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.
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.