The Bondage of Self-Justification

Found a sin to avoid as I read in the Gospel of Luke this morning (20:25-29). One to be on guard against. One, if I’m honest, I’ve been trapped by too many times to count.

The guy was a lawyer. Knew the law inside and out. Could recite it from memory. Could apply it at will. Needed justice on demand? He was the guy to call.

So good was this guy, that he thought he’d give it a go with Jesus. Don’t know that he was necessarily antagonistic toward Jesus, but Luke does say he wanted to “put Him to the test.” He wanted to see how the Teacher fared with the hard questions of life. So he stands up, approaches Jesus, and asks Him,

“Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

And Jesus knows this guy knows the answer. And so He answers the lawyer’s question with a question, “What does the law say? How do you read it?”

And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

Aced it! Hundred percent. Two for two.

But Jesus also knew that knowing the answer wasn’t enough. It was how you applied the answer that opened up the gate to eternity, to an unfathomable inheritance and to life everlasting.

And [Jesus] said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

Do it, said the Teacher. That’s all, do what the law says. Love God with ALL your heart AND ALL your soul AND ALL your strength AND ALL your mind. And when you’ve done that, love the guy next door like you would love yourself. Watch for his interests the way you’d look after your own. Just do it . . . and heaven awaits.

And the lawyer’s bright enough to know that he’s done. Game, set, match. He’s cornered. His integrity, if not his conscience, knows he’s never loved God with ALL his anything. But he also knows that no one else has either. So, doing what lawyers do best, he seeks to distract, deflect, and dispute the finer points of the law. But not because he’s seeking the truth. Instead, because he’s trapped by serving his ego.

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

The lawyer sought to justify himself.

And there it is. That’s the sin to avoid. The transgression to be on guard against. The bondage of self-justification.

How often am I tempted to split hairs, to compare myself with others, to find some ground to stand upon when the Spirit convicts me of sin in my life? How easy it is for me to want to convince myself that I’m doing pretty good before men when the problem Jesus wants me to see is what’s in my heart. How quickly I’ll go to trying to supplement the righteousness imputed to me through the finished work of the cross with my own righteousness founded on some flimsy, rationalized self-vindication.

Jesus didn’t corner the lawyer to condemn the lawyer. He loved this lover of the law. And He wanted the lawyer to see that the law he knew so well would serve him the best when it helped him to realize that “no one is justified by the law” (Gal. 3:11). That the law acts best as a “guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:24).

As long as I seek to justify myself I continue to be in bondage to the law, held captive under the law.

But when I confess my sin and, by faith, know that He will forgive my sin, I am set free. Confident in my inheritance. Assured of eternal life. Not because I am just or justified. But because He is just and “the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom. 3:26).

By His grace alone. For His glory alone.

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