You’re a natural born expert in self-defense. I don’t mean that you have a belt in mixed martial arts. No, I mean that you and I have the compulsive tendency to always justify ourselves when accused.
Adam is the first human being to master the art. When God asks if he ate the forbidden fruit, his response is to justify - “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” (Genesis 3:12)
Adam does admit to wrongdoing, but not before declaring himself innocent. God is the guilty party, making a mistake by placing Eve in the garden with him, and Eve too is a guilty party, providing Adam with the fruit. When the same question is posed to Eve, she declares herself innocent and pins the blame on the serpent.
Adam and Eve are the innovators of what I call self-atoning externalism. In other words, whenever we’re accused of violating God’s standard, our immediate reaction is to find something, or someone, to blame. “Had it not been for _______ [fill in the blank], we would have never stumbled into sin.” (Look at Reflection Questions 1-4 to see what we blame most often)
I had a mother communicate this with such clarity. She said, “I know that the Bible says ‘a soft answer turns away wrath, and a harsh word stirs up anger,’ but whoever wrote that didn't have my children!” What’s her logic? If it wasn’t for rebellious and disorderly children, she would be an otherwise righteous woman.
The Bible portrays a different reality, using David as its spokesperson. He says, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalm 51:5). Instead of atoning for his sin by blaming external factors, David humbly admits that his sinful heart caused his moral failing.
Had David had followed in the footsteps of Adam and Eve, he would have written something like this: “The woman whom you put on the roof, she was naked and beautiful, and I committed adultery.” It seems absurd when we hear someone else say it, but it’s what you and I do every day.
Husbands and wives, your spouse is not the cause of your moral failing – your own sinful heart is. Parents, your kids are not the cause of your moral failing – your own sinful heart is. Pastors, your congregations are not the cause of your moral failing – your own sinful heart is. Christian, this fallen world and the difficulties in it are not the cause of your moral failing – your own sinful heart is.
This is so important to understand: changing your external situations and relationships won’t change you. If you want to see lasting change and personal transformation, you can’t start externally. Instead, like David, we need to start with the iniquity in our own heart.
If the Bible’s description is accurate, then God’s grace is our only hope. Changing our environment won’t help, so each one of us needs grace – grace that’s not only big enough to rescue us from our sin, but also powerful enough to free us from the self-atoning prison of our own righteousness. Cry out for that grace today and watch the Lord provide in abundance.
Paul David Tripp
- In what ways are you tempted, like Adam, to blame God for your moral failing?
- In what ways are you tempted, like Eve, to blame Satan for your moral failing?
- How did you blame the fallen world for your sinful responses this week?
- How did you blame others for your sinful responses this week?
- Is there a possibility that you're not resting in the righteousness of Christ because you see yourself more righteous than you actually are?