Self Justification 101: Removing the ability to change

I am a liar.

How’s that for an opener? Well, let me explain…

I don’t take sin lightly—because I don’t think God does either. I work hard to steer clear of sin in my life.  But I definitely have my areas where I’m more likely to answer when temptation comes knocking. I find myself in places where my conscience is pricked and I know I’ve crossed a line. As soon as I am there, my choice is simple: I can fess up, repent, and move on, or I can decide to rebel and spit in God’s face.

It is pretty rare (though it has happened) that I simply decide to overtly continue in rebellion for the sake of whatever benefit I think I am deriving. I am generally too fond of my own view of myself for that sort of blatant ugliness. No, I prefer to fraternize with that sneaky liar called justification. Together, we attempt to soothe and appease the conscience.

Here’s how:

First, it is best not to look at my behavior as a willful decision to succumb to temptation. It is better to see it as an ongoing struggle. That way, even though I am already participating in sin, I can feel like I haven’t actually chosen a course of action yet. This dovetails in nicely with clever, elaborate, and emotional explanations for why it is next to impossible for me to choose anything else. I say ‘next to impossible’ because  I have to admit to myself that (in a theoretical/theological sense anyway) God always supplies the grace I need to obey Him.

Universalizing and generalizing  is also helpful. If I can see my sin as something that all believers struggle with from time to time, it is much easier to camp on it for a while.  This is best done by adopting very general terms like selfishness, doubt, fear, laziness. Those words allow me to avoid thinking about the particular choices I am making, and instead, to reflect on the fact that little failings in these areas are the common experience of all believers. Who can’t say, “I need to learn to be more selfless”? There is comfort in numbers…and in vagueness.

And finally, since my conscience will periodically force me to admit that something really is wrong, it is important that I paint my sin as something softer and more benevolent than it really is. Since most of my deepest sin issues surface in my thought life, I have found some palatable alternatives to actually admitting that I am willfully rejecting truth and embracing lies.

If I am doubting God’s goodness, it is better to say that I am struggling with what “good” really looks like, or how His goodness actually plays out in a fallen world. If I habitually try to protect myself from disappointment by refusing to trust God, it is nicer to tell myself that I’m just reconciling with the fact that there are lots of things God doesn’t promise. I’m not maligning His character, poisoning my soul, and hurting those around me; I’m just working through some hard questions. Never mind that I’m knowingly and repeatedly rehearsing accusations against God’s  intentions that contradict His self revelation in scripture and in my life.

One of the greatest benefits of this approach is that there is no truly wrong behavior that I must stop doing and there is no right thing to replace it with—there are just a few areas that I probably need to grow and mature in a bit (which I will, of course—with time). I am not really entertaining wicked and destructive thoughts that I ought to take captive. All of my intentions and motives are actually quite pure, and I have little choice in the matter anyway. This effectively removes my need and my ability to repent.

I feel justified and my conscience has become but a whisper. I won’t change and I won’t grow. Mission accomplished.

So I guess my opener was an attempt at an honest confession. I am a liar—For the sake of my own pride and comfort, I intentionally deceive myself.

Thank God for conviction and the grace to repent!

One down…

***Addendum***

I do believe it is good and healthy to wrestle through genuine questions with God. My objection here is only to when ‘questions’ or ‘struggles’ are used as an excuse to hold onto destructive, half-true thought patterns, instead of choosing to think right and true things.

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8 thoughts on “Self Justification 101: Removing the ability to change”

  1. Wow! And I thought I was doing pretty good by habitually asking myself if I was looking at the big picture and trying to concentrate on what was constructive instead of obsessing over petty things that are not worth it or that can’t be changed by me. I do sometimes think that the Lord does indeed work in mysterious ways and there is no way to explain why bad things happen to good people.

    1. Well, I think the fact that I can’t see the big picture bothers me. I don’t just want to know that God will take care of me. I want to know HOW.
      Since I can’t, I begin assuming (to protect against disappointment) that God will likely do only the bare minimum that He promised (you know–food, shelter).
      After all, He doesn’t owe me anything. But I am forgetting that He has not only revealed Himself as someone who takes pleasure in doing good, but He has blessed my life over and over and over.
      I am aware that I practice thinking ugly thoughts about God (though I wouldn’t call it that at the time) in order to protect myself from lousy things that haven’t even happened–I’m just afraid they will.
      My husband would be hurt if I thought things like that about Him. I’m sure it doesn’t bless God’s heart either. It isn’t that I think He’s petty or He can’t handle it. But I do think He cares. How I feel about Him matters to Him.
      I was pretty vague about that in my post. So all this was just for clarification.
      I definitely don’t think we can know why specific bad things happen to good people, but I think that has a lot more to do with evil in the world than it has to do with God.

  2. When you said “My husband would be hurt if I thought things like that about him” it really gave me food for thought. I agree that the bad things that happen to people have a lot more to do with evil in the world than with God.

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