David Brainerd was a missionary to the native Americans of New Jersey in the 18th century. While a student at Yale, he was a very religious man. Eventually, he came to realize that his religiosity was not a virtue, but the primary barrier stading between him and God. By grace, that barrier fell. This is an excerpt from his diary recalling that experience:
When I was about twenty years of age I was engaged more than ever in the duties of religion. I became strict, and watchful over my thoughts, words, and actions; and thought I must be very seriously religious, because I considered entering the ministry. I spent much time every day reading my Bible and praying, and I gave great attention to Sunday sermons. In short, I had a very good outside, and trusted entirely in my religious duties, though I was not then aware of what I was doing wrong… [Eventually] I saw that all my prayers and repentances and feelings and obediences had not laid the least obligation upon God to bestow his salvation on me. Then I realized why they were of no avail. When I had been fasting, praying, obeying, I thought I was aiming at the glory of God, but I was doing it all for my own glory — to feel I was worthy. As long as I was doing all this to earn my salvation, I was doing nothing for God, all for me! I realized that all my struggling to become worthy was an exercise in self-worship. I was actually trying to avoid God as saviour, and to be my own saviour (i.e. I was not worshipping him, but using him). Then, at that time, the true way of salvation opened to my mind. I saw so much of its wisdom and suitableness and excellence that I wondered how I ever was blind to it. I wondered why everyone did not see this way of salvation — not by my own contrivances, but entirely by the righteousness of Christ. I felt myself in a new world, and every thing about me appeared with a different aspect from before.
He learned that our worthiness before God is not something that we achieve. It is something we receive. Now, if only I will learn that lesson and find myself in that wonderful new world where the atmosphere is pure grace.