Have you seen this ad?
Like every good advertisement, it latches onto something more basic and important to the human mind than the functional purpose of the product being sold. Essentially it says, our product will address a fundamental desire in your heart (which is what all good Hallmark cards do).
Call it validation, affirmation, self-worth, whatever you want. The dual ideas of absolution – “formal release from guilt, obligation, or punishment”; in other words, the remission of sins – and justification – “the action of declaring or making righteous in the sight of God” – are the heart of it.
The longing for validation itself is not wicked. Just the opposite; that longing was created in the human heart by God when he first fashioned the race from the dust. When it is pure, it is the longing to relate with God. It is a longing for everything wrong in me and my life to be atoned for and forgotten, and for God to love me and call me worthy.
When it is impure, it is the drive behind every sin. Millions of teenage girls who give up their virginity do it because they want absolution and justification, but instead of seeking it from Jesus, they seek it from a fellow sinner. Millions of proud hypocrites who condemn their neighbors likewise work to be validated by something other than the cross of Christ.
This month, I am reading through the Psalms. David and the other psalmists give words to that basic human longing in its pure form, addressing to God and only God the cry, “Be my absolution!”
Arise, O LORD! Save me, O my God! 3:7
Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! …Be gracious to me and hear my prayer! 4:1
Give attention to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you do I pray… Lead me, O LORD… 5:2, 8
Be gracious to me, O LORD… heal me, O LORD… 6:2
Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes… 13:3
From your presence let my vindication come! …Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings. 17:2, 8
Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O LORD! 25:7
For your name’s sake, O LORD, pardon my guilt, for it is great… Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins. 25:11, 18
Vindicate me, O LORD… Prove me, O LORD, and try me; test my heart and mind. 26:1
Et cetera. It is important to note not only what the Biblical authors say, but that they say it; in other words, there is something to learn from the simple fact that the psalmists looked to God and him only for grace, help, healing, happiness, vindication, forgiveness. The truth is that to look for these things – to look for validation, absolution, and justification – in any other place is idolatry defined. We look for absolution from whatever we worship.
We must be specific. My question is: how does God absolve and validate me?
He does it like this:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized in Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with [Christ] in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. Romans 6:3-6
Faith unites the believer with Christ, particularly with his death and resurrection. When Christ died, I died. My “old self,” of which sin was master, died and was buried forever, disabled from disqualifying me ever again. When Christ resurrected, I resurrected, to a new kind of life, a life lived to, for, and in God. Before God, all the wrong in me and my life died with Jesus on the cross. When he walked out of his tomb alive, three days after dying, he left it all there in his grave. It’s not on me anymore.
The consequence of this is that God forbids me from seeking peace anywhere else. Only Jesus forgives sin; personal achievement does not.
So, alright! Be my absolution, Jesus!