The Desire for Self-Justification

I was reading in Luke 10 yesterday, and came to the story of the “lawyer”, or teacher of the Law, who asked Jesus about the greatest commandment. Jesus turned the question on him, and the religious expert answered correctly, summarizing the first and second commandments with concise accuracy. Jesus affirmed him for his answer, and basically said, “now go and live that way. Love God, and love your neighbor.”

It’s the next phrase in verse 29 that poked my heart and my conscience: “But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’”

That little four-word segment jumped out at me – “wanting to justify himself…” I find that I live in that place more often than I care to admit, that I want to stand in the position of granting myself justification for my attitudes and actions, rather than submitting to the much less comfortable place of acknowledging the standard that is outside and above me, the reality of God’s plumb-line that I am accountable to and by which I am measured.

The concept of “justification” implies a standard of measurement that calls me into account, whether it’s a math test in school, a performance standard in athletics, an issue with my bank statement, or the reality of my perspective of life, the attitudes and behaviors that express the inner workings of my heart.

In the Luke 10 encounter, the lawyer was hoping that his self-assessment was sufficient, that he was keeping the Law within the parameters of his own comfort zone. But Jesus blew up the comfort zone by declaring that the “neighbor” was in fact anyone we encounter that needs help, even if they are socially unacceptable. 

Ouch! Plain and simple. Jesus points to a standard that can only be attained by loving as He loved, sacrificing self and personal comfort to extend the love of the Father’s heart to whoever we meet.

I’d rather not do that. I’d rather stay in my comfort zone, and find a way to justify myself in it, rather than get outside myself and love like Jesus does. 

Rats. Busted again. God, have mercy on me, and infuse me again today with the Spirit of Your Son, who loves me according to Your standard, even though it cost Him everything. 

Gary Wiens, 2/24/2017