Subverting people’s need to constantly justify themselves

Subverting people’s need to constantly justify themselves October 29, 2016

In the discussion of Michael Lockwood’s new book The Unholy Trinity:  Martin Luther against the Idol of Me, Myself, and I, the author himself joined in.  He explained what he was getting at in his book in words that demonstrate what I said about his insights.

In case you don’t read the comments, I didn’t want you to miss what he said about the way people today try to evade God’s Law in a futile attempt to justify themselves.  As opposed to being justified by Christ.  Read what he says after the jump. Then buy this book.

Michael Lockwood, From Reaching today’s idolaters of the self:

My claim is not that people have no sense of sin or guilt. My claim (on the basis of Luther and Scripture) is that on some level everyone has a sense of sin, because the law of God is written on our hearts. The question is, what do we do with this knowledge? The answer is that unless we have a secure knowledge that we are justified through Christ we inevitably seek to suppress our sense of sin by justifying ourselves. We engage in denial. We point the finger. We pass the buck. We keep one or two of God’s laws very self righteously while ignoring the rest. We put our own self-chosen works in place of those that God has commanded. We try to shift the boundary between right and wrong, and end up calling good evil and evil good. All this we do in an attempt to suppress the guilt and shame and fear of condemnation that would otherwise overwhelm us. Yet since this is an exercise in self-deception it is unstable. When we succeed in convincing ourselves it leads to pride. Yet reality is always threatening to break through and to plunge us into self-loathing and despair.

This means that when we as Christians proclaim the law, it is not simply that people treat it with indifference. Instead, because on some level it always hits home, it leads people to redouble their efforts to justify themselves, and thereby to deny that there is anything wrong with them. In some sense they always protest too much, because on some level they know they stand condemned. Yet they keep this knowledge suppressed because none of us can face the full reality of our sin apart from Christ without it destroying us.

This means that as a church we need to learn how to proclaim Christ and the Good News in a way that subverts people’s need to constantly justify themselves. To the extent that we are locked in this cycle of self-justification we will refuse to acknowledge our need for Christ, even as suppressed guilt and shame eats away at us.

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