Many Christians today envision their lives to be like the scales of justice. On one side are all their godly deeds and on the other is a growing pile of sins and failures. If they think their life tips too much toward failure, they feel compelled to pray more, study their Bible more, go to church more. Yet no amount of additional good works can even out their self-made scale of righteousness.

I recently watched a video clip of a scene at a fast-food drive-through window. When the driver finished giving his order, the voice on the other end asked, “And then?” Feeling guilty, the driver added fries to his order. Again the voice came back, “And then?” Bewildered, the driver added a dessert. Again the voice asked, “And then?” Finally the driver shouted, “No, no, no! No ‘and then.’”

That is a picture of us when we try to attain God’s righteousness. The more self-effort we put forth, the closer we come to the moment when we’re finally forced to shout, “No more ‘and then’ for me.” It explains why so many Christians feel exhausted at the very thought of serving God. Paul calls their efforts “dead works” for a reason: Their approach will never produce righteousness or joy but only weariness and misery. There is no life in it—only death—because it isn’t Christ’s gospel.

Paul writes, “The sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many” (Romans 5:17, NLT). If death rules your walk—if you carry the weight of constant accusations of sin, if nothing you do is ever good enough—then you’re listening to the old voice of the Adamic nature. From that old nature springs every fleshly attempt to appease God, which is contrary to your identity in Christ.

Paul then adds this in the same verse: “Even greater [than Adam’s sin] is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness.” How do we attain this righteousness? Paul tells us in the next phrase: “All who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ.” We are destined to triumph over every sin—not through our own efforts, but through one man, Jesus. And so Christ urges us, “Why don’t you take that scale of your own making and lay it down at the foot of the cross? I never called you to appease Me. I have called you to do one thing: receive My blessing of grace.”