The Pervasive Problem of Self-Justification

Oswald Bayer in his book Living By Faith: Justification and Sanctification says something strikingly true about the human race.

“The world of the court is not a special world of its own, but just a particular instance—a very striking one— of what is being done always and everywhere…to be recognized and justified; to cause ourselves to be justified or to justify ourselves in attitude, thought, word, and action; to need to justify our being; or simply to be allowed to exist without needing to justify our being—all this makes for our happiness or unhappiness and is an essential part of our humanity.”

In other words, the entire human race is busy with the task of justifying themselves before God and before their fellow men. We are constantly seeking to justify our existence, our motives, our actions, our speech, our decisions, our relationships, our choices, and everything else about us—it is an incessant impulse within us.  Bayer gives us a window into his soul, which is in reality a window into every heart.

“I constantly vacillate, even to the very end of life, between the judgment others make about me and of my own judgment of myself. I am constantly trying to ascertain others’ judgment about me and my own judgment of myself; I arrive at some point of calm, and them become unsure of myself again. My identity is a floating one.”

The only solution to our unending quest for justification is a received verdict of righteousness from the Sovereign God. We must relinquish–no die– to every attempt at self-justification and receive it passively as an undeserved gift from outside of us. As we receive the gift of faith and our old man’s attempts at self-justification are murdered we are able to rest quietly and unconcerned with ourselves in Christ. For Bayer God’s justification of us issues in the gift of self-forgetfulness.

“The passive righteousness of faith tells us: You do not concern yourself at all! In that God does what is decisive in us, we may live outside ourselves and solely in him. Thus, we are hidden from ourselves and removed from the judgment of others or the judgment of ourselves about ourselves as a final judgment.”

Until we embrace the death of the old and the birth of the new our existence will be one continual attempt at self-justification. We will exploit every existing thing in this universe in order to justify ourselves. This is true—it is one of the supreme deeds of the flesh to establish our own righteousness by any means possible.

In Christ our old Adam is crushed that our new man might breathe and live. And as we rest in Christ for the affirmation of our existence and salvation we are liberated from the tiresome task of justification—one we would work for our whole lives and never attain. In Jesus it is settled—we are justified and therefore we are free to funnel our regenerate energies into kingdom living.