If I Want And Determine To Do Better, Does This Make Me A Pietist Or A Pharisaical Legalist?

A Facebook Friend Question:
It is determined that, yes, I am a sinner, and I cannot do anything in my works and doings to save myself eternally. It has also been determined that I have been saved by the God-Man, by His sinless life, and His precious blood, to live eternally with Him and that I am His and not my own, that I am His workmanship, created in Him to do good works.

Now because what has been determined by Him, my own determinations, not originating from me or created by me, are of course of going to be purposeful.

For instance, if I determine be honest in my speech, in my work, in all my doings; if I determine to be discerning, understanding, to know the will of the Lord; if I determine that in my Christian freedom that all things are lawful but not are are helpful to my neighbor nor myself; if I determine to be pro-life, not just at conception, but from conception until eternity; if I determine that I shall make a covenant with mine eyes, even to where I stop going places that exploit girls and women; if I determine that I shall not have no other Gods before Him; if I determine that I do not want to participate and follow the world and its way; if I determine that it is not my time to do what I please, but it is my time to do what He pleases; if I determine to strive to obey the Law of God, even though I may fail; if I determine to love my neighbor by limiting my preferences to what will be good, right, and salutary; if I determine these things, am I a Pietist or possibly a Pharisaical legalist? 

PM's Answer:
Let's first of all lay the terms aside and deal with the fundamental question of, 'Is it wrong to want to be better and determine to do better?'  Answer, not at all! The concern that arises though is with what is 'not' stated in the question/scenario above.  In other words, what does one do when their determination fails and what does one do when their determination succeeds?  What exactly happens 'after' failure and success is most telling, for indeed we will fail and succeed. 
What Happens After Failure?: When we fail in our determination, do we confess our sin and admit our need of forgiveness in Christ's Word and Sacrament, 'or,' do we resolve to try harder? Otherwise stated, when we fail in our determination, do we turn outward to the Word of Christ for forgiveness, 'or,' do we turn inward to 'self' and try to be more determined?
What Happens After Success?: When we succeed in our determination, do we give thanks to God that we walked in good works that were prepared in advance and then journey back to Christ's Word and Sacrament to be sustained for what lies ahead, 'or,' do we eat the fruits of success, thus allowing a narrative of self-justification to encroach? Otherwise stated, when we succeed in our determination, do we turn away from 'self' to the external Words of Christ knowing that good fruit only comes about by being joined to Him, 'or,' do we turn our attention to the fruit itself, self-congratulate, and allow pride to encroach?
It is not problematic whatsoever when a person wants to be better! I want this; we should all want this. It is good to want to walk in God's will as expressed in the 10 Commandments. The concern though is how we handle things when we either succeed or fail. For this will determine whether one has gone the route of an anthropocentric spirituality (i.e., man-centered spirituality or a pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstrap theology).  Remember that the old Adam still lives.

More specifically, where does the failure in determination or the success in determination lead us? Frankly, it better not be away from the cross of Christ! It is rather obvious that when we fail that we should not resort to 'self' to overcome sin by trying harder.  'Self' is not the solution to sin, but rather the problem. Doing more and trying harder in order to atone for sin does nothing, but adds sin upon sin.  Perhaps the more dangerous side to this is when we succeed. For with successes, it is easy to demote Jesus to a means to another end.  We can easily put Jesus into our debt, and simply try to use Him for some other end/goal.  May this never be! May our successes never lead us to this rationale, for we do not produce good works, but walk in them and Jesus is not a means to holiness, but rather, He 'is' our holiness.  Jesus is the beginning and end.

So, if a person determines to do better, does that make him a Pietist or a Pharisaical legalist?  Not necessarily.  However, anytime our eyes are taken off the Word and Sacraments I know this for sure, that a person is often seduced to flirting with damning anthropocentric spirituality, a spirituality that pulls a person inward away from Christ to the caverns of the old Adam.  Call this anthropocentric spirituality whatever you like, but one thing is for sure and that is this narcissistic draw is not good, for it points us away from the author and perfector of our faith.   

Want to read more?
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Sanctified In Christ, Living From The True Vine
Why The Old Adam Loves Crossless Sanctification

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