It is our self-righteousness – not our sin – that keeps us from God

This is the second post in a series of posts about discovering the nature of God. Read the previous post here.

One of Jesus’ most well-known parables is the story of the prodigal son (If you know the story, skip to paragraph 3). In the story, a father has two sons. The youngest of which asks his father for an early inheritance – all the money he would receive if his father were to die. He then takes the money and lives a brief and lush lifestyle until he has spent it all. In the story he realizes that he is less than a hired hand in his father’s household, and decides to return and request that his father treat him as an outsider seeking employment. When he is a long way off, his father sees him coming. The father runs to him, kisses him and welcomes him home. He then calls to his servants to prepare a feast with the finest of their livestock because his son is home and has returned, there is to be a celebration.

The older son was busy working in the field and as he was coming home heard the party. When he found out what the ruckus was about he became angry. He had been loyal to his father, he had never disrespected him, and could not join in the celebration. The father speaks to the son about his anger and says, “…we should be glad and celebrate! Your brother was dead, but he is now alive. He was lost and has now been found.

In this story, the father is like God, who accepts us regardless of our actions and loves us consistently and unconditionally. We are one of the two sons. Often times, the focus is on the prodigal son who goes off and lives a lavish and foolish lifestyle, but how often are we like the older son who is unwilling to accept the grace given by the father?

It’s often easier for me to accept God’s grace for others than it is to accept God’s grace for myself. Maybe you’re the same way. Maybe you get too caught up, like I do, in self-loathing about your failings and shortcomings to realize that God accepts you where you are and wants to work with you now.

It is never our sin that keeps us from God. It’s our self-righteousness — our unwillingness to accept his grace, either because we think we don’t need it, or because we think we don’t deserve it.

In his book, the Good and Beautiful God, James Ryan Smith shares this poem by George Herbert, I’ve replaced the word Love with the word God to make it clear what this poem is referring to.

God bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey’d God, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack’d anything.

“A guest,” I answer’d, “worthy to be here”;
God said, “You shall be he.”
“I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.”
God took my hand and smiling did reply,
“Who made the eyes but I?”

“Truth, Lord, but I have marr’d them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.”
“And know you not,” says God, “who bore the blame?”
“My dear, then I will serve.”
“You must sit down,” says God, “and taste my meat.”
So I did sit and eat.

– Love III, by George Herbert


Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

– Matthew 11:28

Being in the presence of Jesus is truly rest for your soul. He is a stable craft in the stormy sea. We learn first from him, and he changes us to be more like himself, to be more like God.

God wants to set things right. God wants to welcome us in to dine with him. It is not our sin, but our self-righteousness that keeps us from God. He forgives the sin, but cannot force you to accept his grace. He freely offers it, but only you can accept it.


The Good and Beautiful God: Falling in Love with the God Jesus Knows, is a terrific book that every person will benefit from. It examines the way you see God, and walks you through soul training exercises to get to know God as Jesus does.

Get the book on Amazon


One response to “It is our self-righteousness – not our sin – that keeps us from God”

  1. […] the same way that our own self-righteousness keeps us from coming to God, it keeps us from seeing others come to […]

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