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Justification and Self-Justification

November 15, 2007

I believe that being grounded in the doctrine of justification will improve the quality of our life together.  For one of the great hindrances to our life together is our compulsive self-justification.  When we are not resting in the righteousness of Christ on the basis of which we are justified, we are constantly engaged in the process of justifying ourselves.  This inevitably requires defensively putting down others who are different from us.  We do this (at least in our minds if not behind their backs or to their face) so that we can demonstrate (perhaps to the whole world, but if not, at least to ourselves) that we are in fact in the right.

Tim Keller speaks much of “self-justification” when he preaches the gospel and it has been very helpful to me.  Here’s a quote: “Christians are those who have adopted a whole new system of approach to God. They may have had both religious phases and irreligious phases in their lives. But they have come to see that their entire reason for both their irreligion and their religion was essentially the same and essentially wrong! Christians come to see that both their sins and their best deeds have all really been ways of avoiding Jesus as savior. They come to see that Christianity is not fundamentally an invitation to get more religious. A Christian comes to say: “though I have often failed to obey the moral law, the deeper problem was why I was trying to obey it! Even my effort to obey it has been just a way of seeking to be my own savior. In that mindset, even if I obey or ask for forgiveness, I am really resisting the gospel and setting myself up as Savior.” To “get the gospel” is turn from self-justification and rely on Jesus’ record for a relationship with God. The irreligious don’t repent at all, and the religious only repent of sins. But Christians also repent of their righteousness. That is the distinction between the three groups–Christian, moralists (religious), and pragmatists (irreligious).”

We need to repent of our righteousness.  And one of the kinds of righteousness of which we need to repent is, if I may coin a phrase, “family-righteousness”.  Family-righteousness is that species of self-righteousness that gets my justification from how well behaved my kids are, or how many kids I have, or what parenting technique I’ve adopted, or how I am educating them, or how well they are performing in their education.  Depending upon how well they are doing and upon your personality type, this can lead to either arrogance or despair.  But it always leads to division.  And the doctrine of justification is the ultimate answer.

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