I'm reminded how well God knows me every time I open the Bible. Studying, it becomes obvious that the Bible isn't simply a book written about people long ago, it's a book God uses to speak to me, today.
I've been reminded of that as we've thought about the ways the Bible says we justify ourselves. We've seen that even though we know we are supposed to love other people, we sometimes, o.k., often don't, and yet we don't feel convicted about it because we justify our behavior.
So far, we've looked at three ways we do that - we bring up technicalities, we flat out lie about what we are doing, and we blame other people.
Today, I want to think about three other ways the Bible shows us that we justify ourselves.
Sometimes we justify ourselves when confronted by (and this is actually more of a lifestyle than it is a response) emphasizing the commands that are easy for us to obey and minimize the commands that aren’t.
This was one of the Pharisees main tricks.
I think of the Pharisee who invited Jesus over to lunch and then got all upset that Jesus ddin't wash his hands. Luke 11:38, “And when the Pharisee saw it, he was surprised that He had not first ceremonially washed before the meal…” Jesus uses this as an opportunity to point out what the Pharisees were missing. What was the Pharisees problem? Verse 42, “Woe to you Pharisees! For you pay tithe of mint and rue and every kind of garden herb, and yet disregard justice and the love of God; but these are things you should have done without neglecting the other.” Jesus doesn’t have a problem with them tithing but what he does have a problem with is that they were only partially keeping God’s law. They weren’t concerned about the whole thing.
Pharisees aren't the only ones who do this with God’s Word. Many people treat God's Word like a buffet. They take what they like and leave what they don’t. When they are confronted with a command that hits them where they live, a command that would actually mean that they would have to change their lives, instead of repenting, they just minimize the importance of that command and rationalize to themselves that since they are doing this or that or this or that, that their flagrant, outright disobedience in this one area is no big deal.
We could even take this trick a step further. Sometimes it’s not a matter of emphasizing and minimizing, it’s a matter of flat out distorting God’s Word. People come to the Word of God and then they twist it into meaning something totally different than what it really means so that their lack of love is in their eyes justified.
I think of how in Luke 6:6, Jesus enters into a synagogue on Sunday and there is this man whose hand is withered and the scribes and Pharisees weren’t concerned about the man and his hand, but they were watching to see if Jesus would help him in order to accuse him of doing something wrong. Now what you’ve got to see is that if you talked to these Pharisees, who at this point were being so cold-hearted, they would have claimed to be biblical. Listen, we are just concerned about God’s law – He wants us to rest on the Sabbath. But Jesus points out that they were perverting the intention of God’s law. They were in the wrong because they had distorted God’s Word. What they were saying it meant, it didn’t mean. You notice in verse 9, “Jesus said to them, ‘I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save a life, or to destroy it.” The answer’s obvious. But the Pharisees wouldn’t admit. So they got angry.
Jesus just exposes what they are doing back in Mark 7. He says, “You nicely set aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition.” Here they go again: emphasizing man-made rules over the Scripture. Why? They could look religious, while, since they made the rules, basically do what they want.
I hope you recognize that what the Pharisees were doing there, people, religious people, are still doing today...distorting Scripture and then using Scripture as an excuse for them to disobey what the Scripture clearly states.
Sometimes we justify ourselves when confronted by acting as if we had no other choice but to sin. We find Saul doing this in 1 Samuel 13. For the sake of time, I’ll skip the details of the story and skip right to the punchline in verse 11 where Samuel comes to Saul and he’s like “What have you done?” And Saul says, “Because I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the appointed days, and that the Philistines were assembling at Micmash, therefore I said, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal and I have not asked the favor of the Lord.’ So I forced myself and offered the burnt offering.” Now that’s an excuse. This guy was prepared. The people made me do it, you messed up and made me do it, the Philistines made me do it, I was really in a tight spot, and I wanted to be humble and spiritual, so I forced myself to disobey God...in light of everything that had been done to me, and in light of the terrible circumstances God placed me in, I had no other choice.
Now like Saul we’re pretty good at coming up with all sorts of different ways of saying that we just had to do what we did or why we have to be the way we are, instead of repenting.
One of the most common ways would have to be the old “woe is me” bit. Somebody is confronted with a command, it hits them the square between the eyes, and instead of falling down and confessing their sin and forsaking it, they start just blaming their personality, “Oh I’m such a terrible person. Woe is me.” Instead of repenting, they just wallow in a kind of pity party, acting as if the only choice they have is to just continue on in their sin, as if although they are Christians with the Spirit of God residing within them, that God hasn’t given them enough to overcome and deal with their sin.
Listen guys, man I hope you know that I’m not trying to be harsh here, I’m trying to be loving. When we are studying Scripture and we come across all the commands to love others, we waste so much time and we do ourselves such great harm by coming up with all these tricky ways around actually obeying it.
Really, what I’m trying to do here is just give you a warning.
We hear be loving all the time.
And it’s, and I don’t want this to happen in my life or yours, it’s so easy to hearall these exhortations and not benefit from them. That’s obviously a major issue because it’s something we see happening all throughout Scripture.
We need to do something more than hear these exhortations to love others, we need to put them into practice.
But one of the reasons we don’t is because we often spend so much energy trying to justify ourselves by excusing our behavior, blaming others, minimizing what we are doing, denying reality, “woe is me-ing” it, and using all our other little tricks to try to make ourselves feel good about what we’re doing wrong and look good in the eyes of others while we are doing it.
When you come to Scripture and you read about the importance of love and you begin to realize just how radically different the kind of love God wants you to pursue is from the way you are actually loving; when you begin to see the kind of changes that God wants you to make in the specifics, what it means for the way you treat your spouse, what it means for the way you speak, what it means for the way you treat that relative you just can’t stand, or what it means for the way you relate to other people at church, I’m begging you not to waste your time trying to find ways to get out of actually doing what God wants you to do, to waste your time justifying yourselves.
It's a waste of time because the wonderful amazing truth that the gospel tells us is we can’t. We can’t justify ourselves. Instead of pretending like we can by covering over our sin and hiding it, we need to repent.
Proverbs 28:13 puts it like this, “He who conceals his trangression will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion.”
I’m not talking about a fake kind of repentance which is just all weepy and like oh I am such a terrible person I am so awful look at me, look at me; but instead a real falling down on your face before Jesus Christ as you sense that you are being exposed by His Word and crying out to Him saying Jesus I’ve failed you, I haven’t loved those around me the way you are calling me to, and Lord I am sorry, I am so sorry not just for the consequences of my sin, but also for the way I have grieved you, but Lord Jesus I come confidently before you now because I know the promise of 1 John 1:9 that if I confess my sin you are faithful and just to forgive me my sin and so I’m done blameshifting and excusing and I just cry out to your forgiveness because I need it, and I cry out for your help as well because I want to love you and love others the way the Bible describes and I know that I can’t do that on my own. Lord change me, make me the person you want me to be, show me my sin so that I can kill it and give me the strength to pursue you and put on true love day after day after day.