As it is written, “There is no one who is righteous, not even one…” (Romans 3:10)
A recent study published by New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene shows that 1 million adult New York City residents are obese (that’s about one of every five). Yet only 39 percent of this group would describe themselves as “very overweight.” A full two-thirds refuse to believe or admit that they are obese! What does this tell us about Americans (besides the fact that we need to lay off the cheeseburgers and fries)? We have a weight problem, yes, but even more disturbingly, we have a reality problem.
This study reveals what we already instinctively know, that the easiest way of dealing with a weight problem is to deny or excuse it. “Dressing room mirrors always make me look bad,” “The dryer shrank my jeans,” “My pants will fit better after the holidays; it wouldn’t have been polite not to sample everything on the buffet (twice).”
With all sins, not just the sin of gluttony, it’s so much easier to deny the problem or to make excuses than it is to face the reality, to repent, confess, and be restored. In fact, a big “but” is a sure indicator that were not taking our sin seriously: I know I lost my temper, BUT he really provoked me. I may have been unkind, BUT she was the one who started it. I realize I shouldn’t be looking at that stuff on the Internet, BUT I’d never do more than just look. I’m sorry I shoplifted a candy bar, BUT the store will never miss it. I shouldn’t have cheated on my taxes, BUT the government just wastes taxpayers’ money anyway.
As soon as we utter that word “but,” we are attempting to deny the reality of our sin and pass the blame to someone else. It may seem ridiculous to us that a 400-pound person could look in the mirror and deny having a weight problem, but that’s essentially what we do on a daily basis when we excuse ourselves in this way. We refuse to acknowledge the reality of our sin even when we are staring right at it. Reality check: “Do not bring your servant into judgment, for no one living is righteous before you” (Psalm 143:2). Even worse, Isaiah tells us that not only those sins we guiltily half-acknowledge and try to excuse, but even our very best efforts at being good are worthless: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away” (Isaiah 64:6).
We don’t take sin seriously enough, don’t realize the spiritual consequences of even those seemingly petty acts that we try to excuse. And as a result, we don’t take the Gospel seriously enough either: if our sins aren’t really that bad, if they can be excused by passing the blame or minimized through self-justification, then we don’t realize just how badly we need our Savior, and we don’t learn to throw ourselves daily on His mercy. We need to learn to confess the truth: I am not a reasonably decent person who sometimes errs; rather, I am a wretched sinner whose every thought, word and deed is steeped in sin. Let us be done with excuses; let the words we confess with our lips be felt with conviction in our hearts: “Most merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean…” “I, a poor, miserable sinner…a poor sinful being.” Then we may receive with equal conviction our absolution: “Almighty God in his mercy has given his Son to die for you and for his sake forgives you all your sins…”