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“I try to be a good person.”

READY TO GIVE AN ANSWER (Work Righteousness)

Passages that will help you respond when people say…

“I can do it mySELF!” said the young daughter to her daddy as she made her case for independence. After a few minutes, the first statement seemingly forgotten, and a somewhat impatient girl cried, “Daddy, will you help me?”

This vignette of child development also offers a glimpse into human nature. The same “I can do it myself” attitude is every sinner’s natural response to God. The problem is that, unlike physical and emotional development in which a child does mature and become independent, there is no way for a sinner to save himself or even contribute to his own salvation.

A sinner’s conscience testifies that he fails and cannot live up to perfection. In order to reconcile this fact with a “do-it-myself” mentality, the standard has to be lowered.

Human nature attempts to diminish the expectation by creating a comparison (between my life and someone else’s) instead of using evaluation with God’s Law as the standard. Human nature also attempts to diminish expectation by making “try” equal to “accomplish.” The foolishness of this ploy is obvious. You can imagine how the conversation would unfold if a speeding driver told the officer, “I know I was going 50 mph in a 30 mph zone, but I was trying to follow the speed limit.”

Scripture enables us to answer the “I try” arguments
and any concept of work-righteousness. It begins with affirming God’s expectation. Where there is conviction of sin, it ends in the joy of the Gospel.

God’s Expectation

“You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2)

“If you love those who love you, what reward have you? . . .Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:46,48)

As He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.’” (1 Peter 1:15-16)

God declared His Law standard in the Old Testament, Jesus repeated it in His preaching, and Peter applied it in his teaching. There is no truthful way to diminish, revise, or otherwise lessen God’s demand: “Be perfect!” End of story. No discussion. Bottom line.

This divine expectation leaves “try to be a good person” like a limp wash rag on the “do-it-myself” rack of pride.

Universal Failure to Live Up to God’s Expectation

“There is none who does good, No, not one.”
(Psalm 14:3)

“O my soul, you have said to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord, My goodness is nothing apart from You.’”
 (Psalm 16:2)

David declares sinners’ universal inability to please God (Psalm 14) and the emptiness of whatever we might call “good” if it is not rooted in and growing from the Lord (Psalm 16).

Genuine Accomplished Salvation

“When we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. . . . God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6,8)

On our own, we are without strength, and every effort to try will fail. God loved us and sent Jesus to rescue us.

The sinner convicted of his sin cries out, “Daddy will you help me?” The Father replies, “I have and I will.”

We are entirely dependent on the Lord for salvation. Folded safely in my Father’s bosom, I have an entirely different kind of independence—independence from sin and its condemnation. There I have independence from the pressure of trying to be a good person; in its place I have the confidence of actually being a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Wayne Eichstadt is pastor of Gethsemane
Lutheran Church in Spokane Valley, Washington.