Self-Justification or Submission

Intro: If you are pursuing someone to love them and to be committed to them in marriage, will you be content if they only half-heartedly return your love and commitment?
Luke 16:14–18 ESV
The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void. “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.
The Pharisees’ response to Jesus betrays a lack of heart-level submission to the authority of God. (v. 14)
The irony is that these religious elites have been trying to trap Jesus in something that he might say or do, but they haven’t seemed to have learned their lesson that what happens every time is that the tables are turned and they get burned whenever they open their mouths. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. (From the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6, on how we can judge a person’s character…)
Luke 6:45 ESV
The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.
Don’t be confused about a “good person”… the comparison is to a good tree bears good fruit… Only the person who is truly submissive to God on God’s terms can be truly good. That’s why faith is required—trust in God, dependence upon God. And absolutely why Jesus is required. We are not fundamentally good. So God sent his Son to earth to be the unique God-Man, to live as the second Adam without sin—the only human to live a perfectly obedient and submissive life to God, to be a new representative (federal head) of humanity for all those who will put their faith in him to be right with God. Jesus is the only way to make us truly good.
In other words, the person who truly submits to God ultimately reveals himself or herself by the way they live—the way we think, the way we speak, the way we act—by how we plan and what we pursue—by what we love and how we live. — With the many, and sometimes egregious mistakes that King David made (sins he committed), how can the scripture call him a man after God’s own heart? In studying 1 Samuel and the Psalms, I have become thoroughly convinced that David was a man after God’s heart because he sincerely submitted his heart to God as a way of life.
But the Pharisees display the exact opposite. That the Pharisees present were lovers of money is an editorial comment by Luke, describing why they ridiculed/mocked/sneered/scoffed at Jesus. The term itself is a word picture: to turn up your nose in derision. (You can picture that. The “we’re better than you, you don’t know what you’re talking about” attitude.)
Again, why would they do this? - Who is this Jesus to be preaching to us about money? And more importantly, as Luke indicates, the previous parable is an indictment against them that make them indignant/offended. (the dishonest manager, followed by the bold statement that you can’t try to serve both God and money)
Jesus doesn’t pull any punches with these self-righteous hypocrites, as we’ve seen repeatedly already. - self-justification before men… vs. God knowing hearts.
The way we handle morality (and therefore ethical choices) from the heart reveals whether we truly submit to God’s rule over our lives and the cosmos. (vv. 15-18)
Now the Pharisees and other religious Jews do not need convincing that we as humans ought to submit to the authority of God. He is the creator and sustainer of the universe. The cosmos is his and everything in it.
What Jesus catches the Pharisees doing is trying to have it both ways. They want to look pretty pious toward God, giving him lip-service, while at the same time letting their hearts wander after the lesser things of this world.
Jesus says it doesn’t work like that. These hypocrites reveal themselves by sneering at that very truth: you can’t have it both ways; you can’t serve God and money.
By not having hearts that are true, what are they resisting? They are resisting God’s authority. Now the even deeper irony is that their resistance to Jesus is a particular rejection of the glory of God in the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Consider the contrast of the calling of God on the life of a true believer: “Living for Jesus, a life that is true, Striving to please him in all that I do; Yielding allegiance, glad-hearted and free, This is the pathway of blessing for me.” - Thomas Chisholm)
Self-justification proves that we care more about impressing people and making ourselves feel righteous than we do about pleasing God from the heart. (v. 15)
(appeasing our own sense of rightness)
Man’s version of rightness (what humanity elevates in our sin nature) is an abomination to God. (Because expectant mothers are made in the image of God, we ought to be sensitive to the genuine difficulties and trauma of being unintentionally pregnant. But that does not justify what our culture has accepted: intentionally killing babies in the womb. Such murder is an abomination to God. … Homosexuality and transgenderism are an abomination to God.)
A lack of hatred for sin is an abomination in the sight of God. And a lack of spirit-filled sympathy for those who struggle with such sin and confusion is also an abomination to God—because it lacks awareness of our own deep depravity and ongoing battle with sin. A lack of sympathy and desire for the sinner to be restored to God.
[repeat sub-header]
Self-justification by compliance to OT Law is equally hollow because the Kingdom that the Law and Prophets foretold has come in Jesus Christ. (vv. 16-17)
Jesus brings up John the Baptist because John is the bridge-figure between the covenants. John is the final prophet, and at the same time he is the messenger raised up and commissioned by God to announce the Messiah’s arrival. “Since then the kingdom of God is preached” means Jesus himself being present and declaring by word and deed that the authority of God to establish a new covenant is already here.
And what might Jesus mean by everyone trying to force his way into the kingdom? The question about this phrase is whether the verb here is middle voice or passive voice: Are these people trying to violently force their way into the kingdom, or are they being strongly urged into it? Either of these could be understood negatively or positively (Negatively if it means man, especially the religious are trying to force their way into the kingdom; positively if it refers to the many sinners and outcasts coming in desperation and finding Jesus. Negatively if it means that religious elite are trying to force people into heaven by keeping the law, positively if it means Jesus and his disciples are constraining people into the kingdom.)
