How to Fail at Works-Based Righteousness

How to Fail at Works-Based Righteousness

Knowing Christ is such a special privilege, and such grace, to those He has chosen to pull from the grips of death and eternity in hell. In my early years of walking with the Lord, I had a misguided approach to knowing Christ. I don’t doubt the Lord saved me, I know He changed me, I know His Spirit was placed within me. I was dead in my sin and He brought me to life. My heart was drawn to Him by the Father and I could see the conversion plainly in my life. I believe those around me could see what the Lord had done, as well. But knowing Christ became such a burdensome work for me, instead of the joy that I feel today.  


I spent my childhood years in a religious system that magnified works. Our works were the steps to salvation.  It was almost as if there were a checklist and the closer I got to check off those works, the closer I was to Christ. Listen closely when I say, I was no closer to Christ than an atheist denying there is a God

I was never a Christian growing up. I didn’t give 2 nickels about the Lord, though my outward actions - hence, my checked-off works - were trying to prove that I did. I was dead in my sin (Ephesians 2:1). I hated God (Romans 1:30). I did not seek Him (Romans 3:11). There was not one ounce of me that was worried about the sin in my life. I never felt convicted, I never committed a sin that was followed by a godly sorrow for that sin. I can look back at the utter audacity to claim myself a Christian, and every part of my life lived in contrary to that profession. I sometimes don’t know whether to laugh or cry. It was such a façade. 

Eighteen years ago, the Lord did save me, and sadly, I have spent at least half of this time as a believer with the same works-righteousness mentality. To me, knowing Christ was all about what I did. I am thankful to the Lord for the grace He showed me those first ten or so years with the skewed doctrine and theology I had taken to heart. 

Feelings Based Faith

Though I did read my Bible and was in fellowship with other believers, I was misguided in my seeking of Him. I wasn’t seeking Christ in the Scriptures by digging deep, reading the Word in context, and knowing the Bible is about Him

I was making sure I had a daily quiet time with Him and His Word, and if I didn’t, I felt like a failure. I made sure, sick or not, to attend all 3 services my church held weekly, and if I did not, I was a failure. If I didn’t feel like I was saved, I wasn’t. I could wake up any day and do something so bad the Lord would turn His back to me and hell-bound I would be. 

Not only was I trying to keep my place as a child of God by my works, I was also seeking Christ completely the wrong way. I was nit-picking certain verses and claiming them over my life, so I could be prosperous. I was speaking life into my circumstances, so my days could flourish more than what I was seeing. I was binding Satan, so he would not attack my daily walk and enter my home. I was pleading the blood over my physical body, so my health would stay intact. Do you see what the problem was? It was all - me, me, me! Works and man-centered theology can be a dangerous combination, especially for a new believer. 

Salvation is of the Lord

It was exhausting being a Christian, and my walk with the Lord suffered greatly because I truly believed I had to work to keep my salvation. I wasn’t seeking Christ, I was merely seeking the benefits of being a believer. Benefits, I might add, that are contrary to what the Word really says. 

The health, wealth, and prosperity preached in our churches are like cancer that spreads and infects the whole body. You can work your way to health, wealth, and prosperity in this world. You can have those benefits by working hard at a job, or a business. Why would Christ offer something the world already offers? To further the problem, we have pastors telling their congregations that they can lose their salvation, which puts the pressure of keeping in line on the shoulders of the believer. What a burden, and honestly, what a down-right lie

Salvation is of the Lord, from start to finish.  From the first moment of believing, then during a lifetime of sanctification, to glorification when we are with the Lord. 

The central truth of God’s saving grace is succinctly stated in the assertion, Salvation is of the Lord. This strong declaration means that every aspect of man’s salvation is from God.  The Apostle Paul affirmed this when he wrote, From Him and through Him and to Him are all things (Rom. 11:36). This is to say, salvation is God determined, God purchased, God applied, and God secured. From start to finish, salvation is of the Lord alone and is entirely dependent upon God. The only contribution that we make is the sin that was laid upon Jesus Christ at the cross.
— Steven Lawson

Christ reveals Himself in Scripture. We can’t know Him by imagining Him, or assuming who He is, or what He does, because when we do that, we are creating some mediocre, subservient god in our minds. That is not the God of the Bible. Who He is has been written in His Word. Of course, we won’t fully know Christ until we are with Him but knowing Him takes a lifetime of cultivating that relationship. It’s not doing, as in works, but pursuing Him while praying for a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him (Ephesians 1:17). His Word reveals His purpose, His will, His promises. We pray, fellowship with other believers, we worship Him in spirit and in truth. We apply His Word to our lives. As we get to know Christ more, we desire to be more like Him. 

The heart cannot love what the mind does not know.
— Jen Wilkin

Knowing Christ Deeply

When Paul wrote his letter to the church of Ephesus, he prayed His readers would have a deeper knowledge of Christ so that they (and we) may know what the hope of His calling is (Ephesians 1:15-23). That is my prayer. I want a deeper knowledge of Christ. 

I want to know Christ. I don’t want a checklist of works that will get me there; that will not get me there, I should say. I certainly won’t know Him by believing in man-centered theology that is all about me and the benefits I might have by knowing Him. I want Christ. I pray my fellow brothers and sisters feel the same way. Above all, I want to have no doubt in my mind when I say what Paul said in his letter to the Philippians: More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:8).

I am thankful to the Lord for his unending grace, for opening my eyes to how to truly study His Word. I am thankful for Him placing brothers and sisters in my life that point me to the truth of His Word. I am thankful for sound, biblical preaching, and an amazing line of teachers with correct theology and doctrine that I have learned from over the past few years. His Spirit has directed and guided me, opened my eyes and heart, brought true believers into my life, and placed me in front of biblical preaching and teaching, delivering me from the burdensome work I once felt to a place of joy in knowing Christ