In the movie Chariots of Fire, Olympic athlete Harold Abrahams says the following when reflecting on his upcoming race:
“And now in one hour’s time, I will be out there again. I will raise my eyes and look down that corridor; 4 feet wide, with 10 lonely seconds to justify my existence. But will I?”
Ten seconds to justify my existence. Ten seconds to prove my worth. Ten seconds to know that I’m valuable.
How very, very sad. And yet how very, very familiar. I might say it like this:
One hour to prove I’m a good worker. One clever blog post to remind people to keep reading. One insightful tweet to make people think I’m smart.
It’s amazing how deeply how compulsion at self-justification runs, and it comes out in big and small ways. It’s that tendency that keeps me from truly listening to what someone else is saying because I’m trying to think of how I will justify my place in the conversation with my next retort. It comes out when I know that I’ve sinned against another, and yet instead of truly and humbly apologizing and asking for forgiveness, I look for the loophole to slip in just to make sure the person on the other side knows he or she has something to be sorry for too, or perhaps that my actions were a result of their actions first. It appears when even before we don’t accomplish something we’ve set out to do we are already preparing the mental reasons why we failed.
It seems, like Harold Abrahams, we are all standing in the starting blocks over and over again, and each time treating that brief period as the measure of our personal worth.
Thank God Jesus is a better advocate than any of us are:
“My little children, I am writing you these things so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ the Righteous One. He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world” (1 John 2:1).
John, the one who walked and talked with Jesus, and the one who outlived all his fellow disciples, did not want his readers to sin. He wanted them to live holy lives, demonstrating the transformational quality of the gospel inside them. But he was also a realist. He knew that no one could claim to be without sin. And he also knew that when we sin the impulse for self-advocacy and self-justification is strong. How wonderful, then, that at the very moment when we are tempted to justify ourselves we are reminded that we have a better advocate than we could have ever dreamed.
The Son who died as a sacrifice for us once and for all is on our side.
But this advocacy of Jesus is not some clever lawyerly trick where He finds some incomplete piece of paperwork that allows us to escape sentence. Instead, He advocates for us on the reality that the punishment has already been handed down. In other words, we don’t need 10 seconds to justify our existence; we have something better. Jesus did it for us not in 10 seconds, but in 6 hours on a cross on a Friday afternoon.
Those six hours free us from the burden of self-justification. They provide true justification.