Excuses, We All Have Them

In Lev. 16:5-10, we see where Israel of old had their scapegoat on whom the sins of the people were placed. In like manner, we have our scapegoats. We just rename them and call them excuses. They are easy and readily available. So, if we want to extricate ourselves from any course of action or fault, we just come up with a good excuse. However, there may be some things about excuses we have not thought much about.

In Lev. 16:5-10, we see where Israel of old had their scapegoat on whom the sins of the people were placed. In like manner, we have our scapegoats. We just rename them and call them excuses. They are easy and readily available. So, if we want to extricate ourselves from any course of action or fault, we just come up with a good excuse. However, there may be some things about excuses we have not thought much about.

Excuses anger God

First, we need to remember excuses anger the Lord. Remember when God called Moses to deliver the children of Israel from Egyptian bondage? Moses made several. He said, “I can’t do it” (Ex. 3:10-12). Further, Moses said, “They will ask who sent me” (Ex. 3:13-14). He also said, “They will not believe me” (Ex. 4:1). Then came, “I can’t talk well” (Ex. 4:10-11). Usually we read this account and are not impressed by Moses’ excuses. But, our own excuses always sound good to us. We think when we make our excuses God will accept it. However, excuses don’t alleviate the anger of the Lord. The point is not how good or poor the excuses are – but the Lord’s reaction. God was angry with Moses because he was not going to do what God told him to do.

The consequences remain

Second, excuses don’t change the consequences. In the parable of Luke 14:15-24, our Lord told us of three excuses. We might have thought they were good reasons, but the Lord said differently. One man had bought a piece of ground, another a yoke of oxen, and another married a wife. We smile at the shallowness of these, yet the same principle is stated. The excuses did not appease the master (Lk. 14:21). The Lord’s point is that because of the excuse making those who made excuses missed something. No matter how good the excuse, when it is given, it prevents us from partaking of the blessings of the feast. Therefore, the master sent his servants out into the highway and hedges to invite the outcast of society to the feast so that the house was filled.

Responsibility is not removed

Third on the list; excuses don’t eliminate the responsibility even though we like to think they do. Generally, excuses are an attempt to do away with responsibility. “I never was responsible.” Adam and Eve used this. Adam was called by God, “What have you done? Have you eaten what I told you not to eat?” While Adam must finally admit he ate the fruit of the forbidden tree, before he does, he tries to excuse his responsibility. “The woman gave it to me. It is her fault. And, You gave me the woman, so the fault lies somewhere between You and Eve, but not me” (Genesis 3:9-11). Eventually, Adam had to admit he had eaten. Eve had to bear her share of the burden for encouraging Adam. But Adam was still guilty. In the final analysis the responsibility is mine. Crying about it won’t change a thing.

Most are not truth

Consider, what is the true nature of excuses? Most of the time they are not the truth. Excuses have been defined as “the skin of a reason stuffed with a lie.”  They do not really tell why we do or don’t do a thing. So, we manufacture an excuse; take something that is part of the truth and blow it up to make another thing more important. Most of the time we make excuses because we do not want to do or say something. We don’t say, “I didn’t want….” so we make excuses.

Finally, since most people easily see through our flimsy layer of excuses, how much more does our Father see right through them to our heart? Our great danger is in deceiving ourselves. We lie to ourselves and cut ourselves off from ever solving the problem from which we are excusing ourselves. The remedy is to get our “want to” right. Face the truth about our excuses and rid ourselves of them.

I Am What I Am

As we call to memory Saul of Tarsus, we see a man who was very zealous. A devout, learned man of the scriptures, who persecuted the early church because of his love for God. The book of Acts records, “When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul…Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death” (Acts 7:58 – 8:1).

Without question, the Lord saw something special in this young man. Because He came to Saul while he was on his way to Damascus, having obtained letters from the Jewish authorities allowing him to continue persecuting the church. The vision that Saul encountered that day changed his life forever. Saul obeyed the direction of the Lord, being baptized while in Damascus. What a turn of events.

The apostle Paul was one who made a difference in the history of the church. He carried that same desire to please the Lord he had before, but now it was being used for good. Paul did suffer many things for the Lord’s name, yet never seemed to complain. In fact, he wrote, “for momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Cor 4:17). Light affliction? Paul suffered a great deal as illustrated in his own words for us in the 11th chapter of his second letter to the Corinthians. Later, as Paul wrote to the Philippians, he said, “Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am” (Phil 4:11).