Back to the overall thrust of vv. 16&17: The law and prophets point to Christ. The whole old testament therefore is fulfilled and superseded by a new covenant in Christ. Even this new era of the kingdom (God’s rule over us) does not nullify the spirit of the law bc that law was always a reflection of the perfection of God (his character).
This takes some honest thinking and work on our part to grapple with the continuity and discontinuity with what God is doing in establishing a new covenant in Christ. It means first of all that God’s law-covenant with Israel is no longer the overarching expression of His arrangement for how man must relate to him. God’s desire has always been a relationship to him by faith, but now the means of fulfilling a right relationship to him has reached its culmination in Christ. The Law was still meant to show people that they needed to submit their whole hearts to God, and that they needed God to strengthen them and teach them the way to be right with him. (Again, think of David.) But now that purpose of the law is fulfilled in the God-Man Jesus Christ, as we stated earlier.
This new rule (fuller expression of God’s Kingdom on earth) is better bc Jesus makes us perfectly right with God through what He accomplishes and not what we try to accomplish. It is better because now in Christ God rules in our hearts by giving us spiritual life in the life-giving work and ongoing presence of God the Holy Spirit in every believer. Therefore it is submission to God’s rule in Jesus that saves us, and it is submission to God’s rule in Jesus that becomes our way of life in this present age.
Theologically then we now describe the OT law as no longer binding on NT believers but not to be ignored. The ceremonial facets of the law are no longer necessary because Christ fulfilled them completely, once for all. The civil aspects of the Mosaic Law are no longer binding bc those pertained to God’s interaction with national Israel specifically during that era. But the moral facets of the law remains helpful as a guide to us because they are a reflection of God’s character, which is unchanging.
Therefore, the law is not void, not even a single detail (that’s the meaning of Jesus’ expression), because it is all fulfilled in Christ. Jesus is the perfect Israel. Jesus is the perfect Adam. Jesus perfectly submits to God’s moral rule.
So the law’s promise is fulfilled in Jesus, but the law is permanent because it arises from the character of God.
Finally, how are we to understand Jesus’ reference to divorce and remarriage that at first (or even second) glance seems out of place in terms of thought progression. How does it fit in this context?
Submission to God’s rule, manifest in the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, must be all-encompassing. (v. 18)
The issue of divorce serves as an example striking right at the heart of these self-justifying Pharisees, proving Jesus’ point that self-justification is useless… in our dealings with money and divorce and any other way that we might try to bend the law in our favor or even try to follow it to the letter.
God doesn’t keep a checklist, because God knows our hearts. See, I believe this is Jesus rounding out his initial thesis.
God wants our whole hearts. When God has our whole hearts, we don’t try to justify ourselves by coming up with ways to excuse something God doesn’t desire. Rather, we desire so much to be like God from the heart that the standard of holiness leads to practical ethics that supersede even the requirements of the law.
Illust: Law - We drove through a little neighborhood with a slow speed limit that also read “Drive like your kids play here.”
So while God determined in his infinite wisdom to make divorce permissible under certain conditions (not desirable, not best… but permissible) was due to their hardness of heart.
How might we summarize application from our text today? The Bible is the special revelation of God concerning himself. That’s theology. The question for mankind then becomes, will we submit to God on his terms, as he has revealed himself? That’s the anthropological response of theological revelation.
Stop trying to justify sin. Submit to God.
This is the way of salvation. Confess your sin to God. Accept his terms of rescue through the Lord Jesus Christ. Trust only in his grace to make you right with him.
Christians, that same repentance is the way we daily lead lives of submission to God. Stop trying to justify your sin. Submit to God.
Don’t try to justify your sin with how much stress you’re under. Don’t try to justify it bc of your personality. Don’t try to justify it bc someone else didn’t follow through on what they said, or bc they sinned against you. Don’t try to justify sin bc other people do it. Don’t try to justify it bc you aren’t perfect. Don’t try to justify it by pretending that you actually mean well (Ananias and Sapphira). — The antidote to self-justification (to sin) is heart-level submission to God.
And this is the standard to which we lovingly hold one another accountable. First we give each other a reasonable amount of ‘grace-space’ to be believers who are progressively being sanctified, who make mistakes and who have sensitive hearts that will recognize sin and work in Christ’s strength to remedy it. .... And we give people space on various things that are in fact matters of discernment. (That doesn’t mean we can’t ask probing questions to help people consider their convictions and motivations, but it does mean that we sometimes are convinced we are right but need the humility to see that we might not be.)
But we cannot allow one another to get away with patterns of sin. Because it isn’t loving. It isn’t Christian.
Submission to God through Jesus Christ is a life-giving, eternally fulfilling proposal. We are privileged to be transformed by God to walk according to life in the Spirit.
Take time to prayerfully consider this week the sin that you make excuses for. Repent and give that area of your life to God. Confess to God and to those you hurt, and get accountability to grow in that area.
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