And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. [Luke 16:15 (ESV)]
“Chocolate comes from cacao beans. Beans are vegetables. Salads are made of vegetables. Therefore, chocolate is a salad!” said the sign in the bakery. “I like their logic!” I thought. If you’ve ever tried to lose weight you probably know the loopholes used by dieters. Broken cookies have no calories because they all fell out when the cookies broke, anything eaten with a diet soda has no calories and, if no one sees you eating, the calories don’t count. Anything licked off a spoon while preparing food isn’t eating—technically, it is cooking! Food eaten off someone else’s plate doesn’t count because the original calories belong to them. Moreover, calories are discounted if you ate dessert to keep from hurting your host’s feelings and, if you’re eating with someone else, no matter how much you consume, you’ve kept to your diet if the other person consumes more than you! Struggling dieters know all the excuses that can justify over indulging. The worst lies are the ones we tell ourselves and, unfortunately, most of them aren’t as silly or harmless as these.
When I first learned that Christians were justified, I thought about the kinds of excuses we all make to justify, validate or defend our less than stellar behavior. Like Adam (who justified his sin by blaming Eve), we continue to justify or excuse our sins. We rationalize that it wasn’t our fault, the other guy started it, that wasn’t really sex, we were only joking, they simply misunderstood, she made us do it, since it was true it wasn’t gossip, no one warned us, it was harmless fun, or nobody was hurt by it. Since we justify our bad behavior to avoid condemning it, the Christian term justification can be puzzling. Simply put, Christian justification is the removal and forgiveness of our sins and requires nothing more than faith in Jesus Christ.
Jesus’ cleansing us of our sins, however, is a whole lot different than excusing or rationalizing them. When we justify ourselves and our sinful behavior, we claim to be innocent and continue to sin. On the other hand, when we are justified by Christ, there is no question of our guilt; it’s just that Jesus paid our penalty. He did the work regarding justification but the rest is our responsibility. When we received forgiveness through faith, we also were sanctified and received Jesus’ righteousness. Justification means that we have the responsibility to live as God wants us to live. With the power of His Holy Spirit, we are to grow more and more like Christ which, among other things, means that we can no longer justify or defend our sins. We can never separate the faith needed for justification from obedience; true faith entails obedience and true obedience needs faith. We may be able to lie to ourselves (especially when in a bakery) but we better remember that we can never lie to God!