Summary: When it comes to sin, we are all without excuse.
“Between the Lines: May I Be Excused?”
Magic Johnson. Pete Rose. Jesse James (the actor, not the cowboy). Arnold Schwarzenegger. Michael Vick. Richard Nixon. Bill Clinton. Mary Kay Letourneau. Debra LaFave. Saddam Hussein. Osama Bin Laden. Jim Tressel. These people all have something in common. Do you know what it is? They each knowingly stepped over the established boundaries; they went outside the accepted lines. Eventually they faced consequences and paid or are paying for their actions. They were not excused. How could they have been so stupid as to think they would not get caught or suffer any consequences? After all, the apostle Paul wrote “…men are without excuse.” I mean, talk about dumb. But then Paul also wrote, “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else…” Ouch! May I be excused?
Paul addresses THE PRESUMPTION IN OUR MINDS. After introducing the theme of righteousness, of being in right relationship with God, Paul points out that our danger is that WE TEND TO PRESUME UPON GOD’S PROTECTION AND FAVOR. Because we are loved and chosen by God we believe we can get away with crossing over the lines and ignoring the boundaries established by God. After all, God is loving and forgiving, and if I’m one of His special children, then He will go easy on me. It only makes sense. That’s what His favor is all about.
But Paul emphatically disagrees. Verse 20: “…men are without excuse.” WE ARE WITHOUT EXCUSE. Not some but all are without excuse. It sounds like a harsh, unfair judgment. But Paul lays out his case in the verses that follow. He gives at least two reasons that no one has any excuses.
First, GOD HAS MADE HIMSELF KNOWN. (19-20) “…what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen…” The creation reveals God. If you visited the home of Venus or Serena Williams, you would more than likely see enough trophies and other paraphernalia that you would know they were good at playing tennis. You couldn’t visit there without drawing that conclusion. Who they are is reflected in their surroundings. So it is with God – He is reflected in His world; it points to Him clearly enough that everyone can know that this world – and we – exist by a will other than ours and are sustained by a power far superior to ours. That’s enough to teach us that there are laws at work in the world which are for our health. There are some established boundary lines by which people are to live. So we are without excuse. We cannot say “Oh, I didn’t know there was a God.”
Second, although we know better, WE IGNORE GOD. (21) “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” We ignore the signs and the evidence. Suppose I jump into Lake Michigan off one of South Haven’s piers. A policeman sees me and tickets me. I appear before the judge and tell him I was not aware it was illegal to do so. He is not swayed because, he tells me sternly, there are signs posted that state the law. I respond that I didn’t see the signs. What do you think he will say? “Oh – well that’s different. Give me your ticket. I’ll tear it up.” I doubt it. More than likely he would say, “That’s no excuse. The signs were there, the boundaries were clear. You’re not excused.”
Paul continues (22-23) “Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.” Suppose I say to the judge, “I saw some signs but I know how to swim so I knew they didn’t apply to me.” Do you think that will fly? No. He would respond, “The law and I show no favoritism. The law is all inclusive. You are not excused.” Does that shoe fit you? We know we should love our enemies, but we don’t. We know we should turn the other cheek, but we don’t. We know that we should be patient and understanding with our children and spouses, but we aren’t. We know that we should love our neighbors as ourselves, but we don’t. We know that we should have no other gods before Jehovah God, but we do. We know there are sexual boundaries established by God, but we cross them. We ignore God. We are without excuse.
So WE ARE SUBJECT TO THE WRATH OF GOD. How much time do you spend thinking about God’s wrath? We much prefer to dwell on His love and forgiveness. But if God truly loves us, He will show wrath against those people and things that are cruel and unjust, those people and things that bring harm to us. God is rightfully angry at any evil that hurts and ruins His children. It’s not that God gets angry because He doesn’t get his way – He gets angry because disobedience – crossing over the boundary lines – always results in self-destruction. As Max Lucado wrote, “What kind of father sits by and watches his child hurt himself? ...The question is not, ‘How dare a loving God be angry?’ but rather, ‘How could a loving God feel anything less?’” We cannot presume upon God’s favor. We are not excused. We are subject to the wrath of God.