“You have heard that is was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ (an Aramaic term of contempt) is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” – Matthew 5:21-22
Paul could not stand his next door neighbor, and Tom’s attitude toward Paul was no different. For years they maintained a war of words, but now it had degenerated into a bitter silence. What further complicated the situation was that both men felt justified in what they were doing. Neither was going to budge until the other apologized. So the resentment grew and the bitterness burned.
The trap which caught both Paul and Tom is one that also catches me. It is easy for me to get angry. It is just as easy to give into biting accusations and bitter animosity. What makes matters worse is I can quickly justify my actions and feelings.
Although I may try to justify what I do and think, are they really justifiable? When I consider what Jesus taught on the mountainside, my way of justification will never clear me of guilt. Jesus strips away what I think is justifiable, or even respectable, and reveals it for what it really is, sin. He also reveals the consequences of my sin, judgment and hell.
I need to realize my actions that harm, my anger that burns, my accusations that destroy, and my animosity that divides make me guilty before God. According to what Jesus teaches, I am guilty even if I do not harm a person physically. I am still accountable for the thoughts and attitudes of my heart.
It is impossible for me to justify myself, but it is not impossible for God to justify me. This is why Jesus came to be my substitute. Through his life on earth, through his defeat of the devil, through his shame and mockery, and through his agonizing death, Jesus did everything needed for God to justify me. Through his work Jesus accepted the judgment I deserved and willingly bore God’s just sentence on my sin. Through Christ, God has declared me not guilty of every charge.
Because I have been justified through faith in Jesus, my response is to live my life in grateful thanks and faithful praise. It means controlling my feelings and emotions. It means ridding my heart of anger and resentment. It also means confessing my guilt before the Lord and seeking the assurance of his forgiveness. This will lead me away from trying to justify my actions, and lead me to the comfort and peace of being justified by God’s undeserved love in Jesus.