Index by Subject

Rationalizing Sinful Behavior

Whatever happened to sin? The belief in sin, and the idea that someone could be referred to as a “sinner,” have all but disappeared from our permissive society. Sinful behavior has been explained away, excused, tolerated, defended, and now accepted by many people. To accommodate this “enlightened” view, the doctrines of sin and Hell have even disappeared from some churches.

The Bible tells us that the proper way for God’s people to deal with their sins and receive forgiveness is to confess these sins, repent, and pray to God for forgiveness (1 John 1:9; Acts 8:22). When confronted with the reality of his sin, king David simply said, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:13). However, when some Christians are confronted with the sin in their life, they become defensive and seek to excuse the behavior that is under question. In this article we will consider some of the more popular methods that men and brethren use to rationalize their sinful behavior, and we will look at what the Bible says about such efforts.

1. Selective Comparisons. When confronted with the reality of their sins, some will admit to their guilt, but seek to excuse it by finding someone worse than themselves to which they can compare themselves. Even some parents will accept sinful behavior in their children on the grounds that they are still better than other children. I once heard a mother excuse her daughter being a waitress at Hooters by saying, “At least she isn’t pole dancing at a night club.” Maybe some higher standards shown by this woman might have encouraged her daughter to choose a better place of employment.

We can always find someone worse than ourselves to compare ourselves to in an effort to make ourselves look better. However, we would be better off comparing ourselves to God’s standard. According to God, “There is none righteous, no, not one… For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:10, 23). This is not to say that there are not any good people in this world, but from God’s point of view every one of us has sin in our lives.

2. Ignoring Standards of Right and Wrong. The easiest way for one to pronounce himself “innocent” is to ignore or dismiss the law that finds him guilty. If there are no absolutes, no defined lines establishing and separating right and wrong, then the only judgment that matters is my own. I can only be made to feel guilty if I believe within myself that I have done something wrong.

Since, in this age, everyone supposedly has the right to establish their own standards, then no one has the right to impose those standards upon others. Without standards, my church is as good as your church, my baptism is as valid as your baptism, my definition of marriage is as valid as your definition of marriage, etc. We have even seen this defense mechanism used in the Lord’s church. When questioned about one’s immodest dress or speech, one’s involvement in activities such as dancing or mixed swimming, the reply we often hear is “That’s your interpretation,” or “We see those things differently in our home.”

While this is a popular way of thinking, the Bible (as well as common sense) teaches us that such results in chaos (Judges 21:25). An established moral standard is needed, and one does exist. “You have commanded us to keep Your precepts diligently. Oh, that my ways were directed to keep Your statutes! Then I would not be ashamed, when I look into all Your commandments” (Psalm 119:4-6). This standard can be understood by everyone, and God expects us to abide by it.

3. Appealing to the Past. When questioned about one’s beliefs and practices, some will reply, “This is the way we have always done it,” or, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” or, “Old habits are hard to break.” Some people excuse and adhere to old stereotypes, prejudices, opinions, beliefs, and practices regardless of the fact that they have learned better. Some authorize their participation in sinful activities on the grounds that their family has always been doing these things. Some treat their children’s involvement in things like cheerleading or the Prom as a “rite of passage” to be experienced by every generation.

When we learn that we are wrong we need to repent and do what is right. Upon hearing the gospel, the Thessalonians “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thessalonians 1:9). Paul complimented the Romans when he said, “But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:17-18). When Paul was preaching in Ephesus, “many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds. Also, many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled fifty thousand pieces of silver” (Acts 19:18-19).

4. Moderation. Some people will rationalize their involvement in sinful behavior by claiming that they only enjoy it in moderation. The moderation argument for alcohol has been ridden to death by some brethren, and it has begun to be used for other sins.

“A little bit of sin” may be better than a whole lot of sin, but a little bit of sin is still sin. Where does the Bible say that a little but of fornication, blasphemy, violence, hatred, covetousness, or envy is all right (Eph. 5:3-7)? Not only are we to abstain from every form of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22), but we are also to abstain from every amount of evil.

5. “I Know What is in My Heart.” This response has been used by brethren to defend sin in their own life as well as in the lives of friends and family members. While things may look bad outwardly, they ask that we excuse the appearance of sin because of the goodness that is in their heart or the heart of their loved one.

The reality is that we do not know what is in the heart of another person (1 Corinthians 2:11), or even in our own heart. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings” (Jeremiah 17:9-10). God alone knows the heart and says that He judges according to man’s ways and doings, not according to his good intentions. While we may claim that our heart holds the best of intentions, Jesus says that the sin in our life proceeds from our heart (Mark 7:20-23). The fruit that is seen in our life is the evidence of what truly lies in our heart.

6. “It is Someone Else’s Fault. It seems that every public figure that falls from grace has someone else to blame. The “Blame Game” is a very popular game, but it is not new. It is as old as sin itself. Adam and Eve committed the first sin (Genesis 3). When confronted by God, Adam tried to blame the sin on his wife (v. 12) and Eve tried to blame the sin on the serpent (v. 13). When King Saul failed to obey the Lord’s command, he tried to blame it upon his soldiers (1 Samuel 15:15, 21).

It is true that others can influence us to commit sins (Matthew 18:6-7; Proverbs 13:20), however, God holds each one of us responsible for our own actions. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10). If someone is causing us to sin, we must get away from them. Joseph never said, “Potiphar’s wife made me do it!” (Genesis 39:7-12).

7. “I’m the Victim.” Some people resent the fact that others have “judged” them as having faults and sins that need to be corrected. Regardless of the manner in which they have been approached (lovingly or harshly), they respond by making themselves out to be a victim. In their mind, the other person has “sinned” in that they have pried into their personal life, bringing this matter up, and putting them in the position of defending themselves. This defensive response is often used when Christians are asked about questionable pictures and posts found on social media websites.

The Bible tells us that those who sin are to “be blamed” (Galatians 2:11). Those who have sinned are not the victims of a witch hunt. They are in spiritual danger and need to be confronted and rescued (Jude 22-23).

8. “I’ll Deal With It Later.” Some know that they are not right with God, but they apparently believe that they have all the time in the world in which to make things right. They may argue that God is a patient God, and that they can make it right when they are old and through enjoying life.

God is a patient God, but His patience should motivate us to repent, not to continue in sin. “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4). Man should not toy with God’s goodness and patience, for His patience does know an end.

The reality is that “later” may never come. Paul confronted Felix with his need for forgiveness, but Felix responded, “Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you” (Acts 24:25). As far as we know, that convenient time never came. We may have intentions of making things right with the Lord, but life sometimes takes an unexpected turn. Events can transpire which will dampen our interest in spiritual matters, and, of course, death can occur at any moment. We need to deal with our sins now, while we have opportunity, before our eternal fate is sealed.

Conclusion. The last thing the devil wants us to do is to deal honestly with the sin in our life. As long as we are avoiding our sin (by denying it or attempting to excuse it), we will remain separated from fellowship with God and our souls will be in jeopardy.

No one likes having their sins pointed out. Our pride makes it easy to be tempted to defend ourselves in such situations. However, we must rise above this temptation and always be willing to deal honestly with the sin that is in our life.