I was talking with a friend the other day and I said something like “Anything good in us comes from God, not from us.” He questioned this, mentioning the verse where Paul says when we are in Christ we are a new creation — the old is gone, behold, the new has come!
I think he has a point. We were dead in our trespasses and sins, but in Christ we have now been made alive.
The Heidelberg Catechism questions 60-63 are helpful:
Question 60. How are thou righteous before God?
Answer: Only by a true faith in Jesus Christ; so that, though my conscience accuse me, that I have grossly transgressed all the commandments of God, and kept none of them, and am still inclined to all evil; notwithstanding, God, without any merit of mine, but only of mere grace, grants and imputes to me, the perfect satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ; even so, as if I never had had, nor committed any sin: yea, as if I had fully accomplished all that obedience which Christ has accomplished for me; inasmuch as I embrace such benefit with a believing heart.
Question 61. Why sayest thou, that thou art righteous by faith only?
Answer: Not that I am acceptable to God, on account of the worthiness of my faith; but because only the satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, is my righteousness before God; and that I cannot receive and apply the same to myself any other way than by faith only.
Question 62. But why cannot our good works be the whole, or part of our righteousness before God?
Answer: Because, that the righteousness, which can be approved of before the tribunal of God, must be absolutely perfect, and in all respects conformable to the divine law; and also, that our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin.
Question 63. What! do not our good works merit, which yet God will reward in this and in a future life?
Answer: This reward is not of merit, but of grace. (Luke 17:10 So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.)
So while we as new creations are really doing good now that we’ve been made new, it’s not perfect good. It’s still imperfect and defiled by sin.
How can God reward us for these acts of service which at every turn do not meet his standards?
It’s by his grace! So that I can never be puffed up in pride over my spiritual accomplishments. (I am sometimes, but it’s absurd!) I’m soiled and stained, yet he showers his love on me and my family, each day.
That’s God’s amazing grace!