When the light of God’s moral Law (the Ten Commandments) exposes a sinner’s guilt, he will usually try to justify himself. The feeling of guilt isn’t pleasant, and so he attempts to shake it off by offering excuses.
Think of a child who is stealing cookies from the cookie jar in the darkness of night. When his dad turns on the light, he sees that the boy’s mouth is covered with chocolate, the lid is off the jar, and cookies are gone. The child is exposed and has two avenues: he will either admit his guilt, or he will attempt to justify himself.
We are all guilty of violating God’s Law (see Romans 3:23). We’ve been caught with our hand in the cookie jar, and therefore have two avenues: we can either try to cover our sins, or we can confess them. But here is the warning:
He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy (Proverbs 28:13)
The light of the Law awakens another light — the sinner’s dormant conscience:
They show that the essential requirements of the Law are written in their hearts; and their conscience [their sense of right and wrong, their moral choices] bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or perhaps defending them... (Romans 2:15, AMP)
In other words, the conscience bears witness to the Law. It is a witness for the prosecution, and it will fight for the case of his guilt.
After the apostle Paul explains this relationship of the Law and the conscience, he shows how to use the Law to bring the knowledge of sin:
You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? You who say, “Do not commit adultery,” do you commit adultery? (Romans 2:21,22)
You’ve just asked a sinner similar questions and he’s admitted that he’s a liar, a thief, a blasphemer, and an adulterer at heart. The light is on. His hand is clearly in the cookie jar. His conscience therefore begins to do its duty, and as it accuses him, he will predictably try to justify himself.
Here are some simple responses to the top ten excuses guilty sinners use to try to justify themselves:
1. “They were just small lies — white lies. Nothing serious.”
Sin is so serious to God, it demands the death sentence (we will all eventually die —Romans 6:23). The Bible says, “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord” (Proverbs 12:22).
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2. “Everyone lies.”
We won’t be giving an account for everyone on Judgment Day — everyone will give an account of himself to God. If you are stopped for speeding on the freeway by a police officer, it won’t do any good to say that everybody speeds. The Law will hold you personally accountable for your crimes. What others do is irrelevant to your case.
3. “That was in the past.”
Everything is in the past. Even this sentence is in the past. Telling a judge that you robbed the bank but that was “in the past,” thinking that he will let you go because it was in the past, is ridiculous.
4. “I do good things.”
A criminal may tell a judge that he does good deeds, but they are irrelevant to his case. Criminal law judges only according to the crime, not your good deeds. God will judge you according to your crimes, and the crimes only.
5. “My God is loving and kind.”
It’s called “idolatry” when we make up a god to suit ourselves. The God you have to face is loving and kind, but He is also just and holy and will by no means clear the guilty (see Exodus 34:7).
6. “I don’t believe in God.”
That doesn’t matter. You still have to face Him on Judgment Day whether you believe in Him or not.
7. “God committed genocide when He drowned millions in the flood.”
You are a self-admitted lying thief, a blasphemer, and an adulterer at heart. You are in no place to accuse God of being evil.
8. “I don’t believe in the Ten Commandments.”
Ignorance of the Law is no excuse. God wrote the Commandments on your heart via your conscience. On Judgment Day you will be without excuse.
9. “I don’t care if I go to Hell.”
Do you enjoy pain? Two seconds in Hell would be terrifying. You don’t want to find yourself there, with no way out.
10. “I don’t believe in Hell.”
If a criminal has been condemned to death and he says that he doesn’t believe in the death sentence, his unbelief doesn’t change reality. God will have His Day of Justice.
Always keep in mind that you’re not out to win an argument. You simply want him to see his terrible danger so that he will find mercy in Christ. What you are doing is dashing his false hope. You are putting him up the river Niagara without a paddle. This is in the hope that he will reach out to the only rope being thrown from the shore.
The Law makes the gospel make sense. It prepares the way for grace. Charles Spurgeon said, “You cannot draw the silken thread of the gospel through a man’s heart unless you first send the needle of the Law to make way for it.”