Saving faith isn’t anything we do. It is accepting God’s work on our behalf. Saving faith is a gift from God so that no one can boast (Eph. 2:8-9).
We may say we believe that saving faith is not a work, and that we are not saved by our works, but our inner monologue—filled with “I need to” statements—may reveal a heart that easily turns the walk of faith into a work of human effort. When we treat Christianity as moralism, we reduce it to a means by which we feel good—or bad—about ourselves based on our performance.
The good works performed by the Christian reveal the fruit of Christianity—not the root of Christianity. We work because we are saved, not in order to be saved. Confusing the fruit and the root is spiritual suicide.
Noticing this tendency in myself, I’m praying that God will help me replace my “I need to” thoughts with “God is” thoughts. Knowing God is what truly makes us more like Him. For example, after reading through an Old Testament story such as Daniel’s three friends and the fiery furnace, I shouldn’t jump to the question, “What does this story tell me about what I need to do?” The more important question is, “What does this story tell me about God?” After all, if I am going to have a faith as unshakable as that of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, I will need to have a firm grasp on how unshakably powerful God is. In fact, that is exactly what gave teeth to these young Israelites’ faith—they had a firm conviction about who God was (Daniel 3:17ff).
Do I want to love other people more? Only as I see God’s love for me more clearly will I be able to genuinely display that love toward others. (Otherwise, I’ll try to muster up something that Scripture says only God can give me through His Spirit.) Do I want to spend more time with the Lord each day? Only as I see the beauty of God’s holiness more clearly will I be able to seek His face more earnestly. (Otherwise, I’ll treat my communion with God as a duty and not a delight—and that doesn’t really glorify God or benefit me.) If I can look beneath the surface of the “I need to” statements, I will better discern the fruit from the root.