Can our good works outweigh our bad works? The short answer to this vital question is no. But why not? That’s a question we must all be able to answer from Scripture, and it’s a question John Piper answered from Romans 14:23 in his message “What Is Sin? The Essence and Root of All Sinning,” preached on February 2 of this year. Here’s what he said.
The reason Paul says that whatever is not from faith is sin in Romans 14:23 is that faith is a receiving of Christ, and God in Christ, as a desperately needed Savior, a Lord with whom we are happily compliant, and a treasure that we esteem above everything.
Faith Prefers God
Faith is a receiving of Christ for all that he is. It is a receiving of Christ as a Savior I desperately need, in my sin. It’s the receiving of him as a Lord with whom I happily comply, and a treasure that satisfies my soul, and I treasure it above all other treasures in the world. That is what faith is. Therefore, whatever is not from faith is sin, because Romans 1–3 says the root of sin is preferring anything to God. Faith doesn’t do that; faith prefers God over all things.
So here I am in Knoxville, Tennessee last summer realizing as never before that a horrible and glorious thing was being shown me — the horrible and glorious truth that the reason my justification, my right standing with God, cannot be founded on 99.99 percent grace and Christ and 0.01 percent contribution of a good deed from unregenerate John Piper, or regenerate John Piper, is that there are no good deeds before regeneration — none. And after regeneration they are all imperfect.
One Hundred Percent Christ
So the question for the unbeliever is not — and how many times have you heard people set this up? The question for the unbeliever is not: Can I do enough good works to outweigh my bad works? No, the question is: Can I do one good work? And the answer is no.
Which is why justification, our right standing with God, has to be not 99.99 percent grace and Christ, but one hundred percent. And that is the way he saved us. By grace alone, on the basis of Christ alone, through faith alone, to the glory of God’s infinite, beautiful, superior worth alone.
And so I experienced, as perhaps never before, a devastation and a liberation and sweetness that I have been praying for you for a long time.