Realising Justification

We know the truth of justification by faith in our heads, but how does it drop to our hearts?


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In Galatians 2:11-21, Paul challenges Peter about his behaviour; his concern is that Peter is not "walking in line with the gospel".

The gospel of justification by faith sets the path of life and Peter is deviating from it (in this case by not eating with Gentiles). So, Peter is not denying the gospel with his words but with his life; he’s not a heretic but a hypocrite.

In our Local Conferences this year, we applied that to ourselves asking: how might we deny the truth of justification in our living? Specifically, how might we try to ‘prove ourselves’ through our ministry, when there is nothing to prove?

We examined how this might show itself in everyday areas, for example, how we respond to criticism, how we respond to success and failure, and more.

To help us, we showed an interview with Glynn Harrison thinking about how we might grasp the truth of justification more deeply. We know it in our heads, but how does it drop to our hearts?

Discussion questions for church leaders

  • What is your experience of this 'journey' of grasping justification by grace?
  • What background factors might influence your default thinking and acting?
  • What was helpful in how we might engage in this process more deliberately?
  • How can we distinguish between our right standing before God (because of justification) and wanting to serve him well in ministry?


Graham: Well, having thought a little bit about justification, we want to consider how we kind of absorb that truth and take it on board, and I'm joined by Glynn Harrison. He's going to help us think that through. Glynn, just for those who don't know, you could just introduce yourself briefly.

Glynn: Yeah. Good morning, Graham.

Hello, everyone. My name's Glynn Harrison. I'm retired now. I was an academic psychiatrist, which meant having a lot to do with medical students, but also a practicing psychiatrist before my retirement. And since retiring, enjoying, talking, thinking about the interface between mental health and, faith among other things.

Particularly the sort of things I didn't have so much time as a busy academic to think through. So that's been a real privilege.

Graham: That's great. That's great. Well, thank you. I know you contribute in lots of ways. in different people's lives. And thank you for taking time to help us here. We're thinking of justification, and justification is a done deal.

You know, it's, it's a, it's a declaration by God that is true of us now if we're in Christ. And yet it can take us time to sort of absorb it, take it on board. Just some initial observations on that, that kind of process?

Glynn: Yeah, I think that's such a big point because justification has this binary sort of feel.

We are declared to be and that's that. And from this point onward think of yourselves in this way, that's the way the scripture guides us. And I think that can lead us to think that the process of appropriation, making that real in our own experience has a similar kind of binary quality and of course it doesn't, because we have deeply rooted psychological attachments that we carry into our new life in Christ.

we have default psychological postures, positions, responses to the world, and all of those take a lifetime, to even some of them begin to turn around. And, as you know, Graham, those of us, well, no, those of us here who are getting on in years will testify to the fact that some of the things we struggle with now, they bubble up with sometimes with the same force when we were younger.

So this is a process that we have to think of this as a journey that we embark on as we grow in Christ.

Graham: Yeah. Yeah. Thank you. Thank you. So we're wanting to grasp that truth. They just say it's sort of appropriated, take it on board for ourselves and work it out. some of those old patterns you've talked about, some of those can be very deeply ingrained.

Some can even stem from kind of childhood or formative experiences. Perhaps we think particularly about proving ourselves. And that might be something that's got quite deeply embedded in us. Can you give some examples of those?

Glynn: Yeah, I think almost every one of us listening to this, if we have a degree of self awareness, looking to our own hearts can, we'll see aspects of this.

I think addiction has a has some, something in common here with our experience. We all have experience of attachments, stuff that just draws us toward it and that's quite historic. And, this can be particularly so in, in the sphere of people pleasing and in the sphere of attempting to overcome shame with achievement and effort and, think, think of, I think of a woman who says, you know, I'd never want to do the high jump who who'd want to do that. Because what do they do once you get over the bar? They always move the bar higher. And that's what my father, he always moved. I could never please him.

And if I'm honest, she said. I'm still jumping for him. He's dead, but I'm still jumping for him or, or, you know, the classic middle child whose script is to keep the peace, to keep everybody happy, the elder, and then the younger who's cute and indulged and the classic middle child, or the person who's the sort of repository in a, in a quite, deep psychological way for some, for other people's shame and anger, which is projected out onto a child. So all of these can be in play and we carry them into our experience of being made right before God but that doesn't mean that they, they all go away and then that takes us back to this journey.