No doubt, some of Paul’s most inspirational words are found in 1 Cor 15:10. “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.” God’s grace is that which gives each of us hope. Paul, self-proclaimed as the chief sinner, was able to see what a gift God’s grace is. It is too precious a gift to let go in vain. As God’s grace has appeared to all men, let it not be in vain. After all, we are all sinners and are in need of this precious gift.

Simplicity In Christ

Paul, in 2 Corinthians 11:3, states, “I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.” God, in revealing His plan and purpose for man’s life, was not trying to confuse man. He wanted (and still wants today) man to hear, understand and obey. Therefore, the gospel was couched in terms that were simple and clear. Satan will always try to confuse us, so in various ways he tries to complicate the massage. That is why Paul wrote, “that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes” but “whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor 2:11; 4:4). Where God wants us to hear and learn, and come to Him (Jn. 6:45), Satan tries to confuse and bewilder all those who would listen to God.

Free from sin

God has clearly revealed how men are to be made free from sin. To this end, God gave His only begotten Son and approved Him with these words; “…This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him” (Matt. 17:5)! God spoke under the Old Covenant through the prophets, but now speaks His will for our lives through His Son, Jesus Christ (Heb. 1:1-2). Surely no one would contend that He is unable to speak clearly what He wants us to understand, or that Christ is unable to convey the Father’s message. God made man (Gen. 1:26-27), surely, He knows our intelligence and ability to comprehend. Why, then, are there those who affirm that we cannot be sure we know the will of God?

Instructions to disciples

Before Jesus left this earth, He gave instructed His disciples to evangelize the world. At the same time, He gave the means by which men would be saved from sin, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned” (Mk. 16:15-16). That bit of information is so simple and plain that a person must have a lot of help to misunderstand it. If this passage is not clear to you, ask a ten-year-old school child to explain what it means. Jesus was not trying to confuse the apostles, nor you and me. He gave simple terms for salvation which they understood and preached, and which we can understand and obey.

When the apostles went forth in compliance with the instructions of Jesus, they preached the gospel in simple words. The people who heard them had no difficulty in understanding what to believe and what to do. Many found it hard to accept, but none found it hard to understand. When Peter preached the first gospel sermon (Acts 2:14-36), people believed and asked, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” The Lord’s reply, through Peter, was simple, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins…” (Acts 2:38). There was no question about their ability to understand because, “those who had received his word were baptized; and that day…” (Acts 2:41). They understood what to do and did it – 3000 of them. What could be simpler or plainer?

Why were 3000 baptized that day? The Bible says, they “received his word.” The converse could be stated, as those who did not receive his word were not baptized. That is still true today. Those who gladly receive the word of the Lord will do what the word says3/4 no excuses, no arguments.

Responsibilities

In Jn. 8:24, Jesus said, “you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.” The reason for His many miracles is clearly revealed: “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:30-31). Later, Paul would write of the gospel, “it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). He further explained in Rom. 5:1, “having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Without faith we cannot be pleasing to God (Heb. 11:6), but it must be a “faith working through love” (Gal. 5:6). Faith without works is no faith at all (Jas. 2:20).

Faith must lead us to turn from our former way of living. Jesus said, “unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Lk. 13:3). Jesus did not come to earth and die on the cross that we might continue to live according to our own will. 2 Cor 5:15 states it this way, “He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.” Jesus came to save people from their sins, not to save people in their sins. If we would be saved, we must be willing to turn from our sins to live as He directs us. If we are determined to live for ourselves, to live in sin, we cannot be saved. The requirement is simple: we must repent

Many heard and believed

On the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem, 3000 people believed (v. 37), repented (v. 38) and were baptized (v. 41). A pattern of conversion was set that was repeated over and over. Philip went to the city of Samaria and “preached Christ to them” (Acts 8:5). “But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike” (Acts 8:12).

Notice, when they believed, they were baptized. Just like the people on Pentecost. Just as Jesus had said in Mark 16. Philip was directed by an angel of the Lord to go to the road that led to Gaza where he met an Ethiopian and “preached Jesus to him” (Acts 8:26-35). “As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, ‘Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized’” (v. 36)? Told he must believe, he stated, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God,” (v. 37), and “they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him” (v. 38). Wasn’t that simple? Why complicate it? Just do what Jesus said. That is what the Samaritans did, that is what the eunuch did. Why confuse the matter?

