Photo by Chad Runge / Creation Swap

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

How Are You Trying to Justify Yourself?

It breaks my heart sometimes to hear people talk about certain behaviors they're defending and use the Bible as a means to justify that behavior. For example, when Christians make the claim that homosexuality is wrong, other people in our culture, and even in the church, use examples in the Old Testament to justify why they believe homosexuality is okay. One way they do this is to take Scripture and adapt it to their interpretation to justify it. is one of those organizations. These are quite intelligent people who will debate you and will have an extensive knowledge of the Bible.

The purpose here is not to get into a debate on that particular subject though. Besides, I've written on this previously. But may I briefly direct your attention to another blogger, Lloyd, at Solid Rock or Sinking Sand? He replied to someone who had a comment on one of his posts regarding same-sex marriage and I think he did a great job in his rebuttal. In this comment, this person showed great disdain for Christians that are taking a stand for Biblical principles. Lloyd did a terrific job at expounding on Scripture in replying to this attack on his faith and in an attitude of love.

But I digress. Back to my original point. Some people are able to take the Word of God and twist its meaning to fit their purposes. This is nothing new, of course, as Satan did that very thing in enticing Eve and causing Adam and Eve to sin against God.

In the New Testament, Jesus even scolded the Pharisees for taking the commands of God out of context to make them feel superior. Of course, the Pharisees understood Scripture well enough. They would be considered the foremost authority due to their extensive knowledge and study of the Pentateuch. But they lacked heart knowledge. This can only come from the Holy Spirit as God reveals His Truth. Jesus told them at one point, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former." (Matthew 23:23)

The problem only seemed to get worse over time. By the time the church was established, Paul and the other Christian leaders were having to combat false teaching left and right. Even today, we need to be on guard because destructive teaching seems prevalent in our culture. Let's look at 2 Peter 2:1-3 for context in this area:

False Teachers and Their Destruction
1But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. 3In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.

So, as you can see, we need to be able to discern truth. 1 John 4:1-6 is an excellent passage to gain a Biblical understanding on truth and discernment. An excellent commentary on this passage can also be found at for further reading on this subject.

Courtesy of WordPress
The Truth, however, has always been under attack. Paul certainly experienced this in his missionary journeys when the Pharisees insisted on the necessity of circumcision as a means to salvation, or to be right with God. Indeed, this insistence to be circumcised carried out through various places in the Roman Empire. In Paul's letter to the Roman church, the epistle known as Romans in the Bible, Paul made some careful observations in this regard.

Paul was concerned about how works in general was being misunderstood as a means toward salvation. He wanted to make it abundantly clear that no amount of works was going to help any man be right with God. (See my previous post on this topic.) In an effort to expand on this, Paul pointed to the one man that all Jews could associate with...Abraham. In fact, the Jews held Abraham in high esteem. They considered their heritage as the "chosen people" directly related to Abraham, and as such, they found great pride in being part of that lineage. So Paul uses Abraham to bring his point across.

In Romans 4, Paul begins to talk about Abraham. Paul makes the case that Abraham, though he was perhaps a good man, was not justified before God because of anything he did. He clearly says that because "Abraham believed was credited to him as righteousness."

Paul then goes into an explanation of why it's only because of faith, not works, that justified Abraham before God. He referenced Psalm 32:1-2 when David made the assertion that "Blessed are they
whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him." Paul explained that David was confirming the very thing he was saying, that it's the "blessedness to whom God credits righteousness apart from works."

Now Paul moves into the subject of circumcision. As part of his exhortation about works, Paul cleverly ties in circumcision as one of those areas considered that can not make them right before God. This was a blow to the Pharisees and other Jews who believed that circumcision was one of the ways that distinguished them apart from other people. In fact, the belief was that just as Abraham was justified before God out of circumcision, they would be too. That, and they were of the lineage of Abraham. But what they were basing this justification on was on a particular work that came from man.

This belief was so strong in that culture, it was difficult for the early church to keep the doctrine of justification by faith separate from the work of circumcision. Look at Acts 15:1-5 and you'll see what I mean:

Acts 15:1-5
1 And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question.
3 So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, describing the conversion of the Gentiles; and they caused great joy to all the brethren. 4 And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them. 5 But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.”

