We all know the deadly nature of sin, but we are often unaware of its subtle sidekick — the excuse.
Excuses convert the seriousness of sin into a simple shoulder shrug. “It was just a mistake on a tired night.” No big deal. Not my fault. And just like that, we downgrade our greatest offenses against God into something light, even meaningless. Instead of owning our sin, we excuse it. Instead of killing sin, we explain it away. Our sins become nothing worse, on our minds, than the kind of errors kids make playing soccer.
Grown Up Excuses
This was the moment — the perfect pass right in front of the goal. I could finally be the twelve-year-old soccer star I was made to be. I could hear my mom cheering wildly in the background as I drove my leg toward the ball.
But I missed. I completely whiffed. Chance over. Dream gone.
Where did my mind go in that next moment? The grass was slippery, the sun was in my eyes, I caught my cleat on the grass right before the pass. On and on they went. I needed excuses to calm me down. It wasn’t really my fault.
Cute excuses don’t stay on the youth soccer field. As we grow up, so do our excuses. We move from dismissing soccer goals to disregarding fits of anger; from explaining away dirty rooms to rationalizing clicks on sexually explicit websites. We mindlessly say, “I got angry at my wife because I was tired.” And with that small excuse, we acknowledge sin, but reason that it was okay. But it’s not okay.
A Heritage of Blameshifting
We’re certainly not the first to excuse our sins. Think of the handful of biblical blame shifters. All of them know they have sinned, but they try to explain it away. Adam offered his excuse at the garden as he pointed his finger at Eve (Genesis 3:12). Aaron let the blame for the golden calf fall on the people (Exodus 32:21–24). Saul tried to excuse his unlawful sacrifice on the technicality that Samuel was late (1 Samuel 13:11–12). Excuses have been wreaking havoc since the beginning. And the worst part is, on any given day, we don’t even realize we’re making excuses.
“We can’t give up fighting sin just because we can explain how it happened.”
Like carbon monoxide, excuses lurk around undetected and carry a deadly poison. Each excuse has its own toxic formula:
I did that because . . . I was in such a hurry. They were yelling, so I started yelling. I was right, and they weren’t listening.
These excuses try to trick us into accepting sin because it was my wife’s fault, or traffic’s fault, or because it was a result of my exhaustion. In short, excuses make sin an inevitable outcome, instead of a deadly killer.
The Real Problem
Situations do not cause people to sin; we choose to sin. Work may put stress on you, but you choose to cut corners. Your wife may unfairly criticize you, but you choose to respond with passive aggression. Traffic may be heavy, but you choose to respond with angry outbursts all the way to work. Circumstances do not force us to sin. They only help reveal our sin. No matter how much the cards may seem stacked against us, our sin is always a choice we make.
Not only that, God calls us to fight sin no matter the cause. The call to kill sin remains just as much in force when we are tired as when we are awake and chipper. Paul reminds us, “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16). This mentality does not take a vacation when life gets challenging. Rather, Paul reminds us that God calls us to kill sin all the time. We can’t give up fighting sin just because we can explain how it happened.
Finally, whenever we use excuses, we have to come to terms with the fact that we have exchanged confession for the cheap substitute of an excuse. Whatever the excuse, all of a sudden we find ourselves walking in the darkness while claiming to be in the light (1 John 1:8). We have fallen into sin, and instead of owning the sin, we walk around saying, Nothing to see here. This was not my fault. No sin here.
But this exchange comes at a great cost. In this moment, our excuses not only let sin slowly suck the life out of us; they rob of us of the joy God wants to deliver as he forgives and cleanses us of our sin.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
Every time we dismiss these sins, we miss the grace God has tailor made to cover our sins. God really does have grace to meet every failure, but receiving that grace starts by confessing the sin:
I actually didn’t clean the kitchen today because I struggle with selfishness. I went to that website again to satisfy the ugly lust in my heart. I got angry last night because I put my interests ahead of yours.
After confessing those truths to God (and to one another), we can rest, knowing 1 John 1:9 does not have a blacklist of sins that don’t receive the lavish grace God has to offer. No matter how dark things get when we throw off the excuses and expose the sin, God’s grace will shine brighter.
“God really does have grace to meet every failure, but receiving that grace starts by confessing the sin.”
With this confession, God not only promises to forgive us, but also to cleanse us. He wants us to confess our sin and then feel the immeasurable grace that washes it all away with the declaration, “There is therefore now no condemnation” (Romans 8:1). And this cleansing is meant to lead us into new life. John says, “I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin” (1 John 2:1). Confession, then, is not only hope for forgiveness and the promise of cleansing, but our only hope to change.
No More Hiding
The good news is that God’s grace assures us that we can be the kind of people who are happy to own our shortcomings — the kind of people who have stopped hiding behind excuses.
As ugly as our sin can get, grace allows us to abandon excuses because the promise of forgiveness and cleansing lies on the other side of confession. Every confession brings sin out of hiding and into the light (John 3:19–21). And God has promised that when we bring sin into the light “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1).