For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.
(Romans 3:20 NIV)
It is part of our fallen nature to want to somehow earn salvation; to somehow be worthy of eternal life based on our own goodness or effort. This concept is completely contrary to the salvation we have in Jesus. Our salvation is a gift from God. No one has ever been worthy of it. No one has ever earned it.
This is precisely what sets salvation through Jesus apart from other “religions.” Other religions involve self-improvement and good works to become acceptable to God, or to somehow transcend this life and become something better.
Followers of Jesus, on the other hand, come to God without relying on any goodness of their own. We receive forgiveness and salvation from God as a free gift made possible by Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins. We are made righteous by God, through being born again and the gift of the Holy Spirit, not by our own self-effort. We learn to cease from our own striving, and learn to rest in God and trust in him:
But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:21-24 NIV)
But there is often a problem. We tend to fall back into a religious mode of trying to please God by following his commands by our own effort. This can lead us back into bondage to sin. Paul describes this problem in his own life:
I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. (Romans 7:9-11)
The solution is to learn to walk by the Spirit:
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. (Galatians 5:16-18)
This is key to living for Jesus: learning to walk by the Spirit. To better understand how to walk by the Spirit, prayerfully consider the verses below, under “For Further Reflection,” and review chapter 38 “Walk by the Spirit.”
What about you? When was the last time you tried to please God simply by following rules by your own strength?
For Further Reflection
Romans 3:9 to 4:25: Righteousness through faith.
Romans 6:1 to 8:17: Life by the Spirit.
Galatians 1:1 to 6:18: People are rebuked for relying on circumcision and the law rather than faith in Jesus.
Revelation 2:1-7: Good works without love.
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