Tuesday, January 20, 2015

How to inherit eternal life, part 10: justification

But wishing to justify himself, he said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" (Luke 10:29 NASB)

The lawyer questioning Jesus asked how to inherit eternal life. Jesus asked Him what the law said and he condensed the heart of the law into one beautifully concise sentence. Love God with every fiber of your being and your neighbor as your self. Jesus congratulated the lawyer for His accuracy. If you do that, you will live, both now and in eternity, Jesus told him. 

The lawyer had a problem. He wanted to "justify himself." The word translated as "justify" is dikaioō and is used in this instance to indicate a desire to be declared just or righteous rather than a desire to be just or righteous. The word "declared" makes quite a difference, doesn't it? The problem with this lawyer was that he was more concerned about being thought righteous than he was about being righteous. 

If we are honest, there is likely a bit of this dikaioō in us, as well. It is much easier to appear righteous before men than to actually be righteous before God, isn't it? The difference, of course, lies in the depths of our heart, in our priorities and our goals. Which do we want more? To be righteous or to look righteous? There is a vast difference between the two and only one actually leads us to eternal life. 

We would do well to examine our motives and our priorities. Is our greatest desire to be judged as righteous by our pure and holy  God or do we simply want to look good before our fellow man? Are we seeking approval in this world or in the next? There is nothing more important than pleasing our God, nothing more critical than obedience to His Word. The path to righteousness is simple. Love God. Love your neighbor as you love yourself. The task of love, however, is the greatest challenge we will ever face. If not for the help of Almighty God, it would be impossible. What then, shall we do?

We love, because He first loved us. If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also. (1 John 4:19-21 NASB)

The writer of 1st John said it nicely. If you don't love your neighbor, you don't love God, either. If you want to be justified before God, you must begin by loving Him. When we love God with every fiber of our being, that love will spill over onto those around us, and it won't matter a bit how lovely they are. When the love of God flows from us, it splashes onto both the greatest and the least among us. 

If we want to look justified, we can limit our interpretation of "neighbor" to those most like us, those most convenient for ministry. If we want to be justified, however, we must do what Jesus said. Love God. Love our neighbors, even those who are the least lovely. Love all.