By Joel A. Hess –
Who broke that vase? I still remember my mother yelling at the top of her lungs. She was angry. It was her grandmother’s vase. All four of us were summoned into the courtroom of the living room. Our first response, of course, was, “I don’t know.” Next, we pointed fingers. Like Adam blamed Eve, we blamed each other without any evidence. We just didn’t want the blame to land on us. Finally, I fessed up. “I did it! but…” But, but, but. Parents hate these buts. They spank these butts. I unfurled a litany of reasons, excuses, justifications for my trespass. I even blamed my mother for putting it there in the first place. Actually, I was quite proud of my legal work, but my mom was not impressed. For all my arguing, I could not justify my action. I finally gave up. Quite honestly, I was relieved to be done with it. I took the punishment of a smack on the bottom and went on with my day.
I love what Paul says in Romans chapter 3, “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.”
Quiet! Stop trying to justify yourself. Take off the costume. You are guilty.
Humanity has done far worse than knocking over grandma’s vase. We have broken our bodies, our hearts. We have broken other people’s bodies and hearts. We have served ourselves to the detriment of others. We have followed our inward desires only to end up in emptiness and loneliness. We hate, kill, steal, curse, and betray, and that is just a day at the workplace.
Confronted by our conscience and God’s Word, we act no differently than a seven-year-old blaming everyone and everything but himself. “I was born this way. You made me this way. I was raised in poverty. I was spoiled as a kid. He did it first. Everybody is doing it.” We do whatever we can to place the blame somewhere else. We will go through intricate elaborate, maybe even brilliant, legal, rational arguments so we don’t have to feel guilty. It sometimes works for a little while. But eventually it breaks down. We are guilty—no excuses—caught with our hand in the cookie jar.
We try to dress it up, dress sin up, dress ourselves up to look like an innocent man. But we ain’t.
So, Paul says, “Stop it. Shut your mouth!”
It’s almost relieving really. Stop working so hard at placing blame everywhere or twisting things around to make something bad into something good. Stop pretending to be someone or something that you aren’t. Aren’t you tired of doing that? Take off the costume.
There are so many people out there struggling with sin, but often the Church seems only to say, “You better have a good reason,” “you need to do better,” or “stop doing it.” Many churches might say they don’t believe in penance. But they sure act like they do as they require proof of faith, repentance, sainthood.
Instead, sinners need to hear: “Stop justifying it, rationalizing it, excusing it, or pretending that you can stop whenever you want. You have a problem! I get it. So do I!”
You don’t need to justify, explain, or rationalize your failures in order to enter the kingdom of God, reach heaven, hang out with the holy angels, or live forever. You don’t need to wear a costume hoping you don’t get caught by St. Peter.
Just be quiet. Don’t say a thing.
There is another route to immortality, if one can call it a route. He, Jesus, does call Himself the Way. There is another way to justify our crummy selves before the Almighty God! Another righteousness, Paul calls it. A righteousness of God that has nothing to do with us “doing” anything. A righteousness that is GIVEN through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.
Yes, it is definitely counter-intuitive. Thank God our courts don’t work like this. But in God’s courtroom, the Father’s living room, this is how we are justified for what we do. This is how we are made right with God. We are given a real saint costume. It looks just like the perfect Son. It’s ours. It gets us through the pearly gate sainthood detectors. It’s free.
That’s why the Psalmist says, “Be still” in Psalm 46. It’s why Jesus says, “Peace be with you” when He enters the dark room full of scared men. It’s why our Lord says, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.”
Now, you are waiting for a catch, aren’t you? This the part where the preacher says, “Now ya just gotta.” Well, you don’t gotta. No, you don’t have to show God you are a good investment for the free righteousness. No, you don’t have to do things to prove that you really believe or that you really are repentant. You don’t have to join a monastery and do mission work. You don’t have to be Mother Teresa. See, you are justifying yourself again.
Shhh. Just enjoy it! You are forgiven. You are free. You are a saint! Jesus’ costume is yours for good. Well, until that day when the ascended Jesus is revealed, you will be revealed too. You will see your righteous soul and skin along with all the saints and even our crucified, living Lord.