Justifying Sin Is A Sad Task

Regular readers of the humble ramblings know that I am a recovering legalist. I spent about three decades trying to find the right set of performance tools to become righteous. Guess how that worked out?

I have such mixed feelings about my first church. I am grateful for the Gospel message they preached that led me to trust Jesus as my Savior. I am sad that they lived a joyless life of self-effort, guilt and self condemnation. In this particular theological flavor you could achieve a second stage of sanctification where you would not sin anymore. This was particularly tough for a young cynical teenager who saw “sanctified” people doing things that smelled and looked suspiciously like sin. I watched with frustration and sometimes amazement at the semantic hoops they jumped through to remain sinless.  

They simply developed new language and rules for themselves. Here is a partial listing that I observed.

When I gossiped it was sin….
When they gossiped it was “sharing.”

When I stood up for a belief I was stubborn…
When they were rigid they had the strength of their convictions.

When I made a mistake I was an immature Christian…
When they erred they were going through a “difficult time”.

When I acted in self-interest I was selfish…
When they act in self-interest they were looking out for themselves because no one else would.

When I missed church I was undisciplined and letting down the fellowship…
When they missed it was because of their difficult week that I couldn’t even begin to understand.

When I didn’t work at a church function I was lazy…
When they didn’t volunteer it was because they couldn’t possibly take on another thing (heavy sighhhh as they lugged the cross behind them).

When I took initiative I was self-centered and controlling…
When they took charge they were following God’s direction.

When I got angry I had a terrible attitude…
When they got ticked off they were ”filled with righteous indignation”. I had no doubt they were filled with something. 

I think I have made the point. Anyone can justify sin and fake holiness with all sorts of clever nuance. But the way to deal with sin is to understand that my sin has already been justified. By grace. And because of that I am holy. Can’t work my way to righteousness. Righteousness is imputed to me by Jesus Christ.

This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Romans 3, NIV)

Adam set the tone way back in the garden when he sinned and then hid when God sought him. When I try to work my way to righteousness I will invariably hide because I can’t do it and I am filled with guilt. My response to guilt is to hide in shame. There is no need to hide when you believe that your sin is forgiven and justified because of Christ alone. When you stop being hidden and let the light shine on your sin you suddenly and even surprisingly find that you can begin to mature in your faith. And the works that seemed so burdensome become joyful service of gratitude and love.