When Jesus confronted the legalists and their all too familiar brand of legalistic, performance based faith, he condensed everything that God wanted from mankind into one sentence. It is a statement that, when understood, drives legalists and fundamentalists crazy. You see, the Pharisees had created a performance based religion that required absolute obedience to dizzying details. Blessings like the Sabbath rest were turned into a means for judgment and ridicule. The idea that somehow we can perform enough works to be righteous persists even today as many so called "conservatives" try to impose an ever growing list of "works" that a Christian must perform to "prove" his or her Christianity.
Naturally, because people are seeking for God and want a relationship with Him, they start to ask questions that the people asked Jesus. In John 6:28 a group of people asked Jesus "What must we do to be doing the works of God?" Jesus answered in an unexpected way. He did not give them a list, which is what they wanted. He did not rail against the sin of the day, which legalists and fundamentalists like to do even today. No. It says this in John 6:29 "Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
Did you catch that? Belief. In no way did Jesus say "God hates your actions and wants you to clean up your life and then He might like you." He didn't say "The work of God is for you to make a list of rules and keep them flawlessly and then appoint yourself judge over others who do not keep your rules." No. Jesus said "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom He has sent."
The work of God in your life, what you have to do to be accepted by God is to BELIEVE IN JESUS CHRIST. It is a list of one item. ONE. 1
1. Believe in Jesus Christ
2. Refer back to item 1.
Now, I know some of the legalists are going to start barking about sin and repentance and easy believism at this point. Hang in there and I will address your concerns.
The point, is that legalism begins with the assumption that I can have a righteousness of my own if I just try hard enough. Fundamentalism teaches that we as a people can force others to have a righteousness if we just pressure them hard enough. The problem with these two positions is that the Bible clearly teaches that "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." Paul even admits in Romans 7:18 that "nothing good dwells in me, in my flesh." So why continue to push harder and harder when the Bible clearly teaches that our righteousness is like filthy rags before God. Who are we trying to impress?
Jesus knew that nobody could be righteous. Jesus knew that I would fail him no matter how hard I tried. God knows all about my sin and yet, he wants to have a relationship with me anyway. And so, he provided a way. By believing in Jesus Christ, I get to claim His Righteousness as my own before God.
The sacrifice of Jesus Christ was the single most lopsided, unfair, rip off in the history of the universe. Jesus, who was righteous, died on a cross and got me, a sinful, ungrateful, screw-up. The righteous Son of God paid his life so that I could have a righteousness that is not found in keeping a list of do's and don'ts. But by faith alone. This is why Jesus could condense the work of God into one sentence. All God wants you to do is to "believe in the one whom he has sent."
By believing in Jesus Christ, you are admitting that you need a savior. By believing in Jesus Christ, you are admitting that you cannot keep a list of rules. Not your own, not your legalistic neighbor's, not God's. You are admitting you don't have it all together and that you need God's help. That is the work of God. To cry out for help to the One who offered help: Jesus Christ.
When you believe, then something wonderful happens. Jesus said it himself in John 14:15-17. He said "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you."
Jesus said when you love Him, you will obey. Obedience will be a RESULT of your love for Him. Not the cause, but the result. How will this happen? Because when you believe in Him, Jesus said we won't have to go it alone. He will give us His Spirit and by His Spirit you will be able to do the things you could not do on your own.
You see, legalists and fundamentalists get it backwards today just like they did in Jesus' day. They think we have to work to be accepted by God when God said accept (believe) in Jesus Christ and you will be accepted, empowered and changed.
No matter how hard we work, we will never change ourselves. No matter how much we hate sin, we won't stop sinning until we love Jesus. When we love Jesus, we will stop sinning through the power of His Spirit.
So, here it is, today, because of the cross sin is a result of a lack of love and faith in Jesus Christ. How can I say that? Because Jesus said the work of God is to believe in the one whom he has sent. If I sin, it is because I have not fully loved Jesus how I should. Thus, no amount of self help, self discipline, self loathing, or legalistic judgment is going to keep me from sinning. Only faith in the love of God poured out through Jesus Christ can do that. It is wonderful, wonderful promise and gift that God has given to a fallen, sinful, rebellious people. Only the Son of God can take us Above Reality.