The fact that the Pharisees were trying to manipulate the church and its followers into believing circumcision had merit in the course of salvation was no small thing. The Pharisees were concerned about their position within the Jewish community. If the Christian church was allowed to continue on its course of integrating Gentiles and teaching that salvation was by faith and not by the law, the law that was entrusted to them as prominent leaders, then they would lose control...and power.

According to, " If Gentiles could enter the church without following Jewish laws, the church would attract more Gentiles, and eventually Gentiles would be the majority. The church would no longer be a branch of Judaism, but a distinct faith." They summarize their point by stating, "Some men said that Gentiles should be circumcised and obey the laws of Moses or else they could not be saved. Not so, said the apostles. Gentiles are saved by grace and faith. God is pleased to dwell in people who aren’t circumcised and who don’t keep the rituals. But since Moses is widely preached, we need to give a decree that clearly distinguishes the Christian faith from the Law of Moses."

What is at stake here is clear Biblical teaching. If the Pharisees had their way, the Gentiles too would be given a burden as Peter said in Acts 15:10, "why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?" No, clearly Peter and the disciples recognized that it wasn't by any act of man, such as circumcision, that was going to bring Jews and Gentiles alike to salvation. Rather, it was by grace as Peter pointed out in Acts 15:11, "But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.”

In that same context, Paul explains to the Romans in his letter that the blessedness he mentioned was not only for the circumcised, but also for the uncircumcised...meaning Jews and Gentiles alike. And to bring his point home Paul asks, "Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham's faith was credited to him as righteousness. Under what circumstances was it credited? Was it after he was circumcised, or before?" (Romans 4:9-10) Here is Paul's reply:

Romans 4:10b-15 (emphasis mine)
10b It was not after, but before! 11And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. 12And he is also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.

13It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. 14For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless, 15because law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.

There are many things we could take from this today. My hope is that God uses any part of it to touch your heart. But, let's be sure that what you believe to be from God is truly from God. Don't believe for a second that there is anything you can do, in and of yourself, to justify yourself before God. Don't be like the Pharisees that believed circumcision had the power to save. It's all about Jesus and what He did for us on the cross. To believe in anything or anyone other than Christ would be in vain. God bless!


  1. Hi Dean,

    I continue to be blessed by your examination of justification. The other morning I read a passage of scripture that grieved me as I considered things I've heard and read by some religious leaders. As Christians, we all have a responsibility to represent Christ with honor, integrity and truth; I include myself in this as well.

    As you've indicated, perverting the message of faith apart from works is nothing new but as soldiers we must contend for the faith. I believe that means submitting myself to the truth of God's word, not incorporating some thought that promotes a distorted image of myself and a view of how important I am.

    My life is meaningless and yet, God chose to save me. Any thoughts I may have of my own self-importance are derailed by the truth that I have done nothing to sway or influence God.

    Blessings and peace.


  2. MTJ -

    Thank you so much for your kind comments. I do think that the Truth is being attacked. Unfortunately, many within the church are not able to ably defend the Truth. The leadership in the western church has waned over the years in equipping believers to be bold witnesses for the church, even in the public square. Where culture is being shaped, God's Word needs to be out there front and center. And like you said, it needs to be without man's point of view distorting the message.

    It's much different when I read about believers in persecuted countries, such as those through the Voice of the Martyrs. Makes me wonder if persecution here in the U.S. will wake us up and push Christians to be bold in their faith and in their witness.

    It does concern me that the Word of God is being perverted. I know I too could do better in contending for the faith.

    Have a great weekend MTJ. God bless!

  3. Oh this is a good one. You explained works and justification so well. Oh yes the Word of God is being perverted!

  4. Kim -

    Thank you so much. Unfortunately, I believe it's true, God's Word is under attack!

    Have a great weekend. God bless!

  5. All I can say Dean is thank you for such an outstanding and biblical based message on God's Word. May our Lord continue to bless you and your blog. Lloyd

  6. Lloyd -

    Thank you so much for your kind comment. I've been sick this past week and have not had much energy to do much. Sorry to respond so late, but I appreciate you coming by and commenting!

    Have a great week, and God bless!