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The Cross and Self-Justification

October 19, 2011

Nothing is more important than being right with God.  This is the idea behind the Christian doctrine of justification.  Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ came to earth to live, die, and be raised from the dead so that those who would believe upon him would be justified, or made right with God.  Sin put us out with God.  By faith in the person and work of Christ, we are made right with God (Rom. 5:1).

Justification is a good thing – a glorious thing.  However, just like most anything else, it becomes a devilish thing when “self” is placed in front of it.  Justification is of God; self-justification is not.  Yet this is where too many of us live.  Rather than living out the glorious implications of being justified by faith in Christ, we live most days seeking to justify ourselves.  More than anything, we seek to be right in the sight of others.  I was reminded and convicted of this once again as I read the oft-read article The Cross and Criticism by Alfred J Poirier.

I have read this article several times, and no matter how often I read it I am both challenged and encouraged by the gospel of Jesus Christ.  I am encouraged to know that I have been justified by faith alone, in Christ alone, and nothing can change that.  In light of this truth, I am challenged because I need to stop seeking to justify myself.  Poirier points this out as he writes:

In counseling, I see it in the humorous way a couple will be diverted from the issue at hand to debate who said what, when, and where. Or in how people debate back and forth as to whether it was a Tuesday or a Wednesday when they did something.

Why do we expend so much time and energy swatting at these flies with sledgehammers? Why are our hearts and minds so instantly engaged and our emotions surging with great vigor in our defense? The answer is simple. These issues are not minor or insignificant. We defend that which we deem of great value. We think it is our life we are saving. We believe something much larger will be lost if we do not use every means to rescue it. Our name, our reputation, our honor, our glory.

“If I don’t point out that I’ve been misunderstood, misquoted, or falsely accused, then others won’t know I’m right. And if I don’t point out my rightness, nobody will. I will be scorned and condemned in the eyes of others.”

Do you see the idol of self here? The desire for self- justification?

The desire to be right drives us more than we care to admit.  Yet, it is not being right it the sight of others that should concern us.  It is being right in the sight of God.  However, the only way to be right in God’s sight, is to be found in Christ.  If I am right with God, then I am also free to be wrong, and rightfully criticized, in your sight.  I was personally, and joyfully reminded of this recently.

A dear brother in our church asked if he could speak with me over lunch.  Of course I agreed (what preacher does not accept a lunch invitation :)).  As we were eating, he graciously shared with me some things he had noticed in my discussion and demeanor towards others.  In love, he wanted to offer some criticism and give me opportunity to explain.  Admittedly, no one wants to be criticized, but as he spoke I heard his words as the faithful wounds of a friend (Prov. 27:6).  I was reminded again of something Poirier wrote:

The correction and advice that we hear are sent by our heavenly Father. They are His corrections, rebukes, warnings, and scoldings. His reminders are meant to humble me, to weed out the root of pride and replace it with a heart and lifestyle of growing wisdom, understanding, goodness, and truth.

Today, I love this brother even more than I did before because he was willing to love me enough to challenge me with the truth.  He was right in what he said. Not only did he point me to correction, but in doing so he pointed me to Christ.

It is a glorious feeling knowing that we don’t have to justify ourselves.  Christ has already finished that work.  Let us rest in it!

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