How acceptable are our good works? We all have bad days, but on our best days what does the Father think of our obedience? Is He only concerned with sincerity of heart? Does He approve of those who give their best effort? The answer: Scripture tells us that our best attempts at holiness are so infested with sin they only raise God’s wrath against us.1 As redeemed saints, we live in broken, sin-filled bodies. Our current sinful state is incapable of producing righteousness that is acceptable before God. The prophet Isaiah wrote, “…all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (64:6). Our two natures are constantly at war with each other, “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” (Gal. 5:17).
The Westminster Confession states that our good works, “…are defiled, and mixed with so much weakness and imperfection, that they cannot endure the severity of God’s judgment.”2 Apart from Christ, God would only condemn us for our obedience. Why is this important? It points us to the significance of our union with Christ. We are clothed with the person and work of Christ. He covers us with His beauty and righteousness. God now sees Christ’s righteousness instead of our own. Our good works are now accepted because they are presented with Christ’s righteousness.
Confessions are important because they remind us of biblical truths. The London Baptist Confession reminds us that,
Yet notwithstanding the persons of believers being accepted through Christ, their good works also are accepted in him; not as though they were in this life wholly unblameable and unreprovable in God’s sight, but that he, looking upon them in his Son, is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections.3
Our union with Christ removes the fear of God’s wrath (Rom. 8:1). It also removes any reason to boast in our obedience. There is nothing God would ever accept as good apart from Christ. John Calvin wrote, “…once God has graciously adopted believers, he not only accepts and loves their persons, but their works also, and condescends to honor them with rewards.”4
To claim any credit for our good works steals glory that only belongs to the Father. We have every reason to rejoice and continue in our labor of love, knowing that every act of obedience will be clothed in Christ’s righteousness and will be pleasing to our Father. We must also be careful never to compare our good works with others…for all human works are unacceptable apart from Christ.
- Psa. 143:2; Isa. 64:6; John 15:5; Phil. 3:8;
- Westminster Confession, Ch. XVI, sec V.
- London Baptist Confession, Ch. 16, sec 6.
- Calvin, The Necessity of Reforming the church, 164.