When our actions are not characterized by joy, it is usually because they are driven by false motives:
1. To prove ourselves to God
We obey so God will be impressed with us or bless us. We want to become our own saviours instead of looking to God for salvation.
2. To prove ourselves to other people
We want people to be impressed by us, to fit in or win approval. One result is other people set the standard. We live in obedience to people rather than to God.
3. To prove yourself to yourself
We want to feel good about ourselves. Sin becomes an offence against me, against my self-esteem rather than an offence against God.
What’s wrong with wanting to obey so we can prove ourselves to God or people or ourselves?
First, it makes obedience about me looking good. It is done for my glory. And that’s pretty much the definition of sin. Sin is living my way for me instead of living God’s way for God. Often that means rejecting God as Lord and wanting to be our own lord, but it can also involve rejecting God as Saviour and wanting to be our own saviour. Pharisees do good works and repent of bad works. But gospel repentance includes repenting of good works done for bad reasons. We repent of trying to be our own saviour.
Second, it denies the cross. Jesus died on the cross, separated from his Father, bearing the full weight of God’s wrath so that we can be accepted by God. When we try to prove ourselves by our good works we’re saying, in effect, that the cross wasn’t enough.
The justifying work of Christ on our behalf leads to:
humility (3:27) because we have all fallen short of God’s glory (3:23) and all depend completely on Christ
confidence (8:1, 31-39) because our hope is Christ’s finished work and not in us