Justification by Ministry

After I graduated from Auburn University I had the opportunity to work at retirement community/nursing home in Birmingham for a couple of years. That community is still one of my favorite places on earth. It was an unexpected grace that I was able to have this time with those loving co-workers and residents.

While working there I gained  an abiding and growing burden to bear witness to the good news of Jesus. I longingly hoped to encourage in the gospel those who were in Christ, and I desired to speak the word of truth into the lives of those who did not know Him.

Every morning before I punched the time clock I would spend half an hour or so meditating on Scripture and praying. My most common prayer was that God would open a door, make a way that I might proclaim Christ to as many folks as I could at the retirement community. I was desperate for God to give me this chance.

God granted good gospel conversations here and there, but in my last eight to six months there the gate busted open. First, I worked with the Skilled Nursing activities director, and she asked me to teach the Bible to the Skilled residents twice a week. After a couple weeks the Assisted Living director had me teaching weekly to the residents in that part of the community.

To say the least, I was amazed. Three times a week I was gathering residents around me show from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ. I was able to clearly and thoroughly as possible urge them to repent and trust in Him for hope beyond the grave. Family members of residents would join sometimes. Co-workers would overhear. I had an absolute ball.

But a few months in I noticed something in myself, a lingering emptiness. Even with all this opportunity around me I felt in my heart of hearts that it wasn’t enough. I wanted more. I needed something else.

But how could it be? For so long this is exactly what I’d hoped for, exactly what I wanted to do.

It was then I realized that, as good as my intentions and my mission were, much of what had been going on was a self-justification project. Justification by ministry was creeping into the heart of my religion. Ministerial opportunities and success were becoming the source of my identity and my righteousness before God, while Christ was being cheapened.

Whew! was that throat punch to my soul or what. Even though this epiphany was crucial in helping me see my sin, the battle for my soul still wages today. Overwhelming, Scripture-informed love for Jesus has got to suffocate my longing for man’s approval. The praise of God has got to increasingly become more precious, more real, more worthy, than the praise of man.

As I have thought about this situation in my life and reflected on Scripture, I’ve become deeply persuaded that the question we ought to ask ourselves is not, “Am I trying to justify myself?” Rather we should ask, “How am I trying to justify myself?” It’s a given. Whether it’s how many sermons we preach, how many books we read or blogs we write, how much Scripture we memorize, how hip our clothes are, how good we are at football, how much trash we recycle, or how much money we make, we will seek justification for ourselves and before God in something. May this be our new confession:

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly trust in Jesus’ Name.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

“[For] all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” Romans 3:24-25

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