And yet again I come across that phrase in Luke 10:29, “But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?'” That steady drumbeat of desiring to justify ourselves when confronted by a truth that strikes a bit too close to home.
The context is this: a lawyer stands up with a motive of putting Jesus “to the test,” asking him what he should do to inherit eternal life. Given the lawyer was an expert in the law, he asked the lawyer what the law said. “Love God with all you have, and love your neighbor as yourself.” He got it right! He knew what the Bible said. He spoke correctly, affirmed it, and passed the test (wait a minute! Wasn’t Jesus the one who was put to the test? Well, Jesus would have none of it.).
But that’s not the end of the story. This is where Luke 10:29 comes in. Did the lawyer become defensive? I’d say so. He wanted to show that, yes, he was truly loving his neighbor in such an appropriate way, that God would welcome in and grant him eternal life. He felt right in his own mind and heart that he was in right standing.
Christ has a way of exposing our hearts. It’s here the Parable of the Good Samaritan comes in. A man is beaten and robbed, left on the side of the road for dead. A priest and a Levite come upon him, but pass him by. Yet, a hated Samaritan has “compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him” (Luke 10:33b-34). He even paid his expenses, but present and future! Clearly, the Samaritan demonstrated what it meant to be a neighbor.
We do not know if this man learned his lesson. Sure, twice he gave the right answers. He received a 100%! But it’s not enough for us to know the right things, but to take that knowledge out of the garage and roll it out on the proverbial highway. If I know biblical truth, and even hear truth from brothers and sisters all around me about my walk, but continue to justify my actions, I prove that I am blind and not self-aware. No, I’m self-absorbed. Justifying myself will stand as my kneejerk reaction!
As Jesus told the lawyer, so He tells all of us, “You, go, and do likewise.” Go, and do likewise is potent. That emphasis of “you” puts it over the edge. I must not justify myself–I must stand in the shadow and listen to the one who is just and who justifies (Romans 3:24).