where you identify problem areas in your life and then start to fix them. The Bible gives us the bad news up-front; that all men are born into sin (Romans 3:23) and therefore unable to ever attain God's standard of moral perfection (Jeremiah 13:23, Romans 8:7-9, Ephesians 2:5, Colossians 2:13). Additionally, we are told that the sin state robs us of any desire to please God, making us enemies with Him from the time we are born (Romans 5:6-10, Colossians 1:21). Without the capacity or even the desire to please God, we are unable to do anything to improve our situation or win back God's approval. Any attempt to work for God's favor is useless. The Bible tells us that "all our righteous acts are like filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:6). Pretty strong words, right? But it shows us two important things.

The first concerns God and His character. God is holy (1 Samuel 2:2, Isaiah 40:25, Hosea 11:9) and holiness is unapologetically severe; it requires unswerving submission and obedience to God in every area of our lives. God's standard is absolute perfection, demanding total obedience from us in every thought, every motivation, every word, and every deed. The second you stray from that in the slightest sense, you have botched it, and the entire relationship comes crashing down. That is why even our best attempts to please God are unacceptable to Him; our sin-tainted hearts and minds can never produce the purely holy thoughts, words, or actions that God requires from us. Like the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14, our deeds may appear outwardly right but inwardly we harbor selfish motivations or impure thoughts or worldly desires. With such a bleak outlook, we would be absolutely right to doubt our worthiness before the holy God. We'd be foolish not to.

The second thing concerns us and our character. It tells us here in Isaiah 64:6 that mankind's solution to the problem of his inability to please God commonly revolves around man's efforts to reform his actions — his attempts to do better, to live better, to think better, etc. But we already know that this is a doomed effort; partial holiness is not holiness at all, and therefore as worthless in God's eyes as dirty rags. Since God, who is perfect, requires perfection, we don't just need to be better, we need to be perfect. This is our conundrum, because who can be perfect, all the time, in every matter, from birth to death?

One verse earlier, Isaiah says, "You [God] are indeed angry, for we have sinned — in these ways we continue; and we need to be saved" (Isaiah 64:5). Isaiah recognized that working for God's approval was futile because we simply cannot stop sinning. If we cannot satisfy God's righteous requirement due to our ongoing sinfulness, then our only hope is for another to satisfy it for us due to His unswerving obedience and submission to God's holy will.

It is only by understanding the complete hopelessness of our efforts to escape our doomed situation that we can see the good news of the Gospel, Jesus Christ, for who He is. Christ is the only door (Luke 11:9, Matthew 7:13, John 14:6) that leads to reconciliation with God — not any other, and certainly not our best attempts to improve ourselves.

Because Christ lived a sinless life and died on the cross in place of each believer, He has accomplished something extraordinary that nobody else has ever accomplished, or ever will, or ever could. By taking upon Himself the judgment each of us deserves for past, present, and future sins we commit, He acts as our substitute, meaning our sins have been paid for by His death and that His sinless life of perfect obedience to God becomes our sinless life of perfect obedience in God's sight.

We do good works, then, not as a means of obtaining or keeping salvation but as a way of showing gratitude for all the blessings God has given us (Proverbs 3:1-4, Colossians 3:1-17, Ephesians 5:15-20). The Bible tells us we were created to do good works through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-10) and that through them, we serve as a witness to the world (John 14:21, 1 John 2:3-6).

Image Credit: Jason Tester Guerrilla Futures; untitled; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Salvation  | Biblical-Truth  | Christian-Life  | God-Father

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Published 11-30-2015