There is simply nothing you can do to gain God’s favor. You have to accept this and remember it. You will never be righteous enough for long enough to satisfy God’s holy requirements. Your thoughts will never be pure enough. Your desires will never be holy enough. Your words will never be clean enough. Your choices and actions will never be God-honoring enough. The bar is too high for you and me to ever reach. There are no exceptions. We all live under the same weight of the law and the same inability of sin. We’re all better rebels than submissives. We’re all more naturally proud than humble. We’re all more given to idolatry than the worship of God. We do better at making war with our neighbors than loving them. We all find envy more natural than contentment. We’re all thieves in one way or another. We all covet what others have. We more naturally bend the truth than protect it. We condemn with our words rather than giving grace. We lay down evidence every day that we will never independently reach God’s standard.
Here is your “That says it all” statement: “For by the works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight” (). And why is this true? It’s true because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (). The language is all-inclusive. It leaves no room whatsoever for exceptions. It is the devastatingly humbling news that all people need to accept into their hearts and into their sense of their identity. But this hard-to-accept news is the doorway not to depressive self-loathing, but to eternal hope and joy. It’s only when you accept who you are and what you are unable to do that you begin to understand the necessity of God’s gift. Let’s put the bad news and the good news together, as Paul does in Romans 3. He writes, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” but that is not the end of the story. He goes on to say that we “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood. to be received by faith” ().
A propitiation is an atoning sacrifice. The sacrifice of Jesus appeased the wrath of God and created a reconciliation between God and all who placed their faith in him. Since God hates sin, the only way we sinners could have a relationship with him is by Christ giving his life to pay the penalty for our sin. You don’t need to obey to gain God’s favor. Christ has gained God’s favor on your behalf. So your obedience is never a fearful payment, but a hymn of gratitude to a God who met you where you were and did for you what you could not have done for yourself.