Humans have a propensity towards “works righteousness.”

We may not want to believe it, but deep down, most of us think we are playing a major role in our salvation. I think many Christians acknowledge the role Jesus Christ plays in our salvation, but the reality is we scour the Scripture to find things “to do” and then work real hard believing we play an important role.

Often, our works righteousness attitude is grown out of fear or pride. For those who live their lives in fear, every time something bad happens they believe it is because of something they did (or didn’t do well enough). They honestly believe their own actions brought about the “bad” thing. Friends, that would mean that for every day that they experienced something “good” they would honestly believe they earned/deserved it. That is not how God works and it is not God’s plan for man’s salvation.

Likewise, there are many who have the attitude, “Thank you, Jesus, for dying on the cross. Now, look at all this stuff I’ve done to add to your sacrifice.” A lot of this arrogance is fed by the church and is supported by the humanistic/narcissistic egotism that is prevalent today.

Here’s what I intend to teach my children regarding works righteousness.

At your very best, you will be nothing but a filthy rag compared to God. I don’t say that to hurt your feelings. I tell you that so that you can always keep the proper perspective of who God is and who you are. (You know we have not been parents who pamper and build false self-esteem.)

Allow me to back up what I said with Scripture: “But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away” (Isaiah 64:6). God is telling you that at your very best you are nothing but a nasty pile of rags. Paul wrote, “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). A few verses later he added, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). In other words, you ain’t all that.

There are many people who will be uncomfortable with what we are teaching you, because they honestly believe they can—by their own hands—add to what Jesus did on the cross. But the reality is salvation is only through Jesus Christ (see Acts 4:12; John 14:6). You are unable to add to His sacrifice and grace.

Many people comprehend this intellectually, but their gut still tells them they must check off so many boxes in order to be a godly Christian and go to heaven. Listen to what Paul wrote to Titus, “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:5-7).

To think that we add to Christ’s sinless sacrifice is to cheapen it. It brings Him down and elevates us. Paul admonished, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

So, does that mean we should just live our life however we want, and not try to do good? If you are asking that question then you are missing the point. When you truly comprehend how wretched you are, and what Jesus did for you, it should stir a desire in you to do good and follow after Him. It’s not that we are trying to work our way to heaven. It is that we are trying to pattern our lives after our Savior.

It is my prayer that as you deepen your faith that you will be on guard against this works righteousness attitude. Humble yourself, and remember who you are—and remember Who He is. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…