Romans 7: “What Mistakes and Armpits Have In Common”

What Mistakes and Armpits Have In Common

One of the things I hate most about myself is when I mess up. Now that can sound incredibly confessional, which it is, but it’s also very true…unfortunately. All my life growing up I have been prone to try, try, and try again, only to fail. Have you ever been there? Although I wouldn’t go to the extent of Samuel Johnson that, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” I can sure tell you that there have been many times in my life that the road to failure is paved with good intentions. So you may be asking, what did you do about it? Well… I grew up. It may have started in college and actually “took” during my first pastoral assignment, but I reached the place where I stopped making excuses for my own mistakes and started accepting responsibility.

Have you heard the saying, “Excuses are like armpits, everyone has two and they stink?” Well, It’s true! I used to have an excuse for everything: my alarm was turned down, my car needed gas, you didn’t tell me what time it started, I didn’t realize the book was bound incorrectly and there was a repeat of the same chapter… wait, that really happened, that wasn’t an excuse, but I should have realized it sooner than two days before the biggest paper of my college career was due!

Paul’s Armpits

Now, we would be quick to think that Paul’s just making excuses, which in a way he is, but he’s doing more than that in this section of scripture. You see, what Paul is really doing is accepting responsibility. He’s understanding that there is something at war with his decisions, something keeps fighting against his best intentions. I love how the Message reads…

Romans 7:17-24 (MSG) 17-20 But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help!

I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

21-23 It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

24 I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?

He CAN and He DOES

Scholars have long debated if Paul was writing first hand or metaphorically, but in my opinion it doesn’t matter because it all sounds too true! Again, I can only speak for myself but I too at one point or another have cried out, “Is there no one who can do anything for me?”

25 The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.


Sin has disoriented things but Jesus’ actions set things right! And because of Jesus’ actions we can be set free from the power of sin. We don’t need to make excuses anymore, instead we can accept responsibility and confess.

1 John 1:9 (NIV) But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins (Salvation) and to cleanse us from all wickedness (Sanctification).



Acts 26: “Excuses, Excuses”

You know what they say, “Excuses are like arm-pits ‘everybody’s got a couple – and most of them stink.'” Growing up I had an excuse for everything! I even got to the point in my life that I was starting to get annoyed with my own excuses. You know; things like:

  • A messy desk means I’m creative.
  • I sleep in because doctors say you need eight hours of sleep!
  • I can spend all my money because I earned it.
  • I don’t need to go to church, I go to chapel twice a week!

Life is filled with excuses, some good, some mostly bad, but at some point in time the excuses will run out.

Matthew 7:21-23 (NLT) 21 “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. 22 On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ 23 But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’

In my opinion this passage of scripture is one of the scariest in all the Bible. I tend to be a person that would rather grace someone to the kingdom, verses guilt, but this passage does something different than guilt. This passage exposes one of the possible many excuses people will use on judgement day. Again, not to be an alarmist (okay, maybe I am an alarmist), but the reality is… there will be a judgement day.

The Festus Excuse

Like I said yesterday in my reflection, Acts 25-26 should ultimately be read together, so in order to get a clearer look at the Festus Excuse, I need to cheat and go back to Acts 25:

Acts 25:17-21 (NLT)

“…and a dead man named Jesus…” When reading this section I literally had to stop and remind myself that many people in the Roman world wouldn’t have believed what Paul told them about Jesus’ resurrection. Fast forward to Festus’ outburst during the trial:

Acts 26:24 (NLT)  24 Suddenly, Festus shouted, “Paul, you are insane. Too much study has made you crazy!”

Festus heard enough! I can only imagine him sitting this whole time looking around with an expression of, “are you believing this?” on his face.

In many ways, Festus didn’t have time to look into the claims of Paul for himself; hence the necessity to call in King Agrippa, the so called expert on everything Jewish. Like I read in a commentary, “Festus is typical of many today-inteligent, logical, practical, and cynical (Life Application Commentary, pg. 428).”

Paul’s Response

Acts 26:25-27 (NLT)

It’s impressive to recognize again that Paul kept his head in all situations. His response is not directed back at Festus, but instead Paul address King Agrippa directly and challenges him to take a stand, one way or another. Paul knew that if Agrippa didn’t believe the prophets he would lose credibility with the Jews; but if Agrippa said he did believe, then Paul, being an outstanding defender of faith (Greek: apologeomai or Apologist) would lead Agrippa to believe the claims about Jesus. But Agrippa says, not so fast.

Final Thoughts

Acts 26:28-29 (NLT) 28 Agrippa interrupted him. “Do you think you can persuade me to become a Christian so quickly?” 29 Paul replied, “Whether quickly or not, I pray to God that both you and everyone here in this audience might become the same as I am, except for these chains.”

Understand the room to be filled with excuse that day, Paul lands the plane on a single and profound thought. Basically, Paul says, Listen, whether I can convince you to be a Christian or not is irrelevant, what doesn’t change is my hope that you, and everyone else in here would understand the significance of Jesus death and resurrection.

And this too should be our response to the excuses of the world around us. No matter if you do; or if you don’t, I hope you will.