written by Ethan Lew
One fine Monday morning, I was reading Exodus 32 with a steaming mug of milk tea in one hand when I nearly spat out my tea. “So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.” Did Aaron actually expect Moses to believe this pathetic explanation of how the Israelites succumbed to idol-making?
Moses was only gone for forty days on Mount Sinai to meet with Almighty God, and he came back down to find a pitiful golden calf? This whole scenario was ridiculous. I mean, Aaron essentially said that he threw some earrings into a fire, and out popped this fully-formed shiny cow. I literally laughed out loud. I was in the middle of relating my version of these events to my housemate, when my rant suddenly faltered. A new thought had silenced me.
How do our excuses for sin sound like to God?
We see here that Aaron had convinced himself of these excuses to justify his sins. Here’s the passage from Exodus 32:21-24:
Then Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you, that you have brought such great sin upon them?” Aaron said, “Do not let the anger of my lord burn; you know the people yourself, that they are prone to evil. For they said to me, ‘Make a god for us who will go before us; for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ I said to them, ‘Whoever has any gold, let them tear it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.”
We often joke about how unfaithful the Israelites were to the amazing God that brought them out of Egypt, but we often miss the sad joke of our own negligence to holiness. Let’s hear some of the excuses Aaron cooked up:
People are prone to evil. How many times have you blamed your fallenness or human depravity for your sins? Perhaps you pardon your sins as temporary fleshly lusts.
Moses is missing. Have you ever blamed someone’s absence or even someone’s presence for your sin? Maybe your accountability partner went home for the weekend or some challenging person entered your life.
So I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf. Okay.
The point is that we’ve all come up with somewhat reasonable excuses, and some crazy ones too! But to God, none of them are adequate to justify our disobedience. We see the consequence for the Israelites’ sin when they complained: death. And for idolatry: death. From small to great, the wages of sin has been the death penalty.
Moses, a remarkable man with an intimate knowledge of God, tried to take the punishment for the Israelites later in the chapter. Moses loved his people. Moses asked God if he could die instead of the idolaters – as a substitutionary atonement. However, even Moses could not satisfy God’s wrath. The Lord smote those that had worshipped the golden calf. Sin is inexcusable.
So how do we stop making excuses?
While the death of Moses could not satisfy the wrath of God, Jesus’ death did. Acts 4:12 says, “There is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” Jesus was the only one that could ever atone for our sins.
That’s why Paul recognized the surpassing value of knowing Jesus Christ. This is his call for holiness. Philippians 3:12-14 says, “Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
ONE THING I DO. This is what Paul’s life boiled down to: a pursuit of Christ-likeness. He’s not blaming his flesh. He’s not pointing fingers at people. He’s not occupied with excuses, good or bad. Notice that he acknowledged his imperfections first. Paul, even after 30 years of sweat-soaked, back-breaking, death-defying ministry for the gospel, can still see areas for growth.
He’s forgetting what lies behind. That’s making each new day a new fight. It’s not letting your past sins condemn you from God’s grace (“I don’t deserve God’s grace”). It’s not letting your sinful history to cripple your race (“One more sin wouldn’t change anything”). It’s not even letting your accomplishments slow your pace (“Look how mature I am already”). Looking back breeds excuse-making.
He’s reaching forward to what lies ahead. When you stop dragging your eyes behind you and instead fix your eyes on Christ, you will make holiness a priority. Excuses will reveal themselves to be lies. Your priorities will change, such that you will excuse yourself from trivial activities to make time for prayer and God’s word. We stop making excuses by seeing the value of Christ-likeness.
I’m pretty sure the Israelites thought that the golden calf was a good idea at the time. Just like how most of the time, I convince myself my sins are worth it. Often our hidden idols are better disguised – seemingly noble or spiritual. It’s been an aching and convicting process writing this post because I have recognized many excuses in my life. I need to stop, evaluate, and ask for the Lord’s forgiveness and help. Would you do that with me?
Stop making excuses for sin.