Excusing and Forgiving

Although we may not often think about it, there is a huge difference between excusing and forgiving. When we do wrong, we naturally seek to excuse what we have done wrong. We may blame our circumstances or the people around us. We may plead ignorance, saying we did not know what we were supposed to do or that we did not know that what we did was wrong. We may claim that the end justifies the means, even if the means are wrong. We want to be absolved of what we did wrong, but we seek release from the consequences for what we did by placing the blame outside of our control. We may admit that we did something wrong, but we try to justify avoiding the consequences of what is wrong by refusing to accept responsibility for what happened or by showing why we were justified to do something wrong in this particular case.
Now there may be legitimate excuses for some things. A person may be threatened with getting fired from his job for being late or for missing work altogether. He may miss work one day, but it was because his wife had a baby or he was very sick. He may have a very legitimate excuse for why he was gone, but then the offense does not require forgiveness.
Forgiveness is something entirely different than having an excuse. Forgiveness says that someone did do something wrong. Someone did something wrong without a legitimate excuse, and they fully deserve the consequences that may come. But forgiveness is willing to release one from the consequences, not on the basis of excuses from the offender, but on the basis of mercy from the offended. C.S. Lewis rightly said, “To excuse what can really produce good excuses is not Christian charity [love]; it is only fairness. To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” When someone is excused from work and not fired because he was so sick he could not get out of bed, then that is only fair. But if someone is forgiven for missing work because he wanted to do something else, then that is another thing altogether.
When we look at our sin, the things that we have done wrong, from God’s perspective, then we see that we have no excuse for the things that we have done wrong. Romans 1:20 says, “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.” We cannot blame our predispositions, people around us, our circumstances, or our culture for what we do. We cannot point to the good that we have done in hopes that it outweighs the bad. God holds us personally responsible for what we have done, and rightly so. So when we go to God with our sin, we cannot make excuses. Excuses seek to keep us in control; we try to control God’s response by showing why He is obligated to absolve us based on our excuses. But no excuse will absolve us of what we have done. The only thing we can seek is forgiveness. That forgiveness will not be based on the strength of our excuses, but on the character and mercy of God. Seeking God’s forgiveness relinquishes control of our fate at the very time that we most want to control it: when we are most vulnerable. We are most vulnerable because we are at the point where we face the just and deserved consequences for what we have done. To some, freely receiving forgiveness from God seems too easy and cheap. But in reality, relinquishing control and seeking God’s mercy, admitting that we cannot save ourselves and that we need God’s help, is one of the hardest things that we will ever do. But when we relinquish that control and seek God’s forgiveness, we are seeking mercy from the One who is all-merciful. God will show us mercy and grant forgiveness, if we seek it on the terms that He has provided. God says that we do not earn mercy and forgiveness based on the good things we do. He does not call on us to pay for His forgiveness, because He already paid for it. Christ paid for it when He paid the penalty for our sin. When we seek God’s forgiveness, we cannot seek it based on excuses for our sin. Instead, we seek forgiveness based on His mercy and the reality that Christ has paid for our sin. But when we seek it according to God’s plan, then we can rest in the reality that He will grant the forgiveness He has promised. 1 John 1:8-9 says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
–Pastor Tim



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