Rationalizing Sin

Written by Drew on August 15th, 2005

A person “rationalizes” sin when he devises superficially rational excuses for his wicked attitudes or beliefs. We live in a nation where people rationalize everything they do. Few ever admit wrongdoing; everybody has an excuse; nobody is wrong.

Of false prophets Jesus said, “Ye shall know them by their fruits” (Mt. 7:16). The same is true of those who rationalize sin. You can identify them by their actions.

In Isaiah 5:18-23 the prophet Isaiah rebukes the nation of Judah for “calling evil good, and good evil.” They were no different than sinners today–rationalizing their sin instead of repenting of it. In this passage the prophet lists the “fruit” that characterizes those who live in this woeful state…

1. They invite sin. “Woe unto them that draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as it were with a cart rope” (v. 18). Unlike the man described by James, who is lured by sin (Jas. 1:14-15), the sinners depicted in Isaiah’s metaphor are the ones doing the luring–they “pull” the burden of sin and guilt after themselves. What a terrible picture of self-inflicted spiritual death!

2. They fake righteousness. It is human nature to soothe ourselves by pretending everything is okay. This is what God’s people were doing in Isaiah’s day: “[They] say, Let him make speed, and hasten his work, that we may see it: and let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw nigh and come, that we may know it!” (v. 19). Amos faced the same problem in his day (5:18). And we’re seeing it as well, as homosexuals profess religion, and adulterers go to worship. Unauthorized innovations in worship and changes in doctrine are used to promote “church growth.” Everywhere we look we find folks who seem to be righteous, but are they doing the will of the Father? (cf. Mt. 7:21).

3. They rename evil. Isaiah cried, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter” (v. 20). As Charles Spurgeon once put it, sinners are fond of giving “pretty names for sin.” Think about it, are we using God’s words or our own when we describe sin?

  • Is it “homosexuality” or an “alternative lifestyle?” (cf. Lev. 18:22; Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-10)
  • Is it “drunkenness” or “social drinking?” (cf. Prov. 20:1; 23:29-35)
  • Is it “murder” or “pro-choice?” (cf. Ps. 139:13-16; Prov. 6:16-19)
  • Is it “atheism” or “evolution?” (cf. Ps. 14:1)
  • Is it “racism” or “cultural differences?” (cf. Gal. 3:28; Eph. 2:14)
  • Is it “lasciviousness” or “the Prom?” (cf. Gal. 5:19; 2 Tim. 2:22)
  • Is it “profanity” or “colorful language?” (cf. Eph. 4:29; 5:4)
  • Is it “lying” or “stretching the truth?” (cf. Rev. 21:8)
  • Is it “gossip” or “sharing information out of concern?” (cf. Prov. 10:18; 17:4; 20:19)
  • Is it “hate” or “keeping my distance?” (cf. Titus 3:3; 1 Jn. 4:7-8)
  • Is it being “negative” or “realistic?” (cf. Phil. 4:8)
  • Is it “forsaking the assembly” or “being out of pocket?” (cf. Heb. 10:25)
  • Is it “false doctrine” or “progressive?” (cf. Gal. 1:6-10; 2 Tim. 4:2-4)

When a person gets in the habit of renaming sin instead of repenting of it, he becomes a lost cause. A great portion of Isaiah’s contemporaries were without hope (Isa. 22:14); sadly, others in our time have worked themselves into the same condition (Heb. 6:4-6).

4. They exalt self. Isaiah suggests at least one possibility as to why a person would want to rationalize his sin: pride. “Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!” (v. 21).

Pride is dangerous because it is a “root sin.” If it is not kept in check, it will lead to other, more heinous sins. C.S. Lewis wrote, “Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind” (Mere Christianity, p. 109). No wonder the wise man said, “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18).

Isaiah’s observations are undeniable. Where you find this fruit, you find a sinner who rationalizes his wicked deeds and attitudes. As long as he makes excuses for his sin, he will not repent. And without repentance, he will eventually die! (Lk. 13:3). Let’s fight, as Isaiah did, to persuade the wicked to stop making excuses and save their souls!


1 Comments so far ↓

  1. Andy says:

    Though I appreciate your comments on sin, you have not made it UGLY enough. Your attempt has been good, and, for their own good, people must come to realize just how terrible such activities as those you described are to a holy God. Is there not some way we can make unrighteous practices truly disdainful to us? The ugliness of sin is seen in the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament and, certainly, in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. The blood and gore showed people what God thinks of their sins. How can we show that ugliness to our people of today?

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