When the gospel began to be preached to the Gentile world, we see the exact same pattern emerge. The apostle Paul preached in Philippi, was arrested and thrown into prison. As he and Silas sang praises to God, an earthquake freed all the prisoners. The jailer brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). He was told, “’Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’ And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house. And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household” (Acts 16:31-33).

Just as with the other examples, this man trusted Jesus, repented of his sins, and was immediately baptized. When Paul preached in Corinth, “…many of the Corinthians when they heard were believing and being baptized” (Acts 18:8). God’s message was simple enough that people who heard it for the first time could respond to it. That means, they understood it. However, they might not have known what was expected of them after that. However, they knew what God said for them to do. Why shouldn’t it be that simple today?

The Conscience

If one were to take four watches, one with the right time, one an hour fast, one an hour slow, and one that is stopped, he might compare them to four types of conscience. One is by the right standard—it operates correctly; two are by wrong standards—one operates too loosely and is thus too fast, and one is too binding and is thus too slow; the fourth is by no standard at all. It just doesn’t operate. Just what is the condition of your conscience?

The word is formed by a combination of two words in the original language of the New Testament  one being a word that means with and the other a word which means knowledge. It thus conveys the sense of knowing with oneself. Webster says, “a knowledge or feeling of right and wrong, with a compulsion to do right; moral judgment that prohibits or opposes the violation of a previously recognized ethical principle” (Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language, p.312).

Paul writes of the conscience accusing or excusing (Romans 2:15). Thus the conscience is that which we know within ourselves to measure up to a standard previously established in some way in our thinking. It is the built-in judge that exists in every man. If improper knowledge exists in an individual he may condemn that which is acceptable, or he may approve that which should be condemned. Study Romans 14 to see this principle illustrated.

Your Conscience

But what of your conscience? Is it one that has been formed and guided to the proper standard by God’s word? Or is it one that permits you to go beyond what God would desire due to failure to concentrate on His will? It is entirely possible that it is one that of such possibility ought to motivate us to a fervent study and constant consideration of God’s word.

It is also possible that one’s conscience will allow that which ought not to be done with no judgment of wrongdoing. Paul said, “It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor anything whereby thy brother stumbles, or is made weak. Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he that condemns not himself in that thing which he allows” (Romans 14:21-22).

Note that a conscience that does not condemn us in some practice does not guarantee the practice to be right. We are happy (blessed) when what is allowed does not condemn us! The Christian had best be very careful what practices are approved in his life.

Perhaps your conscience has, in essence, ceased to function at all. We read of those who are guilty of “speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron…” (1 Timothy 4:2). We also read of people whose con- sciences were defiled (Titus 1: 15). These pas- sages indicate consciences that are not work- ing. Is it possible for that to be true of you?

Assurance or Condemnation

The conscience is a vital aspect of the Christian’s effort to please God. John said, “And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things” (1 John 3: 19-20). Paul wrote, “And he that doubts is damned if he eat, because he eats not in faith: for God hath received him” (Romans 14:23.

The basis of the sin is the self-accusation of one’s own conscience which condemns him as one who rebels against what he believes to be God’s will. The very spirit of rebellion is something which cannot be condoned. John says God, being greater than one’s heart, recognizes the rebellious spirit. It is impossible for me to expect the Lord to approve of me when I do not approve of myself. May the Lord help us to develop a proper conscience that will restrain us from any activity that would displease God, and motivate us always to be involved in active good.

Once more we quote from the pen of Paul: “But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things written in the law and in the prophets: and have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust. And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men” (Acts 24:14-16).

The Spirit-inspired apostle exercised himself (that surely implies that he worked at the task) so that his conscience would not accuse him of doing what he believed to be wrong.

Conclusion

Remember, failure to be convicted of sin by one’s conscience does not guarantee that one is right, as illustrated by Paul’s life when he persecuted Christians in all good conscience. He said: “I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth” (Acts 26:9). On another occasion he indicated that even while engaged in those acts, he had “lived in all good conscience before God until this day” (Acts 23:1). On the other hand, conviction by one’s conscience that he is not doing right guarantees that he is sinning! God will condemn him.

May the Lord help us then to exercise ourselves that we may have a good conscience, but that we also constantly seek to educate ourselves so the conscience will judge our actions aright.

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By Ray Ferris (1923 – 2016)
This article was first published in THINK, on these things
Vol. 29. No. 3, July-August-September, 1998

Vol. 29. No. 3, July-August-September, 1998