I don’t know about you, but I’m really good at coming up with excuses for my sins and failures. If I impatiently snap at someone it’s either because I’m tired, or the person is annoying. Either way, there’s another reason or excuse as to why I did what I did that has nothing to do with me taking full responsibility for my actions.
As varied as my excuses for my behavior have been over the years, one I’ve used has come to break my heart more than all others. That is the excuse of God’s sovereignty. One reason this breaks my heart so much is that I’ve only now in my relationship with God began to understand how hurtful and offensive to the heart of God this excuse must be. As a person, I’ve used God’s sovereignty as an excuse to justify sin. As a pastor I see others use God’s sovereignty as an excuse to justify sin all the time. None of us mean to do this, but we do.
Here are some things we say when confronted with sin through which this excuse can be employed in our lives:
1. GOD CAN GIVE ME VICTORY IN HIS TIMING
This is something I’ve said in regard to areas of sin in my life which I’m not curbing. I’ve heard others say similar things as well. I can actually remember a young man saying this regarding the issue of pornography and sex addiction in his life. As we were talking about his need for repentance he said, “God is sovereign, and He can give me victory.” I agree, but the tragedy of his statement is that it makes God responsible for his ongoing engagement in sin. In essence, He was blaming God for his sin addiction in the name of honoring and acknowledging the sovereign power of God.
The truth for followers of the biblical Jesus is that victory over the power of sin is not merely a future hope, but a present reality (Romans 6:1-14). Jesus has already conquered Satan, sin, demons, death, and hell for us. He has already promised to give us a doorway out of every moment of temptation (1 Cor. 10:13). And He has been very clear about what His sovereign will is in the area of sexual purity. As Paul notes, “For this is the will of God for you, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the gentiles who do not know God” (1 Thess. 4:3-5). If we know God, we have no excuses when it comes to sexual sin. He has given us the victory, power, escape, and discipleship resources to obey His will. His will is that we would be sexually pure. This means we must stop using His sovereignty as a theological dodge when challenged about our disobedience, and need to take responsibility.
2. GOD WILL HAVE TO CHANGE MY HEART
This is something I’ve heard repeated often while serving as a pastor. The phrase usually comes up when someone is being encouraged to make amends in a personal relationship, submit to authority or a decision leadership as made with which they disagree, or perform a service they find inconvenient or challenging. This statement is born out of a biblical belief in God’s sovereignty and omnipotence (His being all-powerful).
The process in our mind goes like this:
- I’m being asked to do or go along with something I’m not emotionally behind
- God is sovereign and all-powerful and can therefore change my emotions
- If God doesn’t change my emotions, my current reaction to this situation must be ok
- God isn’t changing my emotions, so I’ll persist in my initial and current reaction
When we think, behave, or respond to conviction like this, we are again using God’s sovereignty as an excuse for our sin. In essence, we tell God it is His fault that we are disobedient because He won’t change our emotions (heart). God commands obedience whether we feel like it or not in the moment. And the right emotions often only come after we’ve completed the right actions of obedience. For me personally, if I only obeyed God when I felt like it, I wouldn’t obey God nearly as much as I do now. In the times my heart isn’t in doing what’s right, I seek to do what’s right anyway and trust God with helping mold my emotions in the meantime. But God forbid that I’d use my lack of emotional enthusiasm as a sign that God’s ok with my disobedience, or as an excuse for why I won’t live biblically.
From sexual sin, to daily obedience, to people rejecting or accepting the gospel, not everything that happens is God’s will. When you look at porn, God could kill you to get you to stop. But His will is that you’d stop voluntarily in response to His grace, by His power. If His grace doesn’t motivate you to stop and you don’t, His will has been violated, and you will be held accountable. And so it goes with a thousand other types of practical decisions and situations we face. God’s sovereignty is never an excuse for our sin, so let us never use it as such to conveniently avoid taking responsibility.