At the heart of the Gospel, we have this very theological idea called “justification by faith alone”. What this means is that at our first moment of faith in Jesus Christ and his redemptive work on the cross, we are justified, made righteous and brought into right-standing with God.
I can honestly say that for most of my life this was an abstract concept that was an “entrance thing” into Christianity, which after receiving we move onto the big stuff, the important stuff. As in, “I have my justification, I’m good with God, now lets move on.” But little did I know, this idea is profoundly central to every thing we do, everyday.
See, we are always justifying ourselves in every little thing that we do…
It ranges from:
“I took the stairs today so I can have the cookie…” and, “Watching 3 hours of TV tonight isn’t so bad, because I work hard…”
All the way to:
“I can cheat on my spouse, because I’m not loved at home…” or, “I killed a man today in a mob hit, but it was defending my family’s honor, therefore it was a just act…”
But we have a problem:
I can always justify the things I do
the things I do will never justify me.
These arguments that we find so convincing to defend our actions, as in why we did this or why we reacted like that, are only a surface evidence that we don’t feel justified in our very existence. We feel that something is awry so deep inside that we have to rationalize out why every little calorie we consume is “not so bad” or “deserved” or “is the last time”. This is the way we go on living every day of our lives. It’s quite depressing actually.
Why do we do this?
The answer is so simple that it almost seems unbelievable:
We justify our actions because we feel guilty!
Oh guilt, that unscaleable wall upon which we paint our mural of self-justification, blue skies and fluffy false clouds mask the reality of our hopeless condition. There is no escape, for our conscience condemns us. Each time that we violate it another brick is laid and the wall grows ever higher, and every self righteous good deed is another splash of whitewash on the tomb we are building. (See Matthew 23:27)
So we all know that the answer to the question posed in the title is,
“No, we never justify ourselves”
because we can only justify the things we do, our externalities. We can judge our actions, because they are something outside of us, but we can’t judge ourselves because I am myself. By definition the judge must be outside the thing being judged. And though we can justify our actions so that we don’t feel guilty about something we do, we still feel guilty because guilty is who we are, not what we do. We know this. “Out, damn’d spot! out, I say!“, we cry as we wash our hands till they bleed.
And this isn’t some psychoanalytic disorder that we need cured, we are objectively guilty. There is a judge who has the right to say, guilty or justified. And we are all guilty. And we know this.
So what do we do?
We constantly justify our actions, because we can’t justify ourselves.
But the Christian is one whom God has justified by faith in Christ’s actions alone, not by a little list of self-justifying trivialities. What Christ did was actually enough to justify the worst actions we have ever done, as well as the guilty persons we are. Both because He lived a justifiable life on His own in our place, and because He bore the wrath and shame of our guilt on the cross.
So our newfound life in Christ begins from its very outset in an opposite quality:
God has justified me despite what I have done
what I do, I don’t have to justify.
For example, we used to say,
“I’m sorry I hit you, BUT you shouldn’t have instigated me.”
“I shouldn’t have lost my patience, BUT Im just so tired.”
But the Christian responds with,
“I’m sorry, I really blew it there! I have so far to grow, please forgive me. Thank you Jesus for your blood that washes me clean, and empowers me to grow. Change my heart oh God, renew a right spirit in me.”
The gutsy guilt of a justified sinner allows us to own our mistakes, without having them define us, for we are forgiven. And not just forgiven, which is to declare, “Not guilty. You may go”, so much more than that, we are justified, which is to declare, “Righteous. You may come”. We have the righteousness (justification-ness) of Christ Jesus. We are accepted on His merit alone, not on our own, and now we can approach a perfect a God who is terrible in his awesomeness, and almighty in his sovereignty, and perfect in his judgements! If we can go there, why do we need to justify our petty little actions?
Self justification is not needed because our faith in Christ for righteousness has shielded us from any condemnation. It falls short of affecting us in any real sense, because we have a true sense (faith) of the unseen deeper reality!
But what about the other side, when we really do act right, just and proper in a situation?
Usually our response is internal, but these thoughts can sneak out our mouths and look for someone to affirm our desire to have the good deed justify ourself.
“Look at how kind that was, I DESERVE to be honored.”
“Of course I got the raise, I worked so hard that I DESERVE it.”
But these never last, because our self justification only lasts but a brief time since our last good action, and so we seek again and again to get that feeling of a justified existence back.
So the Christian, already being justified, can say:
“Praise God, the Spirit of Christ must be working through me, because usually I blow it!”
So though we can never justify ourselves, there is a God who justifies sinners because He owned our guilt, and bought us with a price that is incomprehensible in its costliness.
This is why the Apostle said, “It is Him (Jesus) we proclaim…”
For the heart of the Gospel is that our existence is justified not by what we do, but by what Christ has done.
Are you justified?