Can We Approach God By Our Own Merit?

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Question / Comment - We Can Approach God By Our Own Merit How amazing is it that you can embrace Hashem (God) and prove your own worth to Him by your own merit. Why do people need to have someone else be responsible for their actions like Jesus?
JPN Reply:

You said in a previous email something along the lines of ‘We will both agree that if a Jew lives a righteous life they will go to Heaven.’

I’d like to respond to this, and your question above, by telling you a story. Well, actually it’s my story, a true story. It’s the testimony of what I discovered when I first started reading the Bible. In 1990 I was studying computer science in my first year at University. I had never read the Bible or gone to church apart from a few Sunday School outings really early on which I can’t even remember. I was a normal university student, living in another city, away from home for the first time. I lived a very normal university students lifestyle. (Drinking, parties etc.) Without knowing one Christian in the city I was living in, I began to read the Bible. I didn’t know where to start (didn’t even know if you read it from start to end like a normal book!) I decided to start in the New Testament. I read Matthew, then Luke etc and went through to about 1 Corinthians. God convicted me so badly of my utter need of Him. I learnt from the New Testament that it wasn’t just what I did that was a problem – It was what I was inside that was the problem! It wasn’t just the outward sins like drunkenness, or lying, etc. I learnt that I sinned because I was a sinner. The problem was way worse that just what I did. God showed me the evil that was in my heart. Remember, I didn’t even know one Christian where I lived at that stage. When I read more of the New Testament, I learnt that the only way I could approach a totally Holy God was because of a sacrifice had been made on my behalf. On my own… no chance! I started on the Old Testament. I read Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus (well tried!), Numbers (bored me a bit!) and Deuteronomy.

I learnt the same thing as what I had learnt in the New Testament. That nobody could approach a totally Holy God without a blood sacrifice. I saw that that was what God did for Adam and Eve in preparing the animal coats for Adam and Eve. It was the main reason behind God accepting the sacrifice of Abel and refusing the offering of Cain. Cain tried to offer God the fruit of his own hands – his own works. There is no way God would accept that. Abel came on the basis of a blood sacrifice. He wasn’t saying ‘Look at the good things I have done.’ He was saying ‘I come as a sinner, who realizes that if I am to find acceptance with you Holy God, then there must be a sacrifice and payment for my sins.’ Several comments you have made along the lines of what you have written above have really saddened me. We can debate history, the Gnostics, different prophecies… but until you see that your good works will not earn you a right standing with God, and that the basis of acceptance with God (in any age) has always been through faith in a blood sacrifice, you haven’t even begun. Thinking that your own ‘good works’ should be good enough is going the way of Cain like all other religions do. Believe me when I say that I don’t write this in anyway to mock, offend, or belittle you. It’s just the truth.

While I couldn’t have spelled it out all clearly when I first read the Bible, given more time let me now explain from the Old Testament what God taught me, by myself, all those years ago (as well as continually confirming it ever since.)

Firstly, I learnt that ‘We ALL went astray like sheep, each going his own way’. (Isaiah 53:6)
And that ‘The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?’ (Jer 17:6)
We may look good outwardly but ‘man sees only what is visible, but the LORD sees into the heart" (1 Sam. 16:7).

I also learnt that the whole Mosaic covenant is based around animal sacrifices for the covering of sin and that ‘the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.’ Lev 17:11

Where in the Tanach does it say that a person can be accepted or have their sins atoned for without a blood sacrifice? If, as I believe, God didn’t simply change this to doing good works, then why, as I suppose, do you attempt to be forgiven by God without a sacrifice?

Anyway, I read the Bible for about half a year. Finally, knowing my utter need for God to forgive me and wanting to please Him, I asked God to forgive my sins on the basis of Jesus the Messiah’s death on the cross for me. I lost most of my old friends who thought I had ‘gone religious’ but God had so convicted me through reading His word, I was ready if that happened. It would be an understatement to say that my life was fairly much turned on its head from that point on. I eventually found that there were other Christians in the same city. I eventually found a church. I cannot start to tell you how awesome it is to know God, to know the Messiah Jesus, and have my life genuinely changed by Him. He has been so good to me since that time – through quite a few different troubles and hard times – He has been so faithful to me. And here is the surprising thing... from the time I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior I did change! I found that my attitude towards sin changed. I found habits that had been with me for a long time broke away. Don’t get me wrong… I don’t want to make this sound like a Hollywood “and they all lived happily ever after” story!!! I still struggle with attitudes etc. It is still a daily process of walking with my Lord and treating others like you would have them treat you. But believe me when I say that 12 years on I want to live for Him who saved me, and I want people to see the difference He has made in my life. I desire to live a righteous life. It is the teaching of the entire Bible and it honors God. But never in a million years would I say that it is my righteous life or good works that gets me accepted with God. It is my faith in the work of Jesus on the cross. God accepts me because of Jesus. That is the only reason I could ever stand before Him or make it to Heaven.

So to cut a long story short, no, I can’t agree that a Jew will enter heaven from simply offering God his good works or trying hard to live righteously. God is far to Holy for that! He doesn’t say ‘yeah you have been good enough’, or ‘sorry, you’re just under the standard set’. No, our sinful nature inherited from Adam put an end to being able to be accepted by God on that basis.

‘Abram believed the LORD, and He credited it to him as righteousness’ Gen 15:6

Your zeal for God is great. I can only pray, that like the Apostle Paul (who because of zeal for Israel and the law, persecuted the early Jewish Christians and put them in prison before seeing the truth), you will one day focus that same zeal on living for your Messiah Jesus who took your sins upon Him and loves you very much. Please read Romans 9:30 – 10:4

Rabbi R. Elyyah de Vidas “The meaning of ‘he was wounded for our transgressions, ... bruised for our iniquities’ is, that since the Messiah bears our iniquities, which produce the effect of His being bruised, it follows that whoever will not admit that the Messiah suffers for our iniquities must endure and suffer for themselves.”
Question / Comment

I can’t figure out what sin I commit if I only believe in God and not Jesus? Jesus says in (John 14:6) “ I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” However God says in “ You Shall Have No Other Gods Beside Me.” ( Exodus 20:3). If Jesus and God are one in the same and I only worship God and only call on Hashem’s name, which is the name he calls Himself and revealed to humanity, and don’t even consider Jesus, what is wrong with that?
JPN Reply

That is a good question. Let’s say for a moment that Jesus is actually the Messiah, and that God sent Him to be the final sacrifice for all sin so that salvation would come through faith in that sacrifice and not by trying to earn our way into Heaven by good works. If that is true, and that is obviously what I believe, then you are not only rejecting God’s final sacrifice for your sin, but you are teaching and encouraging others to do likewise.

In the Tanach (Old Testament), God laid out very specific rules as to how He could be approached and in what way the sacrifices for sin would be accepted. I know you know that. A person couldn’t just come to God with what they thought He would accept. God was very specific in how He could be approached. In similar manner, now that the Messiah Jesus has laid down His life so that all of our sins can be forgiven, it is still critical that we come to God through the way He has prescribed, not through our own thoughts. So for you to come to God, while denying His final sacrifice for sin, is as useful as Cain trying to bring his sacrifice of the work of his hands when God was requiring a blood sacrifice. On the basis of your own works alone, you cannot be accepted just like Cain wasn’t so many years ago.