One of my favorite theologians is Oswald Bayer (Univ. of Tubingen). I do not claim to always understand him, or agree with him, but he diagnoses humanity like a skilled physician. Consider the following statement about the incurable disease of self-justification: judgement
I constantly vacillate, even to the very end of life, between the judgment others make about me and 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 then become unsure of myself again (Living by Faith: Justification and Sanctification (Lutheran Quarterly Books), 3).
Quite frankly, this hits a nerve. In the lyrics of Lauren Hill, Bayer is “telling my whole life with his words.” There is no escaping the judgments others make about us, the judgments we hope others will make about us, or the judgments we make about ourselves and others. Indeed, as Bayer notes, “Person is a forensic term” (Oswald Bayer, Living by Faith: Justification and Sanctification, 4). In other words, the life which goes on inside and outside a person is about judgment—my judgment of myself, my judgment about another person’s judgment of me, my judgment of others, etc., etc., ad nauseam. Although we may say things such as, “I don’t really care what you think,” the truth is that we do. By telling someone we do not care what they think we only demonstrate that we in fact do care to some degree. If we truly did not care, why even bother making the statement? Relationships, businesses, various institutions (military, academic, etc.), and really society itself are driven by a desire to justify one’s own worth and question the worth of others. Such is the incurable disease of self-justification.
Self-justification even rears its ugly head in the church, especially in the pastor-church relationship. Too often a small and disgruntled group within a church passes judgment on their pastor. The complaints range from the trivial to the ridiculous. Here is a sampling of the judgments a pastor might hear in his tenure at a church:
-“His sermons are too long—his sermons are too short.”
-“He does not visit people enough—here he comes again.”
-“He does not tell enough stories in his sermons—he always talks about himself.”
-“He has no idea what he is doing—he thinks he knows everything.”
-“He’s too young—it’s time for him to retire.”
-“He did not pray before he preached—he prays forever.”
-“He’s not stern enough—he really hurt my feelings.”
The list could be longer and stupider, but I have to stop somewhere. At this point a pastor has one of two choices: (1) He can listen to his critics and then attempt to justify himself; or (2) He can silently tell his critics to stick Romans 8:33-34 in their judgmental pipes and smoke it.
The second choice is a paraphrase of Romans 8:33-34, “Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is the one who died, but rather was raised, who also is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes (or appeals) for us.” Here is the only cure for self-justification, whether we find ourselves trying to justify ourselves before others or before ourselves. I must listen to the judgment that does not come from my mind or the mind of others. Instead, I must return daily to the judgment which Christ has purchased for me through his death and resurrection. It is the judgment He perpetually appeals God for on my behalf. For all the criticisms that come from within and from without, there is one who stands above me and my critics—the one who died and rose again. Obviously, I am not advising that you use the exact words, “Stick that in your judgmental pipe” (although it is tempting). In fact, there is no need to say anything at all. Instead, allow the crucified and risen Jesus to speak for you to the only one whose judgment is righteous and eternal.
A native of Lubbock, TX, Channing Crisler holds a BS in History from Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, TX. He received his Master of Divinity in Biblical Languages from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, TX, and his Ph.D. in New Testament Studies from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY.