If, like a computer or smartphone, the human heart had an operating system, that operating system would run on self-justification. Self-justification is the default wiring of the human heart. We innately believe that we are, more or less, pretty good, and that our faults are, more or less, not that bad. While we are quick to point to the sins of others, we are slow to recognize our own. All of this is a reflection of our self-justifying ways.
One helpful way to diagnose this in your own life is to answer the question: why do I think God will answer my prayers? Any answer you give to that question reveals what you are looking to for justification. And every answer – save one – ultimately reveals self-justification.
Often Christians assume that God’s willingness to answer our prayers exists in direct proportion to our own, personal holiness. The cleaner we live, the more effective our prayers, or so we think. This leaves us believing that God will be more inclined to hear – and respond to – our prayers if we are more holy. Or more faithful. But that ultimately makes our holiness and our faithfulness the basis of our (self)-justification. We assume that those things put us in right relationship with God, that they bend his ear and incline his heart toward us.
But such self-justification rests on two faulty assumptions: it assumes a too-low view of God’s justice, and a too-high view of our own righteousness. It waters down God’s demands so that obedience seems plausible or realistic to us. And it ignores or excuses the many flawed motives and desires that make even our righteous deeds like filthy rags to God (Isaiah 64:6). In reality, God is so holy, and in ourselves we are so broken, that our own merit will never be sufficient to persuade God to hear us. In ourselves, our status will never justify an audience with the holy high king of heaven.
Self-justification rests on two faulty assumptions: it assumes a too-low view of God’s justice, and a too-high view of our own righteousness.
But Jesus, in himself, does merit an audience with the king. Jesus, in his merit, has persuaded his Father to hear – and answer! – his prayers. When we are justified by faith in him (see Romans 3:21-26), we are so united to him that our prayers rise to God as if they were his prayers. God hears and accepts them, not because of anything we have done or because of anything good in us, but because Jesus has earned the right to approach him through his perfect life and substitutionary death. And he has given us that same right, that same access, to his Father.
Why does God answer my prayers? Because I am in Christ, and because Christ has earned – for me! – the privilege of an audience with God.
This post is adapted from the message, The Good Samaritan, preached at Capitol City Christian Church on 3/3/2019.