Well, let us face it, it is a very appealing idea that we can somehow attain approval / blessing from God in our own resources. But this is an idea that God rather hates. He is kind to prostitutes and tax collectors and speaks rudely to those "perfect before the law". Listen to Paul concerning this.
Phil 3:3b-9 (NIV) ...who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh--though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.In both covenants, God asserts His prerogative in His Sovereignty to show mercy on whomever He wants, and to not show mercy to whomever He want. God's insistence on this point is consistent throughout scripture. For grace to be grace, it must involve choice, and you have got that right. Only who does He choose? Well, more often than not He chooses the "foolish" and "weak" things.
Gal 2:16,20-21 (NIV) We know that a man is not justified [put right with God] by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no-one will be justified... For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!
Rom 10:2-3 (NIV) For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.
Yes, there are examples of God rewarding righteous men, men who sought after God, men who passed tests beforehand, etc. But there are examples of just the opposite, and more so in His new covenant. Thus, it might be confusing by example only, but to insure we do not miss the point God speaks very clearly about just this issue, so that if we are seeking the truth there is no need to be confused.
1 Cor 1:26-29 (NIV) Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things--and the things that are not--to nullify the things that are, so that no-one may boast before him.And here is the point, directly from God, to skewer the idea that we "earn" God's choice. God has just the opposite idea; it is called sovereign grace!
Eph 2:8-9 (NIV) For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no-one can boast.
Deut 9:5-6 (NIV) "It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the Lord your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people."It was not by merit, but instead in spite of merit. The Isrealites were chosen in spite of the hardness and rebellion God knew they would demonstrate. God is keen on making His election most vivid, "to accomplish what I swore...", and converting the worst of men to display His love and glory. For God chooses, not man. (Jn 15:16, 1 Pet 1:10)
Rom 11:5-6 (NIV) So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.Do you get it? We do not through "morality" merit His choice. Rather the opposite. Often moral success prevents people from seeing their need for Christ. Paul came to consider his "perfect righteous" as "rubbish" compared to the blessing of knowing Christ. God reveals Himself to whomever He wills.
Titus 3:5 (NIV) He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.
Rom 3:21-28 (NIV) But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished--he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.
Note that Romans 7:1-4 puts the "morality" of the law in covenantal conflict (in this case, by analogy, the marriage covenant) with the point that to consider yourself "under the law" of earning approval is committing spiritual adultery. <yikes> For if there has not been a "death" to the "righteousness" of the law, then we are not free to be with Jesus--we are committing grievous spiritual sin. If you are unaware of this covenantal case study, look at Romans 7:1-4 and consider the radical implications of it.
There are manifold examples of this revelation of God's will in Scripture. The Lord is very keen on having us know the His choice is not based on our merit, even though we must obey after the covenant is cut--if the covenant has conditions attached (like the New). The salient feature of God stating this over and again is that He is keen on taking credit for doing the choosing.
A clear example of this sort of thing is the parable of The Rejected Orphan in Eze 16. As you read the following excerpt, do you get the feeling this pitiful creature earned favor by meeting conditions? Or that rather God's choice and word make the difference? (If you are interested in more along this story line, see Rom 11:11-21.)
Eze 16:3-12 (NIV) This is what the Sovereign Lord says to Jerusalem: Your ancestry and birth were in the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. On the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to make you clean, nor were you rubbed with salt or wrapped in cloths. No-one looked on you with pity or had compassion enough to do any of these things for you. Rather, you were thrown out into the open field, for on the day you were born you were despised. Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, and as you lay there in your blood I said to you, "Live!" I made you grow like a plant of the field. You grew up and developed and became the most beautiful of jewels. Your breasts were formed and your hair grew, you who were naked and bare. Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign Lord, and you became mine. I bathed you with water and washed the blood from you and put ointments on you. I clothed you with an embroidered dress and put leather sandals on you. I dressed you in fine linen and covered you with costly garments. I adorned you with jewellery: I put bracelets on your arms and a necklace around your neck, and I put a ring on your nose, ear-rings on your ears and a beautiful crown on your head...God will do what He promised and what He has in mind, even if it means severe judgment for us. He will not fail, "for His Name's sake". Thus, to display the power of His salvation, He has deliberately chosen the weak and foolish things; the sick sinners who did not seek Him are the ones who "found Him" (Isa 65:1, Rom 10:20) and so forth. God really "gets in our faces" about this, as He does not want us to be deceived by examples that might lead us to the wrong conclusion if they were all we had. He can choose whomever He wills, but is keen to show that His choices have a direction that is counter-intuitive to carnal human thinking.
Mr 2:17 (NIV) Jesus said to them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."
1 Cor 1:27-29 (Wey) God has chosen the things which the world regards as foolish, in order to put its wise men to shame; and God has chosen the things which the world regards as destitute of influence, in order to put its powerful things to shame; and the things which the world regards as base, and those which it sets utterly at nought--things that have no existence--God has chosen in order to reduce to nothing things that do exist; to prevent ANY mortal man from boasting in the presence of God.
1 Tim 1:15-16 (NIV) Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.