Many christians believe God will only bless you or want to have a good relationship with you as long as you are trying to be a good person even if sometimes you fail. This is the great stumbling block of scripture. Because faith means the opposite:
Romans 9:30-32 “That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. Why not? Because they pursued it [ “righteousness” ] not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone” (Included my own notes).
Romans 4:13 “It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.”
Galatians 3:5-6 “So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
Galatians 3:21-22 “For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.”
Romans 5:1-2 “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.”
The ones who were trying their best to obey God, carefully following every commandment, ended up missing out on a peaceful relationship with God and his blessings while those who weren’t even trying to be good were at peace with Him and blessed simply because they trusted in God.
Why? This is gospel 101.
Romans 3:23-24 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
When we trust in ourselves to be good enough people and strive to please God by our obedience, we end up proving ourselves wrong and only deserve wrath and never deserve his blessings. But when we let go, give up on our ability to please God, and instead trust in what Jesus did to make us righteousness we will be declared righteous even when we are not trying to be:
Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:
“Blessed are those
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one
whose sin the Lord will never count against them.”
This is what the gospel is all about. Recognizing that we will never be as obedient to God as we think we can be, accepting that, and therefore giving up on ourselves and accepting what Jesus did for us. When we do that we are blessed by God and at peace with him as if we had lived 100% perfectly righteous lives. That’s the stumbling stone.
Does this mean we’re going to go lead a sinful life because of our freedom? Not at all. We are no longer obligated to live a law abiding life, but we have something much stronger, God’s spirit living in us. He changes our hearts so we are not the same people we were before we accepted Jesus.
2 Corinthians 3:17 “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”
Philippians 2:13 “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”
Hebrews 10:16 “I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”
The result of the gospel is not another duty, but it’s a change of heart that God produces in you. What would this change look like? It may look like a whole lot of gratefulness. A gratefulness that makes us want to share the message of his love. A gratefulness that causes us to forgive those who offend us. A gratefulness that makes us go out of our way to help someone or show kindness to those who don’t deserve it. A gratefulness that makes us want to live honorably even when no one’s watching.
Only the true message of grace through faith can produce that change of heart and declare you righteous.
A point of clarification: I am not saying it is wrong to try to be a good person or to put effort into doing what is right. It is good to push yourself to do what is right even when you don’t want to or it is hard, that is one way we demonstrate our love for God. What I am saying is that God’s blessings and relationship with you are not dependent on you trying to be a good person.