Graham: Yeah. Yeah. So how do we, let's think about how we embark on this journey.

There isn't like a simple. three step process, do this and you'll take justification on board and work it all out. But what are some of the things we can engage in or some of the things to be aware of that are going to help us make progress?

Glynn: Yeah, I think one element of it is it's a cognitive process.

This is a truth about us that needs to be appropriated. And so somewhat akin to cognitive therapy, we need to get into the habit of looking at our thoughts, just contemplating, spotting our default patterns. I'm here to live up to other people's expectation. Here I am again, wanting to please this person, and to just to look at them, get into the habit of just looking and spotting and then self talk, bringing the truth of scripture to bear on that.

And sometimes that can boil down just to saying, no, I see this thought I, it's part of me. I'm not going to pretend it's not there. I own it. It's there. But the answer is no. And even though my feelings take a while to follow on, I'm going to behave, on the base of the truth that I've been given.

And, and so I think there's that cognitive element, but, but, you know, Graham, I really don't think we should try and separate justification to tear it out from the other aspects of the whole experience of God's grace that comes with being made a child of God, the sense of being loved by him, the sense of, the mandate of, our being made in the image of God and therefore called to his service.

And there's work with our name on it that he calls us to do, in line with our gifts and all of that brings a sense of dignity and, mission to our work, which requires that underlying sense of worth. So I don't think we should make justification, this kind of cognitive process that you need to feel loved as you battle with some of those attachments.

And I think that sense of knowing the father's love and compassion is really important, particularly those of us who may be a little more cognitive and binary that we're thinking type people, maybe try and open our hearts a little more to the love and compassion of Christ.

Graham: Yeah. How might some of the kind of regular, you know, means of grace that probably a lot of people in church ministry to be engaged in, in a leadership sense in some ways, many people.

How do, how might we feed off those ourselves for exactly that kind of nurturing of God's love and acceptance of us?

Glynn: Yeah, you know, those of, those of us, those who've heard me before will know I bang on about the importance of every leader, every, who's shepherding you? I every, I never stop asking people, who's shepherding you?

You're shepherding others. Who's shepherding you? And I think to have people in our lives, at least one person, maybe two or three, maybe we change that person from time to time, have someone who will be a channel of God's love in our lives and care for us. And, you know, I've done a fair amount of what do I call it, pastoral mentoring, looking out for Christian leaders.

And, and I've wanted that to be a place where they feel something of God's love in our conversations in our, in, in that, in that approach. So I, I wouldn't underestimate that the lone, we mustn't allow the loneliness of leadership to cut us off from that means by which God loves us through the hands, the care the support of others. Some people find it quite hard to let people love them, actually, to let people serve them. And if that's you, that isn't good enough. We need as God's children to open our hearts to our Father. And sometimes that'll come through him. I think other means of grace, particularly, I, I think breaking of bread is incredibly important:

take eat, given for you. You, I'm talking to you now, given for you, you see, this is how God comes to us. Take, eat, it's for sinners. It's for folk who, who want to celebrate and appropriate, my grace in their lives. And I find that terribly important that the tangibility of that bread and the wine as we share together in all that Christ's done as he meets us in that. So, I, and I think again, but it, it is tempting for the leader to think this this is something he he's doing for them or she's doing for them. And it, it's important that who's doing it for you? Whe when do you take bread and wine in the way that you hope your own people will be doing?

So, this is part of the journey. It is a cog an important truth-driven, based, framed process, true, but it's also full of heart and love and sense of God's compassion for us.

Graham: Yeah, yeah, thank you. Just, just to ask, we thought there about the kind of getting the cognition, getting the thinking right and understanding patterns.

Can we work the other way? You know, maybe I'm, maybe I'm very conscious, I always try and you know, fish for compliments from people or something like that. So there are, there are also patterns of actions that will feed my own kind of need. Can I work changing those and then and hope that, you know, that I guess, I guess what I'm wondering is if I'm thinking one way and I feed it then, then that becomes a certain cycle itself. I could break that cycle in my thinking, but I also want to break that cycle in my acting. Is that right?

Glynn: Yeah, absolutely. And that's, you know, in the secular world, people have talked about cognitive behavioral therapy. The two actually go together and we change our thinking by changing our thinking, but also changing our behavior, in the face of our feelings, and in the face of our thoughts, I'm going to behave in this way.

