Forgiving vs. Excusing

I think there is a grave problem rampant among Christians today, and I don't think that most of us even realize it. I know for a fact that I have been guilty of this problem, and it has only recently come to my attention.

To what am I referring? I am referring to the fact we are often looking for God to excuse our sin rather than forgive it. Think back to your recent times of confession. You might have said the "right words" but what was the motive of your heart? When you confessed your sins to God, did you also mention several reasons as to why it happened? 

"God, I'm sorry I lusted after that woman jogging, but I just couldn't help it. She ran right in front of me!"
 "God, I'm sorry that I blew up at my co-worker. He just made me so mad. I can't take his crap anymore!" 

Are you beginning to see what I mean? Listen to what C.S. Lewis has to say about this.

I find that when I think I am asking God to forgive me I am often in reality (unless I watch myself quite carefully) asking Him to do something quite different. I am asking Him not to forgive me but to excuse me. But there is all the difference in the world between forgiving and excusing. Forgiveness says 'Yes, you have done this thing, but I accept your apology, I will never hold it against you and everything between us two will be exactly as it was before.' But excusing says 'I see that you couldn't help it or didn't mean it, you weren't really to blame.' If one was not really to blame then there is nothing to forgive…

If you had a perfect excuse you would not need forgiveness: if the whole of your action needs forgiveness then there was no excuse for it. But the trouble is that what we call 'asking God's forgiveness' very often really consists in asking God to accept our excuses. What leads us into this mistake is the fact that there usually is some amount of excuse, some 'extenuating circumstances'. We are so very anxious to point these out to God (and to ourselves) that we are apt to forget the really important thing; that is, the bit left over, the bit which the excuses don't cover, the bit which is inexcusable but not, thank God, unforgivable. And if we forget this we shall go away imagining that we have repented and been forgiven when all that has really happened is that we have satisfied ourselves with our own excuses. 

The next time you go to God in confession, I pray that you will be mindful of what you are doing. Are you seeking forgiveness or are you merely seeking to satisfy yourself with your own excuses?

  • Tasha Via

    Jonathan, that’s a great post. I’d never thought of it that way…