If you obey for a thousand years, you’re no more accepted than when you first believed; your acceptance is based on Christ’s righteousness and not yours.
The fact is that sin is a bigger disaster than we think it is and grace is more amazing than we seem to be able to grasp that it is. No one who really understands what Scripture has to say about the comprehensive, every-aspect-of-your-personhood altering nature of sin would ever think that anyone could muster enough motivation and strength to rise to God’s standard of perfection. The thought that any fallen human being would be able to perform his or her way into acceptance with God has to be the most insane of all delusions. Yet we all tend to think that we are more righteous than we are, and when we think this, we have taken the first step to embracing the delusion that maybe we’re not so bad in God’s eyes after all.
This is why the reality check of Romans 3:20 is so important. Paul writes, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight.” If you prayed every moment of your life, you could not pray enough prayers to earn acceptance with God. If you gave every penny of every dollar that you ever earned in every job you ever had, you could not give enough to deserve acceptance with God. If every word you ever spoke was uttered with the purest of conscientious motivations, you would never be able to speak your way into reconciliation with God. If you gave yourself to an unbroken, moment-by-moment life of ministry, you could never minister enough to achieve God’s favor. Sin is too big. God’s bar is too high. It is beyond the reach of every human being who has ever taken his or her first breath.
This is why God, in love, sent his Son: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). You see, there was and is no other way. There is only one portal to acceptance with God—the righteousness of Christ. His righteousness is given over to our account; sinners are welcomed into the presence of a holy God based on the perfect obedience of another. Christ is our hope, Christ is our rest, Christ is our peace. He perfectly fulfilled God’s requirement so that in our sin, weakness, and failure we would never again have to fear God’s anger. This is what grace does! So as the children of grace, we obey as a service of worship, not in a desperate attempt to do what is impossible—independently earn God’s favor.