Works righteousness is man’s default religion

by Mike Ratliff

13 πορευθέντες δὲ μάθετε τί ἐστιν· ἔλεος θέλω καὶ οὐ θυσίαν· οὐ γὰρ ἦλθον καλέσαι δικαίους ἀλλʼ ἁμαρτωλούς. Matthew 9:13 (NA28)

13 But go and learn what is the meaning of this; I desire mercy and not sacrifice, for I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners. Matthew 9:13 (translated from the NA28 Greek text)

Works righteousness is man’s default religion. The Jews mostly misunderstood the Old Testament sacrificial system. The point of the sacrifice was the taking away of sin and the pointing to the perfect sacrifice that would come in Christ, but most had turned it into a form of works righteousness.

In Matthew 9:13 (above) our Lord Jesus quotes Hosea 6:6.

6 For I desire mercy and not sacrifice,
And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. Hosea 6:6 (NKJV)

In this, our Lord was showing that the outward ritual of sacrifice apart from inward fulfillment of the Mosaic system, which is that Christ’s blood, was the blood of the new covenant.

27 Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. Matthew 26:27-28 (NKJV)

Despite what so many hyper-dispensationalists teach, the book of Acts and early church history confirms that the sacrificial system was no longer necessary and was abandoned. The emphasis in the New Testament is that Christ’s sacrifice was the perfect sacrifice, the only one that could be the propititiation, the complete taking away, of our sin (Romans 3:23-25).

The Greek word translated into English as sacrifice is θυσία or thysia, “refers to any sacrifice or offering made to a god.” It is used 15 times in the book of Hebrews. A study of this wonderful book makes it clear that the Holy Spirit inspired its author to emphasize that everything in the New Covenant is “better” than what was in the Old Covenant. Everything is better, a better priesthood (Christ; 2:17; 5:1-9), a better sacrifice (Christ; 7:27), a better living (Christ 9:9-14), a better intercession (Christ; 10:1-12).

1 For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. 2 For then would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins. 3 But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. 4 For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins. Hebrews 10:1-4 (NKJV) 

As is clear in this passage, the Law with all its sacrifices and rituals was “but a shadow of the good things to come…”  All in Christ have the substance of Christ and so no longer have need of the shadows. Hence, we no longer need the Law itself for we have the Living Saviour.

As Romans 12:1 makes clear, we are called to be living sacrifices, holy, acceptable unto God, which is our reasonable service. This holiness in our daily living is a constant reminder that sin has been dealt with in Christ. Therefore, let us not give in to what our flesh wants as we continue to bear our crosses as we follow our Saviour down the narrow path he laid before us.

Soli Deo Gloria!

4 thoughts on “Works righteousness is man’s default religion

  1. There’s no security in ‘works righteousness,’ for how does one know for certain when he has achieved it? Who has laid the guidelines for what those specific works are and how many of them is it necessary to accomplish to achieve eternal life? What if one becomes sick and physically impaired before achieving the required amount? What if one dies before all the works have been completed?

    Cannot people clearly see the quagmire ‘works righteousness’ places them in? Doesn’t it make it clear that Christ has accomplished our righteousness for us, that which we could not do for ourselves? Isn’t it wonderful to know we can rest in the finished work of Christ?!


  2. Sacrifice? What is man’s sacrifice to Our Father? It is in giving HIM of ourselves. We cannot study to give it. It is much more than what man can give us through study. After all, the Pharisees had learning but they did not surrender to the Son of God when He spoke. Religion is a safe way to go; we do not have to trust and give of the smallest part of ourselves. The disciples gave everything. Our Savior gave His life. Some will be saved but not by a simple act of religion whatever it is. He will save His own.


  3. In exchange of what we give Him, He gives us of Himself. It is a wonderful and more than a fair trade. If we want to stay on the safe path ((broad path), He does not have to fight our battles. We are not HIS but remain ourself just walking along a comfortable path. His sheep are in HIS green pasture and by stillll waters; but at the same time He is leading us in paths of righteousness. Don’t be afraid to let go and follow HIM.


  4. The Preparation of the heart belongs to man:
    Proverbs 16:1
    Biblically, its simply “repentance”, clearing the heart of guile and pride in a season of godly sorrow, forsaking all known sin with sincerity, and sanctifying oneself from the world….Yes, its that simple, being transformed from the old man of sin to the new man of righteousness in the baptism of repentance. That ye might sanctify and cleanse the heart and mind with the washing of water by the word and the renewing of the soul, receiving the NT empowerment (Grace) of the Holy Spirit, walking upright according to the Spirit thoroughly furnished unto good works!  Amazingly simple, Yes?

    Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.
    2 Corinthians 7:1

    But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in ALL you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I Am holy.”🔥🔥
    1 Peter 1:15-16 |

    How can a young person stay on the path of purity?
    By living according to your word.
    Psalm 119:9


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