Every Sunday morning I often don't, or many Sunday mornings, I often don't feel like going to church. I don't, my thoughts, I can think of, I can mobilise all sorts of reasons why I may not, you know, go, go to church just now. We're very self deceiving creatures. I think one of the beauties of a sabbatical rhythm to one's life is this is what we do on a Sunday morning, you get out of bed, you go to church, this is part of the rhythm.

So I think behavior is really important there, Graham. I think compliments seeking is a really interesting area there because we're going to get this area of self worth. This basic sense of self worth addressed by justification, we have got to think through how we deal with the assessing the quality of our work, because we do need to have that degree of a sober estimate of our potential, our capacity, our gifting. And that does involve self awareness, but it involves other people's feedback. You know, Glynn, I've got to be honest with you. You're no good at this. Give up. I think you're good at that. Try it. Why don't we work on that? And again, this comes back to having somebody who can share this with us and be honest with us about it. So fishing for compliments isn't the right way of addressing the right question. The right question is, what, what are my strengths and weaknesses? Rather than going out fishing I need to adopt a better process for that. And I think, I think I'd say there are two important steps. One is, uncouple your, and this is a cognitive exercise, now I've been doing it for years now, and it's a constant challenge.

Uncouple your basic sense of being loved, your basic sense of worth, dignity as a person, from your achievements. Come to an objective rating of your achievement. So I think I'm, Graham, I think I'm really good at some things and I think I'm lousy at other things. but, but this idea we have a false humility.

Oh, it wasn't me. It was the Lord, you know, and I want to say to someone. No, no, you did that. This is part of your gifting. And this is something that you did in his kingdom. And it wasn't there this morning, that piece of creative work. And it's there now. You have summoned that into reality. You've called forth procreation.

You've called forth this thing from God's world and made more of it and it's, it's good. Take a degree of pride in it. Of course, you did it as his creature. You did it in his strength. You did it with his permission and you give God all the honor for that. But let him honor you, when he says, well done, good and faithful, no, he says, well done, good and faithful you don't say, oh, no, no, no, no, no, you say, thank you. This is part of his grace in your life, but also something that, that is out of what you've done and that he's pleased with. And I think it's so important to feel that, but here's the trick. Here's the little cognitive trick. You think I'm good at that. I really am good at that.

It doesn't make me any more important. Not one inch taller than the homeless person I stepped over or the little disabled baby who they wanted to abort and we brought into the world. You can, you can be a top rock star. You're not one bit more important than that little baby in the eyes of God, you're just a good singer.

That's all. You're just a good singer. But don't run down the fact that you're a good singer either. It just doesn't make you more important. And I, I've tried, you know, I, I took, I think what a wonderful thing if as a, as a teenager, as a kid, you could develop that simple approach to life. I can be good at something.

I've just got to remember, it doesn't make me any more important as a person. And I think that simple cognitive exercise allows us then to preserve a place, to keep a place in our spiritual formation for approval. Actually, there's nothing wrong with wanting approval. We need it from the right source, which of course is God and Galatians.

Are you seeking approval from God or from men? Paul points us to the real source of approval and that's where we need to go.

Graham: Yeah. Thank you. Thank you. So a foundational kind of knowledge of acceptance and love because of our justification, but then that can almost free us, can't it, to then serve properly.

Glynn: Yeah.

Graham: Looking for the wrong sort of justification from people, the approval from people.

Glynn: Absolutely. You know, and so I think if someone says on the door, that was really helpful this morning. Say thank you. I'll take that away and ponder it. You know, you don't need to, I was coming out of church recently. I just said, well, that was really helpful on a, you know, it was this deflection.

And of course it was the Lord. Everything is of God's providence and within that. And but within that, he'd worked at it and he blessed my heart and he needed to allow me to say thank you so much and he needed to sense God's pleasure in that moment and I think it frees us to do that. Great.

Graham: Yeah. Lovely. Lovely. I think of just some verses to attach to that. We obviously looked at Galatians and being justified, not by our work. So we're not looking to our works for that, but then Paul can go on and talk about what he's done and how he's worked harder than all the other apostles. Yet not I, but the grace of God that was in me.

But he's not denying what's been achieved. It's a real thing. And he can look at the Thessalonians or somebody and say, you know, I kind of boast in you. I glory in you.

Glynn: Yes, you're my crown, I think.

Graham: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And yet that's clearly not his source of kind of, of self worth and proving before God. Thank you so much for helping us with that.

Really helpful. Thank you for your time.

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