It seems that we as humans can justify almost anything. Our ability to give ourselves grace is unlimited. We always know we had the best motives and intentions, and we make sure everyone else does as well. When confronted with something that challenges our positive self-image or behavior, we often respond with:
• You don’t understand
• You aren’t perfect either
• Well, you did this or that as well
• Who do you think you are to tell me that?
• Don’t judge me
• You don’t have all the facts
Or any one of dozens of other justifications for our actions. We seldom say, “you are right, my attitude stinks,” or, “yes, I did it, and I’m sorry.” Sometimes we do of course, but it is easy to blame everyone else to avoid looking into the mirror of our own actions or attitudes.
This self-justification issue became fresh to me again as I read the story of Judas feeling regret over betraying the Son of God and throwing his betrayal wages into the temple. The account is in Matthew 27. Judas has a conscience experience and feels so guilty over his sin, that he gives back the money and then proceeds to hang himself.
I’ll let other develop that aspect of the story, what is interesting to me is the response from the religious leaders in verse 6:
But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.”
Not lawful????? You just bribed a man to betray the holy Son of God and now you are worried about what is lawful? You enticed the crowd to choose a murderer over the pure, spotless Lamb of God, and now, doing what is right is an issue? You have been plotting Jesus’ death, and anyone else for that matter that furthered His mission, and suddenly you are worried about keeping the law?
While the hypocrisy is obvious to us, it was not to them. The irony escaped them entirely. These religious rulers crucified an innocent Man and demanded the freedom of a criminal, yet thought they were justified in their actions. Wow.
Oh, those blind, wicked people…but don’t we do the same thing in so many ways? Is it just these guys that can be deceived or can we as well? Can we think we are serving the Lord while bashing our brothers? Can we think we are right with God while justifying our sinful behavior in some fashion? I can. I have, and all too easy and way too often.
The truth is I have no stones to throw at anyone, not if I am honest. I have justified myself when I should have chosen humility. I have blamed others when I am clearly at fault. I have chosen the easy way of silence when I should have spoken out. Me, me, me. I am guilty of self-justification. Often.
I pray the Lord would open our eyes to how easily we can blame others and excuse ourselves. How often we can choose to see the speck and ignore the log. How much benefit of the doubt we give to us and how harsh and exacting we are on others.
In short, I pray we would run to the foot of the cross and find grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love. And then, we would extend that to all, that like us, don’t deserve it. Is it possible to embrace death-to-self instead of to justify self? I believe so through the power of the Cross.