What does gay rights, confederate flags, ISIS, and Bruce “Caitlyn” Jenner have in common? Taken at face value, you might be tempted to answer “Nothing.” It seems like we live in a crazy, schizophrenic culture. But there is an amazing commonality to all the social pressures and unrest. The Psalmist asks and answers the question well:
“Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.” – Psalm 2
I just recently read two really great books that, when taken together, get to the heart of all the revolutionary pressures. The first book, Leadership and Self-Deception, describes the destructive power of self-justification within families, organizations, and businesses. When we are not faithful to live according to an objective standard of rightness, we seek to then justify our actions, attitudes, and desires. This attempt at self-justification leads to self-deception. Because we have the need to be righteous, we attain that righteousness by seeing ourselves in the best possible light and defining others in a way that serves our purposes. We write ourselves into the story as the hero or the victim or the martyr. Our husbands, wives, neighbors, co-workers, or bosses become mere objects that either support our self-justifying efforts or become obstacles to it. We don’t embrace and celebrate LGBT lifestyles because we love and tolerate others. We do it because we love ourselves. Taking such a view helps us to feel justified in some way. We live in a world stuffed full of men and women seeking self-justification, but they can’t see it because it always leads to self-deception. And self-deception makes it impossible to find the right solution.
This brings us to the second book, God is the Gospel, by John Piper. It provides the biblical answer to the problem exposed in the first book. The solution to our justification problem is not found in ourselves, in cultural acceptance, in professional success, or personal achievement. The solution to our justification problem is found in a person, Jesus Christ. We long to be justified, not because we love ourselves, but because we come to love Him. Here is how Piper explains it:
Justification is not an end in itself. Neither is the forgiveness of sins or the imputation of righteousness. Neither is escape from hell or entrance into heaven or freedom from disease or liberation from bondage or eternal life or justice or mercy or the beauties of a pain-free world. None of the facets of the gospel-diamond is the chief good or highest goal of the gospel. Only one thing is: seeing and savoring God himself, being changed into the image of his Son so that more and more we delight in and display God’s infinite beauty and worth. – God is the Gospel, p.45
Every time I neglect my wife or ignore my children or begrudge my boss, the temptation for self-justification is there. I can attempt to justify my actions by exaggerating my wife’s weaknesses, or puffing up my own fatherly sacrifices, or redefining my workplace envy and ambition into a virtue. I can become St. George and the boss becomes the dragon. I am Frodo of the Shire living next to Mt. Doom with the eye of Sauron measuring my every move. Who could blame me for not loving a neighbor like that?!
Or, by the work of God’s Spirit, I can see myself through the lens of Scripture. I can humble myself and acknowledge my own weaknesses, selfish desires, and sinful lusts. I can repent and look to Jesus for my justification. He becomes the central figure in the story. He becomes the highest good and ultimate goal. I can bear the shame of my own nakedness because He has become the covering that adorns me with glory. As the author of Hebrews says,
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith,who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12:1,2
An amazing thing happens when we seek justification in the life and death of Jesus. Our being justified no longer becomes about us at all. It is a means to something far richer and glorious. Our justification is the means by which we know and enjoy God Himself. When we love God more than we love even our own lives, self-deception is defeated. We see with new eyes. And seeing is becoming,
Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.- 1 John 3:2
We will no longer see others as objects to be used or enemies to be defeated. We will see them as God sees them. We will see men and women for whom Christ died. We will be former slaves having compassion on those enslaved to sin. We will be pilgrims limping into glory alongside other fellow pilgrims. We will love the Church as our mother and other Christians as brothers and sisters. We will be thankful for civil authority when it serves God’s gracious purposes and humbly resist with tears when it becomes despotic. We will hate sin in all its forms, both acceptable and unacceptable. We will hate the sins we struggle with more than the sins of our neighbor. We will make decisions for our children that have much more to do with Christ’s glory and rule than with our own circumstances and expectations. We will see marriage as something far more cosmic than mere personal choice.
The nations rage because they want anything but Jesus on the throne. They will accept any king but Christ. It is the rage of a soft fist against a brick wall. The wall still stands. The nations have already been given to Christ by the Father. He is already and will forever be King of all the earth. The earth is the inheritance of the meek who follow the way of the cross. As we seek our joy and peace in Him, as we worship Him faithfully under the Word and around the Table, as we lay down our lives for one another and the world, the nation’s rage will be turned to rejoicing. The earth will be full of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the seas.
“Let the nations be glad and sing for joy!” – Psalm 67:4