How We Rationalize Sin

God designed us to be seekers of good, seekers of glory. Sin distorts and corrupts this seeking, but it does not obliterate or remove it. This is why human beings cannot do an evil act unless we convince ourselves that what we are doing is good. In other words, to be a fallen human is to be a rationalizer of sin. We invent reasons to justify our wantings.

Now God has given us a conscience, which acts as a check on this kind of rationalization. But the conscience can be calloused, suppressed, even seared. This often occurs with the aid of other people. “If everybody’s doing it,” we think, “then it can’t really be evil.” This is one of the reasons why sin seeks partners in crime, why we seek to enlist others to join us in our evil acts.

We make a deceptive agreement with each other in order to suppress our consciences and continue with our desires:

Let’s join one another in sin. It doesn’t even have to be the same sin. You do your sin. I’ll do mine. But neither of us will call it sin. I will not condemn you, if you will not condemn me.

The Devil’s Bargain

I think many Americans have made this devil’s bargain. It’s part of what animates our contemporary notion of tolerance. Our refusal to judge or condemn someone else’s actions is an attempt to protect ourselves from the same judgment. It’s a perversion of “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”

But, as one author notes, in order for this deception to work, there can be no dissent. Everyone must get with the program. Everyone must acknowledge the rationalization. No one must stand out from the crowd.

For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; (1 Pet. 4:3-4)

When You Refuse That Bargain

The need for total societal rationalization accounts for the anger at faithful Christians. We refuse to make the bargain. We won’t join them in the debauchery, and so they malign us. We continue to preach the reality of sin and call for repentance, we seek to live upright and godly lives, and this punctures the fantasy world that they have rationalized into existence.

This explains the peer pressure of a junior high locker room and an workplace lunch room. This is why bakers and florists must be compelled to join celebrations that are an offense to God. Their public refusal threats the societal rationalization. It’s why, no matter how kind and winsome you are, you may lose friendships simply because you seek to follow and obey Jesus. An upright and godly life is a reminder of God’s design and a visceral challenge to our fantasy world. And, most importantly for us this morning, this is why churches that accommodate one sin inevitably begin to accommodate many more. If we begin to slide down the slope of rationalization, we will increasingly pick up speed.

This reminds us of our need to confess our sins, so let’s seek him together now.

Prayer of Confession

Our Father and God, we live in an age of rationalization. Our tolerance is a sham, designed to mask our desire to live as we want to live and do what we want to do, no matter what. It’s why we turn away from video evidence of unfathomable evil, lest in condemning it, we accuse ourselves. We clothe our nakedness and shame with euphemisms and lies, and lash out at anyone who unmasks us for who and what we are. Our culture loves darkness and hates the light, and will not come to the light lest their deeds be exposed. These are great evils.

What’s more, as your covenant people, we also are experts in rationalizing sin. In fact, we use the great evils of the world as a way of minimizing our own sinfulness before you. They are workers of iniquity; we are just dabblers. They plunge headlong into the flood of debauchery; we wade in the shallow end of the cesspool. And we make the same bargain with each other: “I will not confront your neglect of your wife, your manipulation of your husband, your harshness to your children, your envy of your friends, your sexual compromises. I will keep silent, if you will return the favor.” Forgive us for our rationalizations and self-deceit. Love us enough to expose us in our sin that we might repent and be restored. Bless us by turning every one of us from our wickedness. Seek us out, Lord, when we try to walk in the gray twilight, and draw us back into the light of your glory and grace.

We know, Father, that if we in the church regard sin in our own midst or in our own hearts, our prayers will be ineffectual. So we confess our individual sins to you now. . . .