The Heavy Coat of Self-Justification

fear3815It’s been about 4 months since I’ve said anything on this site. The last few articles I’d written and the subsequent reactions to those articles had driven away my desire to write. I just didn’t feel like it. It’s not that I felt that the comments were overwhelmingly unloving. I realize that a lot of people felt very disillusioned by what happened. I did too. My apathy toward writing mostly had to do with how the motivation behind what I had written was perceived by only a few people. And they weren’t exactly wrong.

The fact that I had even written the initial article so quickly was called into question, as if I’d raced home from church so that I could type an article that would ensure some sort of easy fame for myself at the expense of my beaten pastor. It was assumed that the more loving reaction to the news would have been to keep quiet until the pastor or church made some public announcement to those outside of the church. Though the article I had written was generally very well received, I still could not stop thinking about the few criticisms I had gotten. And those criticisms began to churn in me, throwing my mind into terrorizing introspection.

I started to question all that I had written. Had I actually written so that I could call attention to myself? Am I really someone who cares about teaching others or was I just some sort of gossip columnist? If I was honest with myself, the answer wasn’t exactly, “No.” It wasn’t as though I sat down to write and thought to myself, “Alright, I can’t imagine how popular this will make me!” I genuinely was upset and wanted to write about it. But, the response was unimaginable to me, and the speed by which it escalated began to feed my selfishness. As I continued to write, these questions twisted further, given that the articles that followed were responses to those who are very well known within Christendom. I felt that I needed to respond to them and defend myself, but in the back of my mind I continued to hear something like, “These guys are well known, and that’s good for you. More people will know you.” I wanted to run from it. And I did.

Don’t get me wrong. Introspection is good and necessary. We assume too often that our works are pure, but biblically-fed introspection exposes much about our motivations. For instance, any time I help someone, I wonder if someone saw what I had done. When I catechize my kids and pray with them at night, I oftentimes wonder if the neighbors outside can hear any of it and if they think highly of me. When I play with my kids in public, I oftentimes wonder who is watching and thinking about what a great dad I must be. And even when I write, part of me desperately wants to be approved by others in some way.

My sinful nature is always there and always begging me to realize how great and beautiful and worthy I am. It’s sickening. And I’m a sick person. Simply recognizing these things and lamenting them is necessary, but brings no relief to the conscience. Unless I satisfy my conscience with the good news that Christ was well for me because I am sick, then I remain in a frustrating haze of burdensome and enslaving self-examination.

I sin horribly in many ways that I am aware of and in many ways in which I am not aware. I constantly break those laws which God has commanded all of humanity not to break. But the good news is that Christ lived a perfect law-keeping life, volunteered to be punished for my sins in His crucifixion, died and was raised to life so that my sins would not be counted against me. He took on the punishment that should have befallen me for what I have done and will do, so that I could be treated as though I had never committed them. In other words, I can’t be punished for what I’ve done because that punishment was already directed to Christ. The debt I incurred against God because of my law breaking has been paid off by Christ. Any other man couldn’t have done this because every person is born with a sinful nature and has a debt of their own. But Christ, Who was and is Himself God in the flesh and without sin, accomplished these things for me and all those who believe. That brings relief to the conscience.

However, we oftentimes cast off this relief and put on the heavy coat of self-justification. In the case of the articles I had written, my introspection had led to fear. And I wasn’t somehow afraid of having broken the commands of God. I was afraid to go to church. I was accused of wholly seeking the praise of others, and I knew that it was true in part. When it was called out, it sounded loudly in my mind. I thought that as I entered the church building everyone there would be angry with me. I thought that they’d each known I had written the articles, and had each thought I was a gossiping and fame-hungry hypocrite. I was depressed.

