Two Ways to Justify Our Self

Posted on May 12, 2014 | 14 comments

I love when I get the opportunity to talk with and teach students. They are at the stage of life where they are simultaneously beginning to define their self while trying to understand how their faith relates to the life they are living.

Yesterday we were talking about what sin is and how we overcome it. Broad topic. (see Entangled)

One common response in our discussion was that we overcome sin by following the rules. And while for the students, they are just beginning to explore if this is a good spiritual strategy, for most of us, it is our default way of functioning in our spiritual life.

When push comes to shove, just try harder to stop sinning! (see Just Stop)

This is simply our attempt to justify our self before God. “Here I am God, I’ve made my self good enough.”

It is the Lie, another way – although a religious way – to pursue wholeness apart from God. (see Shattering the Image)

Because we are broken image bearers, our focus is self-centered. As disciples, that concept extends to the functional ways we attempt to be right before God.

Self-justification is the idea that being right before God is up to us. Our effort. Our results. (see Religious Self-Justification)

And there are two patterns that we follow to do this. They are extensions of the old self – the false self – that is comfortable and familiar and at war with our new self in Christ.

One pattern of self-justification is by following the rules. Then we can look to God and say I did everything right. In this paradigm, God isn’t really even necessary. It is religion – looking for salvation in the law rather than the God who made the law.

It is what Jesus scolded the Pharisee for.

But, there is a second pattern of self-justification. It is simple and so common we probably don’t even realize we do it.

We change the standard entirely – getting comfortable with how we have covered our own brokenness and proclaiming it OK.

I’ve done this. You’ve done this. Maybe right now.

It is OK for me to commit adultery because it is filling my need for intimacy.

Homosexuality is OK because is is my source of acceptance and affirmation.

Intentionally over promising to a prospective client is OK because I need the commission to maintain my financial sense of value.

(Insert sin here) is OK because (insert what it contributes to your false sense of self).

Be careful not to call good what God has called bad.

But also remember that God does not call it bad because He hates you, He hates the separation, He hates the enslavement, He hates that we ignore the better way. (see God’s First Question in the Garden)

God knows the world is broken. He knows the temptation of the systems and standards of the world.

That is why He provided a place for us to work it out. Without shame. With his grace. With his compassion.

In Christ.

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  1. I’m glad I found you through the Linky party (We like to learn…). This is not the type of blog you usually find there but it is the kind I love to read. I will be back. Thank you.

  2. I’ve found it easier to just “keep the rules” than to allow my heart to be transformed, which is really the goal. Thanks for pointing us to God’s grace and compassion.

    • Amen. You are not alone in wanting rules. They give us a way to measure results, effectiveness, and know how we measure up. Thanks for your comment.

  3. Hi-found you on the Pour Your Heart Out Linkup. Very interesting post! There is always a way to rationalize, isn’t there? I love how you point out, “God does not call it bad because He hates you, He hates the separation, He hates the enslavement, He hates that we ignore the better way.” That is the whole point of rules and commandments- to help us find happiness. Thanks for sharing!

  4. I’ve noticed that I can’t stop sinning in my own strength. Christ has to take it away for me. He gives me the gift of repentance and through that I am changed. Thanks for linking up at God’s Girl. Happy to have you with us.

  5. Coming from a background where rules are esteemed higher than a relationship with Christ, I often find myself falling back into the self-justification. So thankful for the faithfulness of our God and His willingness to forgive. Excellent writing. It was a joy to visit.

    Blessings, Pamela

  6. You really gave us a lot to think about. I know it will be helpful to many, myself included. Thank you for sharing with us on Spiritual Sundays.

  7. Wowzers, this is deep– and really wonderful, Scott! A lot of very important concepts to consider. I know I have tried to stop sinning in my own strength and it lasts about 18 seconds. So thankful for Christ, the one that works it all out.

    Thanks a ton for sharing over at #EverydayJesus. Blessings to you!

    • You do pretty good, about 13 seconds longer than my own strength! Thanks for dropping by!

  8. I appreciate your contributions to #TellHisStory. Always convicting, in the best ways.

  9. Thanks for sharing on Whatever Wednesday on Thank You Honey!

  10. I like that you write “God hates the separation.” Oh, that we would hate it as much as well.

  11. What a responsibility you have, to interact with students at such a pivotal time in their lives. Both beautiful and terrible, I am sure. Thank you for the work you do, friend. Not an easy mission – that much I know.

    So nice to have you with us at Unforced Rhythms this week.

  12. Self-justification can be tricky because we are often blind to the places we justify or excuse. Great post highlighting this and giving examples of how to discern it in our hearts. Thank you so much for linking up with Inspire Me Monday.

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