It is part of our fallen nature that we want to reduce the demands of God’s law, to soften it. Why? To make it seem like we can attain God’s favor on our own - even if we still give lip service to sin and grace.
I found these words on another blog, where you can read the entire post, entitled, "Lent for Dummies". Several things in that short post I thought called for comment. Not wishing to abuse the hospitality of that more or less official, denominational blog by posting Orthodox viewpoints on it, however, I've decided to do it here, and I am only going to comment on three of several things that leapt out at me, each in its own post here. The first is about attaining God's favor.
There are several reasons God’s favor cannot be attained on our own, meaning by works, or in any way at all. One is that we are hard put to perform even one truly good, purely motivated deed. Another is that we could never do enough of them to merit anything from God. He who has labored mightily for our salvation, on a cosmic scale, from the beginning, is hardly impressed by our late and paltry efforts!
But the main reason we cannot attain God's favor on our own is that it already is ours, already was yours and mine, from all eternity. God created us knowing ahead of time we would sin, and loved us still. The proof of it is, He sent His Son to die for us “while we were yet sinners.”
That we already have God’s favor doesn’t mean God approves of our sin. How could He, when He sees it destroying us, who are the sheep of His pasture, and the work of His hands?
Nor does already having God’s favor mean He will bless our misbehavior or overlook it. On the contrary, He will combat it in countless ways. He will thwart our wicked designs, will chastise us as severely as may profit us, will give our conscience no rest, will protect others from us even at our material expense, will ever sweetly seek to convert us and patiently await our return to Him – all the while still loving us, no matter what. Our status, our standing with Him, is always, “beloved.” He is always gracious toward us, kind, compassionate, and good, sending the blessings of His rain and His sunshine on the just and the unjust alike.
All of this is another way of saying God in immutable, unchangeable. His purpose for us, His love for us, His kindness toward us, are constant and true, with no shadow of turning, no fickleness. They are unconditional. We may not assert of God that He is angry with us one day and favorable toward us the next. "I am God; I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed."
For obtaining God’s favor, then, works are perfectly, utterly useless. We already have His favor in abundance, in full.
But if another issue for us is how to change the relationship with God in which we find Him as our constant Opponent, then the obvious answer is, stop opposing Him! Stop kicking against the goads! “Repent”, which means stop living at cross-purposes with Him, and “believe the Good News”, because until you do, you cannot live according to His purpose, which is to glorify and deify you. And there, in repentance and faith, works do come into play. Because repentance and faith, although gifts from God, are also themselves works. Moreover, they together form the matrix of every act we do henceforth, except when we sin by operating out of another matrix.
But meanwhile, even while we take the side of the evil which God implacably opposes, He loves us with an equally implacable and infinite and unconditional and mighty Love.