There are plenty of popular sayings and expressions tossed about by believers which may sound good at first, but when they are more carefully considered, they often turn out to be little more than cheap excuses for living a life of sin and compromise.
They can be offered as a way to deflect discussion of some issues that need to be addressed, even though they may sound more or less biblical. As is usually the case, there is some truth in them, and if understood through a biblical lens they can be rather accurate and truthful sayings.
But usually they are hurled around in an attempt to cover up sin, deflect genuine criticism, or justify some pretty lame behaviours. Instead of dealing with the sin or the issue that needs addressing, these believers will just rehash what have become little more than cheap clichés.
Here then are six commonly heard expressions which too often serve as poor excuses for sinful behaviour, dodgy lifestyles, and disobedient living:
“Love is all that matters”
Yes, love most certainly is important, but only as defined by God himself, and not by the surrounding culture, or by carnal Christians. Far too often when believers who seek to justify their immoral behaviour talk about love, it has nothing to do with biblical love.
Their idea of love is that they can do whatever they like, and God will just sit back and wink at their behaviour. They often confuse real love with lust or their own selfish desires. But biblical love always entails keeping God’s commandments.
It is always about seeking the highest good of the other person. It is not about self-gratification, a free pass to do whatever one wants, or antinomianism. I was just reading some material from the great Martyn Lloyd-Jones which is worth sharing here in this regard:
The truth is, of course, that we are in sin and all our ideas are wrong; our conception of love is more wrong than anything else and if we begin to think of God’s love in terms of what we do and what we think, then—I say it with reverence—God help us! If we are going to attribute our sentimental, loose, unjust and unrighteous notions of love to the everlasting Godhead, then we place ourselves in the most precarious position.
“Who hasn’t lied at some point?”
This is just a variation of the old theme, “We are all sinners”. To which our first response should be, “Tell us something we don’t already know”. Of course we are all sinners. But no believer should ever use that as an excuse to justify sin or wink at evil.
And yes, we have likely all lied (or whatever sin you want to mention here). So yes, we are all guilty of sin. Indeed, James says that if you sin in one area you have sinned in all areas (James 2:10-11). So we are all dirty rotten scoundrels. But the point is, those who come to Christ come to get their life cleaned up.
They come to get not just forgiveness of sins, but a transformed life. It is a package deal: there is no forgiveness if there is no transformation. And this idea of now no longer being what we once were is clearly laid out by Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11:
Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
“That’s just your interpretation”
Quite often when you point out to a believer that they are living in known sin and need to repent and turn their life around, you will get this response. As one recent example of this, I had a guy I have been interacting with on the social media tell me this very thing.
He was trying to say that he could be a homosexual and a Christian simultaneously. But when I pointed out to him how unambiguous Scripture is when it comes to the issue of homosexuality, he quickly replied, “You lose me in the first paragraph when you equate your view on homosexuality with that of God. There is simply too much involved in hermeneutics for any human being to make such a claim responsibly.”
Um, no. It is NOT a matter of just my view or opinion or interpretation. Anyone reading the word of God on this matter can see how very clear God is. So it does not mean a hill of beans what I think of the issue, or what this guy thinks of this issue, but of what God thinks.
And what he has said is plain enough. Homosexuality is always seen in a negative light in the Bible. There is no way to get around this, unless you want to find a way to justify your sin and disobedience. Then you will ramble on about how difficult all this is, how there are so many different interpretations, and no one can really know what the Bible teaches on this.
Hogwash! These folks are just seeking to make excuses for their sinful behaviour, and trying to appear all very learned and intellectual about it. Forget the excuses guys, because at this point, unless you repent and let God remake your lives, you are in a real bad place, and will end up in a real bad place.
“Christians are not perfect, just forgiven”
This is another oldie-mouldie. It has been around for ages, and again, it contains some truth. Yes, no Christian this side of heaven achieves complete sinless perfection. And yes, we enjoy the forgiveness we find in Christ when we come to him at the foot of the cross.
But once again this phrase can seek to cover a multitude of sins. I hear it used this way all the time. You seek to point out some very obvious and glaring sin or unbiblical actions and behaviours, and you will get this tossed back at you, as if that settles the matter.
No it doesn’t. It is just another cheap excuse that people who want to continue in their sin think is a neat answer to anyone concerned enough to point out where they are going wrong. If we want to use this at all, we should probably amend it a fair bit.
Michael Bird in his 2009 introductory volume on Paul and his thought suggests this as a much better and more biblical alternative: “Christians are not perfect, but God is at work in them through the vitalizing power of the Holy Spirit to transform these cracked jars of clay into glorious vessels of holiness, righteousness and goodness.” He does admit however that this may not easily fit on a bumper sticker.
“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”
These words of Jesus (from John 8:7), have been abused and misused as much as anything else he ever said. Indeed, it is up there with Matthew 7:1 for being pulled out of context and used so flippantly. Leaving aside for the moment the fact that this particular pericope is not found in the best manuscripts, several things can be said about this.
First, the Scribes and the Pharisees were seeking to set a nifty little trap for Jesus, since in Roman-occupied lands only the Romans could carry out capital punishment. So they were trying to see if Jesus would side with Jewish law on this, or with Roman law.
He sided with Moses. He agreed that she was guilty according to the Mosaic law, but he knew that a bigger issue was at stake here. As R. C. Sproul explains:
He was not destroying the whole judicial system of the law of God. He was speaking to people who were hypocritically bloodthirsty in their desire to shame and punish a person who had fallen. In other words, they had no concept of the grace of God. It is not wrong to punish criminals for their crimes. But it is wrong to convene a kangaroo court, drag a person before such a court, and add insult to her injury. So I believe Jesus was dealing with the manifest hypocrisy of these who were judging this woman.
“There but for the grace of God go I”
This has been around for ages of course, and once again contains some truth. We ALL would be toast if it were not for the grace of God. Of course – how could it be otherwise? We all need the amazing grace of God daily – even moment by moment.
So in one sense this is true. And I suppose that if I were in the very same circumstances as some serial killer or serial rapist, I might have gone down a similar path. But this is giving too much credit to a bad environment or a lousy upbringing. One does not have to go bad if it seems everything is going against you.
Plenty of people have managed to do the right thing and become terrific role models for others, even though raised in very hard and difficult circumstances. Think of neurosurgeon Ben Carson as just one example. And we even have cases of twins with the same upbringing and even the same DNA turning out quite differently.
So yes, we do not want to minimise sin, nor forget how easily all of us could go down some very dark paths. But we are also able to make choices, and head down good paths. Sure, it is God’s grace that helps us to do this, but it is his grace working in cooperation with our choices. We can, with God’s help, choose to say no to sin and self and say yes to God and the good.
A necessary afterword
Am I saying there is no place for grace or patience or forbearance and the like as we deal with others and their sin? Of course not. Yes we all do sin, and so we all must be humble and cautious here. While we seek to warn or reprove a brother or sister, it is possible we can fall into the same or similar sins.
Some of this has to do with the issue of church discipline: reproving and seeking to correct and restore a fallen or wayward believer. And Paul offers us wise words on how we are to go about this: “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted” (Galatian 6:1).
So we must walk humbly before our God, knowing that we all have areas in our lives that need improvement, with various sins and shortcomings still needing to be dealt with. But the fact that no one is perfect or complete in this life does NOT mean we can never hold each other to account, never point out obvious sin, and never seek to maintain a very high standard of righteousness and holiness for our self and others.
Again, the aim of all such rebuke, reproof, and warning is the restoration of the wayward. As Paul said in 2 Timothy 2:25-26: “Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.”