I generally stayed away from attending church services and from writing here for about the last 4 months. I wanted to start writing anonymously on another blog I’d create, leaving this behind as a relic from a time when I was self-absorbed. I sought counsel from pastor friends, and I began to realize that I wasn’t thinking clearly. I realized I was being held by the throat by my own sinful nature. I ultimately haven’t been going to church because of my own obsession with self preservation. I haven’t been going because I care more about people thinking that I’m faultless. I care more about you knowing that I can’t err. I care more about you thinking that I handle my faith better than  you do. I was treating myself as if I was God. I was busy serving my desires, rather than God’s desires. I took the criticisms of very few people, and attributed them to an entire congregation who more than likely either hadn’t read the article or had any idea who I was. After all, I write anonymously. It’s ridiculous and shameful.

Thankfully, God has made a promise that when I sin, I can remember the promise of having my sins forgiven because of what Christ had accomplished. Regardless of how unforgiven and/or sinful I feel, God has promised that those who trust in Christ alone for the forgiveness of their sins, will receive forgiveness. The truth is, I will always have thoughts of wanting renown for what I do. I will always crave the praise of others. So will you. I realize this today, and I realized it then. However, it caused me to try and correct the problem myself. In my mind, I hadn’t forgotten the gospel. But functionally, by the way I was acting, I had. Instead of running to the perfection of Christ, I wanted to run toward my own seeming perfection. I tried to fix the condemnation I felt by doing something about it myself – i.e. hiding. Instead, I should have located my sin, and looked to what Christ has done for sinners like me.

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5 thoughts on “The Heavy Coat of Self-Justification”

  1. Some of us have to go through painful experiences with sin, in order to rediscover the grace, we once preached to others. I had to leave the ministry because of a scandalous sin, of a family member, which I believed disqualified me for ministry. I was (and honestly am) “innocent”, I was (am not) an “innocent victim.” God used that to show me how I relied on my self-image, “blameless” life and did not see the horror of my own vileness and sin, and the wonder of His infinite love and grace in Christ. Brother, you are safe! You have blessed and will bless many even more in years to come. You have acquired something, which is more precious than all of your previous accolades in the Kingdom. Press on, your glory and boasting is Jesus alone (I Co 1:28-31). You have nothing to be ashamed for, He bore your shame. Serve your king as an earthen vessel, and many more will be blessed than those “rich young rulers” who judge from their Sanhedrin. May the Lord pity them too, for I was one of those who trusted in himself, though I preached the Gospel to others.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Edwin, thank you so much for that overwhelming encouragement. It means so much to me. I’m speechless here. Thank you so so much.

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  2. Isn’t our God wonderful! While we are still sinning he loves us. He continues to remind us that we are and will always be bought with a price. A costly purchase indeed! As we reflect on His works, we must be mindful of His love for us and discipline/train ourselves to filter our lives through His word. We must seek to love one another as He has loved us and extend the same grace to each other. This does not mean we condone sin! However, we can’t be too bold in declaring the wrongs of others without applying the same magnifying glass to ourselves.

    My brother, God loves you enough to show you your own short comings in order to draw you closer and deeper into His heart. Keep speaking the truth. Encourage us to seek this relationship and to walk in humility realizing that we are all sinners. Blessings

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  3. Hello again my brother 😊…
    It’s been a long time really since I came to this blog again, and I’m happy I did… When I saw the title of your article , I can truly say I shuddered.. Self-justification..It’s a heavy weight we bear and often accompanies a mask (in my case) that shows my neighbours that which I deem will improve their perception of me and my own reputation in their eyes…
    When I introspect though, in the light of God’s Word, I see a self-centred barefaced liar and hypocrite in myself that cares more about what people think than what God would, pleasing man rather than God…
    It just brings me to the reality of our weaknesses and our need for total and complete reliance on Christ and not our self-righteous deeds which we seemingly justify as good things despite our wrong motives behind them…

    Oh,wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me? Thanks be to the Lord Jesus Christ, for apart from Him, we are nothing .

    Reminds me of the hymns “Just as I am” and “Rock of Ages “:

    Nothing in my hand I bring ,
    Simply to Thy cross I cling.
    Naked come to Thee for dress
    Helpless, look to Thee for grace..

    and..
    Just as I am and waiting not,
    To rid my soul of one dark blot.
    To Him who’s blood can cleanse each spot,
    Oh Lamb of God I come.

    God bless you dear brother …
    Grace and Peace

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