I have a not-even-three-year-old-but-very-independent-daughter. In the throws of yet another attempt at toilet training (this motivated by my neice who is four months older and using a big girl potty), my youngest daughter had an accident. Unable to coordinate all required, she went "poopy" in her panties. Undaunted, she stripped her panties off and very carefully rinsed them in the toilet, just like she'd seen Mom do.
Of course, not even being three, her technique was a little off. She successfully smeared the contents of her soiled undergarments all over herself, the toilet, and the bathroom! Then, she proudly announced her achievement.
Immediately I was struck with how often I do exactly the same thing. I make a mess in some part of my life and then try to clean it up on my own, with the same disasterous results. So often, I desire to be justified in my own efforts. I don't really want to accept that I have absolutely nothing to offer God - I am not righteous, I do not seek after God. I don't want it to be true, even though God says just that in Romans 3.
By doing all the right things, I think maybe I can some how earn God's favor. If I keep my house clean, educate my children well, fix dinner on time, eat healthy, take care of the enviroment, and read my Bible every day, somehow I will attain a certain level of rightness, if not righteousness. Then I'll have something to offer God in exchange for the forgiveness I've received through Jesus' death on the cross. Actually, the passage from Romans is quoting the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, who describes our attempts at righteousness as something much more disgusting than what my daughter tried to wash out in the toilet!
None of us can offer God anything. His righteous standard must be met, but it can't be met by me. Jesus met God's perfect standard, and paid the price for all sin when He died on the cross. For those who accept God's free gift of salvation, the mess is cleaned up; the price of sin has been paid.
Some day my youngest daughter will know how to take care of her own messes. She may even get to the point where she doesn't make messes anymore. I will never be able to take care of my own sin; nor do I have to. Because Jesus has made my heart clean, my messes are cleaned up. When God looks at me He sees the perfect beauty of Jesus' righteousness, so I don't have to worry about cleaning up any messes ever again - at least not the kind I make when I choose to sin against God. The other kind, the kind kids make, well I'll probably be cleaning those up for a long time.