The Mighty Works that Don’t Work; the Foolishness that Does

Would you consider yourself a righteous person? I think most of us like to think we are pretty good (as opposed to being cruel or “bad”), but do we really strive to be righteous? That idea in itself conjures up some questions: how would one go about achieving such a thing? Do you attain righteousness by what you do? Is a person justified by what they do or by how well they live? The Bible says this: “For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith’.” (Romans 1:17, NIV)

A Christian Conundrum

One of the biggest conundrums about being a Christian is the idea of justification by faith. Wait, what?! We can’t work our way into heaven? It seems counter-intuitive to most people that salvation comes from faith, and cannot be gained by doing good works. For legalistic and self-righteous man it is an astounding thing, one of the hardest concepts to grasp, and one of the most difficult things to accept. We just can’t believe that righteousness can be given apart from the good works we do.

The major religions of the world are based upon effort and reward. “IF I’m good enough, God will accept me.” Religion depends upon people earning their way into God’s favor, (or perhaps achieving enlightenment), but those things are not consistent with the Biblical view of God. The Bible teaches that God requires righteousness (since He can’t abide sin), and since man is unable to earn it with works, God gives it to man for free. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”

The Burden of Works

The people who work for God’s favor will always resent those who accept it as a gift. Religion based on works instead of grace becomes a full-time job, a never-ending task in which men strive for a perfection they cannot attain. Self-righteous pilgrims often become bound to the grind and cannot find Grace…

works

That’s why the Pharisees could not see who Jesus was (they didn’t believe in Him). Satan fell because of it (He believed in himself rather than God). It’s why the Roman Catholic Church condemned Martin Luther to death for nailing this statement to the door as one of his 95 Theses in Wittenberg. They couldn’t imagine that sin’s penalty had been paid apart from their system of penances and indulgences. Self-centered man cannot accept the fact that God would give him that which costs everything for nothing. It defies human logic.

The Counter-intuitive Gospel

That’s why Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:18, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” The message of the Gospel is not works, or righteousness out of duty or even obligation; it is not about striving or attaining perfection. It is about God giving the perfect gift to us imperfect men; and it is about our pursuing righteousness out of gratitude rather than obligation.

Faith begets righteousness, not the other way around. You can’t work your way to grace, but grace can lead you to do good works. Accept God’s free gift. Astound yourself with the overflowing measure of grace. Stop trying to work for righteousness, and let righteousness work in you. Think about the cost of it all, and shed a grateful tear. Then remember the foolishness of it all, and smile. Embrace the foolish power of God…

Foolishness that Works

The Righteous Lord cannot abide our fallen, sinful state;
Our works don’t make us righteous, even if we’re good, or great!
Because we want to work our way to holiness–or near it–
The message of the cross is foolishness to most who hear it;
It proclaims that works don’t work, no matter how hard we chase:
The just shall live by faith, and sinners must be saved by grace.
Stop hoping, then, in mere good works to give your soul a lift,
And open the Father’s foolish, graceful, unbelievable gift.

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