Read these words on sin and righteousness from the 17th century Puritan John Owen in his book Apostasy from the Gospel (pg. 90-92):
“To be truly convinced of our need of Christ, we must first be convinced of the nature, guilt, pollution, power, and punishment of sin, for he came to save us from our sins. No-one would have bothered to look at the brazen serpent (Numbers 21:9) if he had not first been bitten by a snake and knew that he was in danger of death. So none will look to Christ who are not convinced that they have sinned and will most certainly perish if Christ does not save them.Satan’s work is to excuse sin and so make the practice of it more acceptable. His aim is to make it seem that we have no real need of Christ and his sacrifice. Men are quick to believe that they are not under the power of original sin and that they are basically good, though not perfect. Spiritual sins against the gospel are considered nothing and laughed at. Immoralities against the law are treated lightly and easily passed over.
Today, the person and offices of Christ are not considered to be of any great importance and so are rarely preached (Owen lived from 1616-1683; if this was true in the 1600’s how much more is it true today!).
Only the conviction of our desperate need of Christ to save us from the guilt, power, pollution, and punishment of sin will drive us to Christ and keep us from turning away from him.
To be truly convinced of our need of Christ, we must first be convinced that our very best righteousnesses are utterly insufficient to enable us to stand before God in that judgment day. The solemn realization of our utter inability to do anything good and acceptable to God without Christ, and the utter insufficiency of our best deeds to stand the trial of God’s judgment, will make us always aware of our need of Christ and his righteousness.
Consider that in every duty we do, how far short we fall from the standard of holiness required and how our best righteousnesses are like filthy rags! (Isaiah 64:6).
Lack of a due sense of the sinfulness of our best works leads to dreams of self-perfection, self-righteousness, and self-justification. Such dreams lead to contempt of Christ and his righteousness. Who would look for another righteousness when he is convinced that he can justify himself before God by his own righteousness?
Before people will come to Christ and stay with Christ, they need to know that they are lost, condemned sinners standing accursed in God’s sight. They need to see that Christ alone has made perfect satisfaction for the pardon of their sins and so their deliverance from eternal punishment.
People also need to know that without Christ they have no righteousness with which to stand before God and that only Christ can clothe them with that perfect righteousness which is acceptable to God, having met all the demands of his holy law.
This is the faith of God’s elect against which all the works and deceits of Satan cannot prevail. The marriage of divine revelation with true experience is invincible. But those who have never seen their desperate need of Christ for these things will never persevere in believing in him, nor remain in him by faith in times of persecution and strong temptation.”