Man’s motivation to be righteous before God is the product of his conscience. And the bedrock of man’s conscience is God’s law. Law has reached its pinnacle of perfection in the Law and Prophets of the Old Testament. The Law is indeed the epitome of God’s will for man prior to His revelation of what Paul calls God’s mystery—Christ Jesus Himself.(Colossians 2:2)
The truths of God’s law have filtered into all cultures in varying degrees to become the cornerstone of man’s attempt to gain acceptability in the eyes of whoever he perceives to be his god. Such law is the “elementary principles of the world” identified in Scripture. (Colossians 2:20)
There are two basic elements of man’s attempt to be righteous before God: doing good (in an attempt to please Him), and restraining ourselves from doing evil (to keep from displeasing Him). These elements are at the heart of the activities of all religious systems, and may be thought of as the positive and negative aspects of man’s attempt at righteousness—the opposite sides of the same coin. But all this effort boils down to just one thing: earning one’s own way in an attempt at self-justification.
Excerpted from: Free from the Power of Sin: The Keys to Growing in God in Spite of Yourself