Read this amazing piece by Walter Marshall (in The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification).
“We are naturally so prone to ground our salvation on our own works, that if we cannot make them procuring conditions and causes of our salvation by Christ, yet we shall endeavor at least to make them necessary preparatives, to fit us for receiving Christ and his salvation by faith” (p. 52).
In other words, we are so prone to legalism and salvation by law-keeping that we’ll convince ourselves that though we’re not saved by our works, they do prepare us for salvation. After all (we sinfully reason), we can’t come to Jesus as messed-up, filthy, naked sinners who cheat, lie, lust, and hate. Marshall stomps this legalism out as an attack on the gospel.
“[This] error is pernicious to the practice of holiness, and to our whole salvation. …While we endeavor to prepare our way to Christ by holy qualifications, we do rather fill it with stumbling blocks, and deep pits, by which our souls are hindered from ever attaining to the salvation by Christ (ibid).”
He goes on to clarify this.
“Christ would have the vilest sinners come to him for salvation immediately, without delaying the time to prepare themselves for him. … Christ would have us to believe on him that justifies the ungodly; and therefore he does not require us to be godly before we believe. He came as a Physician for the sick, and does not expect that they should recover their health, in the least degree, before they come to him (Matt 9:12).
This is the beauty of the gospel.
“The vilest sinners are fitly prepared and qualified for this design; which is, to show forth the exceeding riches of grace, pardoning our sins, and saving us freely (Eph 2.5, 7). …He loved us in our most loathsome sinful pollution, so as to die for us; and much more will he love us in it, so as to receive us when we come to him for the purchased salvation. …It is no affront to Christ…to come to [him] while we are polluted sinners; but rather it is an affronting and contemning the saving grace, merit, and fulness of Christ if we endeavor to make ourselves righteous and holy before we receive Christ himself.”
This book, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, is one of the best discussions of justification and sanctification that I’ve read (right up there with Ed Fisher’s Marrow). It is a tough read, which unfortunately means fewer people will get through it. I promise you, however, that if you take your time and work through Marshall’s book, you’ll get a deeper undersanding of the gospel and free grace of Christ.