Romaine answers a troublesome question: It is a not uncommon experience for a Christian to seek “victory” over a sin, to strive and fight and yet obtain no advantage. If anything, the exertion of will power seems to leave the poor saint in a worse position than he was at first. He sincerely desires to end the sin. He even seeks to help from Christ in prayer. How is it that God could permit the sin to persist?
Here is a great trouble: The striving Christian thinks that the whole trouble begins and ends with a behavior. However he forgets, obedience matters only to the extent it is grounded in love. Indeed love is the thing which God seeks. God does not need behavior — he did not need sacrifices and he does not need us. If it were obedience he sought, he has legions of beings in many ways greater than us at his call.
What then is the striving believer seeking? Earned glory from God. There is the trouble, as Romaine explains:
Or, perhaps, Christ does not appear on your side, because you are proposing some wrong end [you don’t have the correct goal]. You are working and striving against sin to establish a righteousness of your own own [Romans 10:3 — those who sought to establish a righteousness independent of Christ], which is to be some part of your acceptance before God [you are trying to be righteous before God based upon your own effort] and you have been trying in your own strength to get your corruptions quite subdued, but they were too strong for you, and therefore now you are glad to make use of Christ’s help [since you couldn’t do it alone, you expect Christ to help you].
And if he would do the work for you, then you would have confidence in the flesh [if Christ helped you, then you would have confidence in yourself] and this your fancied [imagined] holiness would be the ground of thy rejoicing before God. Is it not so? If it be, you will never succeed upon this plan, Christ will not give his glory to another, nor put the crown of his gospel grace upon the head of your legal dependance.
William Romaine, A Treatise Upon the Life of Faith
In short, the poor believer sought the wrong end. The believer thought he would be entitled to Christ’s help and reward because he was so good. Romaine explains the believer has got it all wrong. God can destroy sin, but that is a means to an end. Then end is worship: we, in fellowship with God, in the dependance of faith, worship The Lord.
The Christian who seeks merely to alter behavior seeks not God’s glory but rather his own. That believer is not coming to God in worship and faith. Such a one does not seek God’s glory, but his own:
1 What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh?
2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.
3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”
4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.
5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,
6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:
7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered;
8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”