No one can pay for his own sins, either by sacrifice (even of himself in death) or by good works. Only Christ, who is God and man in one person and who lived without any sin, could pay for the sins of the world. Nor can we merit, earn, or purchase from God—who is perfectly holy and just—the benefit of Christ’s sacrifice in forgiveness of our sins. If we are to receive the pardon that Christ has earned, we must receive it by faith as those unworthy of it—the gift of God’s grace.
The purpose of the Ten Commandments was not to offer salvation to those who could keep them (no one has ever done so except Christ), but to show us our guilt so that we would accept Christ’s payment that satisfied God’s justice on our behalf:
Wherefore, the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (Galatians:3:24)
Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin…that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God…. For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.
For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans:3:19-20; 11:32; 6:23)
The attempt to offer works or rituals in payment for salvation is true even of some groups who claim to be Christian but who set up their own rules for gaining heaven in opposition to the biblical gospel of salvation by faith and grace alone without works. The Bible clearly says, “…that whosoever believeth in him [Christ] should not perish, but have everlasting life…not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians:2:8-9); and “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us…that being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus:3:5-7). Any attempt to make even a partial payment for God’s gift by His grace is a rejection of that gift.
That good deeds cannot pay for sins is not only biblical but logical.
Even a traffic ticket cannot be paid on that basis. It will not avail to ask the judge to dismiss the charge for speeding because the guilty party has driven more often within the speed limit than he has exceeding it. Nor would the judge waive the payment of any crime in response to the defendant’s promise ever, ever to break the law again. The judge would simply say, “If you never break the law again you are only doing what the law requires. You receive no extra credit by which to pay for having broken the law in the past. That penalty is a separate issue and must be paid as prescribed.”
The Bible further asserts that God’s justice is infinite and that man, being finite, could never pay the infinite penalty it demands. We would be separated from God forever if we tried to work off the debt owed to His justice. God, being infinite, could pay that infinite penalty, but it wouldn’t be just, because He is not one of us. Therefore, God became a man through the virgin birth in order to take upon Himself, in our place, the judgment we deserve. And it is only on the basis of that penalty having been paid in full that God can justly offer forgiveness.