Jim at Oldtruth.com recently posted a thought provoking article (link) entitled "Am I Doing Enough To Get God To Forgive Me?" (although he posted it, it appears it may have been written by a contributing author)
Jim's (or perhaps Chad's?) message responds to a Roman Catholic view that it is necessary to do something positive (good works/acts of penance or contrition) to counteract the negative (sin) in one's life. The view itself (whether actually the official view of Rome or not, I leave for the reader to decide) is based on a faulty premise, namely that good works and sins are somehow together on the same ledger book.
As discussed in a previous post (link) sin is any failure to follow God's law. In contrast, righteousness is following God's law. If one is to construct a ledger book regarding obedience to the law of God, therefore, sin is a violation and righteousness is no violation.
Thus, from the standpoint of the sin ledger book, any righteous deed is a zero, and any sin is a negative. In the garden, before the fall, Adam was innocent. He had not yet sinned, and consequently, his sin ledger book was zero. Once he sinned, he was negative, and nothing he himself could do could ever restore him to a zero position, because perfect righteousness is required by God.
Nothing that we do can negate the effect of sin, namely guilt. The only negation for the guilt of sin is punishment, either of the sinner himself or of an acceptable substitute. Furthermore, the penalty for any sin is death. Thus, eternal life is beyond the reach of anyone who has any sin to their account.
Some may object that, from a moral perspective, there is a difference between sleeping and preaching the gospel. This difference, however, is not based on one being more righteous in ipse than the other. As Solomon wrote, there is a time for everything (Ecclesiates 3:1). There is an appropriate place for both ministry of the Word and sleep in the life of a Christian. Failing to sleep at an appropriate time is vain (Psalm 127:2), and sleeping too much is folly (Proverbs 6:6-11).
Some may object that it is possible to do more than what the law of God requires, and consequently earn positive merits. As to righteousness, the answer to this objection is an emphatic "certainly not." The law of God requires perfect righteousness, as I have discussed in a previous post (link) and consequently it is not possible to be more righteous than one is required to be. Accordingly, one cannot be more righteous than the law of God requires and consequently obtain merit on account of superfluous righteousness.
Others may object that although it is not possible to be more righteous than God requires, it is possible to provide a sacrifice that God will count in place of righteousness. Thus, for example, one may sacrifice one's money, desires, health, or even life. This mindset is not completely new: note how Paul makes oblique reference to it in I Corinthians 13:3.
But the bottom line is this, no amount of personal sacrifice can take away sin. The ordained sacrifices of the Old Testament could not please God so as to take away sin (Hebrews 10:6, 8, and 18). In contrast, Christ by one offering has taken away the guilt of all the sin of his people forever.
God may reward our sacrifices, but not with remission of sin. For remission of sin, only one sacrifice satisfies God, and that is the sacrifice of His Son.
Praise be to our Great High Priest and Mediator.