"For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace." -Romans 6:14
When I moved from Kentucky to New York City to go to college, it became clear to me that I was a legalistic Christian. What I mean by that is that I thought you earned your salvation by following the rules. This kind of attitude cheapens the sacrifice that Christ has made for me. It makes me the author of my own salvation and I perform good works so I can feel I am superior to others. When I live a life defined by grace, I understand that I am a sinner, Christ has saved me through his sacrificial blood and the gratitude of that makes me gracious to those around me.
I recently saw the movie version of "Les Miserables" and it is a fantastic example of what your life looks like when you are justified by the law versus justified by grace. In case you are unfamiliar with the story, Jean Valjean is a man who lives his life committing mericiful and sacrificial acts to those around him because he was so moved by an act of sacrifice that was shown to him in the name of God. Javert is a prison warden who spends years trying to hunt down Valjean because he stole some bread to feed his hungry family. He even prays to God for help to put him behind bars saying, "so it is written on the doorway to paradise that those who falter and those who fall must pay the price."
Valjean and Javert both consider themselves man of God. They both pray. They both believe in God. But one had been so radically transformed by the love of God that he showed mercy and love to others, including his enemies. The other thought faltering and failing condemned you to hell apart from God and took it upon himself to punish those who had not followed "God's way."
We all have our moments of legalism, of unforgiveness and of self-righteousness. It is in these moments that we believe we can earn our own salvation and we cheapen the sacrifice that was made for us. By believing people can earn their salvation through their works, we become people who are deeply ungrateful for the nails that bore our sin on the cross of Christ.
Our Father God, we often think that our own performance achieves us favor in your eyes. For this, we ask for your forgiveness. Not understanding our own sinfulness and not understanding the sacrifice of Christ makes us callous to the mercy you have shown us and to those we encounter around us.