The lifeguard races out to the drowning man. As he reaches the man, he tells him to quit thrashing around – quit trying to save himself. The worse thing the drowning man can do is try and help in his rescue. He needs to rely totally on the lifeguard. There have even been some cases where the lifeguard had to physically subdue the person in order to save him.
Another man is caught under the rubble of a collapsed building. As the firemen approach, they see that the slightest movement can cause a beam to fall right on the man. They frantically tell the man to remain absolutely still. “Whatever you do, don’t move. Don’t try to save yourself. Let us do all the work!”
The Bible tells us that we are saved by Jesus. “For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:14). It further tells us that our works don’t contribute to our salvation. “For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) Romans chapter 4 cites both the example of Abraham and David who had a righteousness not of works.
But then the Bible goes one step further. It is like the rescue workers mentioned above. It warns us not to try and save ourselves because that will ruin our salvation. “And if by grace, then it is no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace; otherwise work is no more work.” (Romans 11:6) “Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.” (Galatians 5:4)
When is it wrong to try and be good? When we are trying to be good in order to be saved. Salvation means trusting solely in what Jesus has done for me.