We all know the biblical account. Adam and Eve hear the sound of the Lord walking in the garden, but because they’ve sinned, they decide to hide. God finds them out—naturally! He asks, Did you eat what I told you not to eat?” Adam’s reply? First he explains why, then he admits his disobedience.

Interesting—Adam’s response, that is. If you look at it closely, you’ll notice that he certainly told the truth. He just didn’t directly answer the question that God put to him. He took a round-robin approach. God asked Adam a “what,” but Adam answered with a “why.”

Why did God ask? Didn’t he know Adam had eaten the forbidden fruit? Of course he knew. But in asking, he gave Adam the opportunity to admit his error and repent!

Why then did Adam seek to explain his actions rather than admit his error? Could it be that he hoped to establish his innocence? Perhaps he was saying, “Yes, I did it Lord, but I’m not to blame. She’s to blame. You know, the one that you gave me. Maybe if you hadn’t given her to me…but me? I’m innocent, just a victim of circumstances.”

And so we have an instance of Adam’s not just denying the blame, but reassigning the blame. But is there even more? Do we possibly have one of the very first instances of man’s seeking to justify himself by works rather than by faith? Let’s think about that.

God asked Adam, “Did you?” Adam could have replied, “I did,” knowing that God already knew, and believing in faith that God would forgive him out of mercy because of genuine repentance. Man’s repentance and belief in God’s mercy—those are the prerequisites for justification by faith.

Instead, when God asked Adam, “Did you?” Adam replied with an explanation, a verbal justification for his actions. Rather than trust in God’s mercy, Adam relied upon the merit of his own words. He placed his hope in how well he could reply rather than in how God would respond to a repentant heart.

So what does all this mean to us? Simply this: when God confronts us with our sin—when he asks us a “what”—let’s not respond with a “why.” God already knows why. It’s not as though he lacks any salient information on the matter. By asking, he gives us the opportunity to confess our sin, so that he may “forgive us our sins, and.. cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).

Of course, if we’d rather, we can always answer God’s “what” with a “why.” We do have that option. But if we seek to explain rather than admit, then at least let’s understand that we are merely trying to justify our actions. We’re relying on the words of our mouths rather than the mercy of the Word made flesh; and we all know how far that will get us: “…by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Galatians 2:16).