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Sunday
May112014

Is It Merely A Mistake, Or Is It Actually A Sin?

What’s the difference between making a mistake and committing a sin?

Recently I became aware of some teaching which was suggesting that some things are mistakes we can learn from but that don’t necessarily need confession or repentance; whereas other behaviors, attitudes or thoughts are sinful and need to be confessed, repented of and followed up with reconciliation and restoration, where called for. Yes I made some mistakes, but they were not really sinful, so I don't need to confess or repent.

Quite frankly, I was disturbed by what I was hearing.

Let’s dive deeper into the distinction between mistakes and sins, which has huge ramifications for life and ministry.

When you make a mistake, you learn from it.
When you sin, you repent of it. 

It seems critically important in my way of thinking to learn to discern the difference—both in my life and in my service for the King.

In my book, “Mistakes Leaders Make,” I make this comment in the introduction: “As leaders, we all make mistakes—it’s part of being human. Some mistakes are innocent and are no big deal. Others are serious and are a big deal. In this book we’ll deal with the “big deal” kind.”

In retrospect, I should have said in the book that the “big deal” kinds of mistakes are actually sin which necessitate confession and repentance.  On pages 12, 13 in “Mistakes Leaders Make” I compared the leadership of King Saul with that of King David and said this: “Now, King David was by no means perfect and sin free. The big difference was that David owned his sin (Psalm 32 and 51), and Saul did not.”

In Acts 13:22 David is referred to as a man after God’s own heart. Saul took his own life.

Following is a list of things I concluded about Saul from I Samuel 13-15 (listed on page 12, 13 in “Mistakes leaders Make:”

  • Insecurity leads to motivation by fear of failure.
  • Circumstances, not God’s desires, control Saul’s choices.
  • Rationalization, not repentance, follows his sin.
  • He loses the favor and respect of his son, Jonathan.
  • He loses favor with God.
  • He assumes the problem is with others, not himself, and he plays the blame game.
  • He demonstrates inflexibility and won’t admit when he is wrong.
  • He seems to prefer popularity rather than obedience.
  • He is unduly concerned for his honor and image.
  • He refuses to take ownership of his decisions and failings.
  • He feels that religious activity can compensate for partial obedience

Now, here is the key question: How do you know if what you did, are doing or are thinking of doing should be called a mistake or a sin?

Try this on for size:

1.  If your friends call it a sin and you are calling it a mistake, believe your friends.

2.  Anything the Bible clearly warns you about and/or commands you not to do (sin of commission) or, conversely, informs you of something you should be doing (sin of omission), when violated or intentionally ignored, falls into the sin category and needs to be dealt with accordingly.

For example:

  • Stealing
  • Lying
  • Fornicating
  • Losing your temper
  • Displaying greed

For all Christ-followers, Galatians 5:16-21 is a good passage to begin with.

For leaders, I Timothy 3, I Peter 5 and Titus 1 are some applicable passages.

Consider the ludicrousness of these examples:

I made a mistake and slept with someone other than my wife. Really… a mistake?!

I made a mistake and lied on my income tax form. Really… a mistake?!

I made a mistake and took something that wasn’t mine. Really… a mistake?!

I made a mistake, lost my temper and said things I should never have said. Really…a mistake?!

I’d rather be wrong in calling a mistake a sin than be wrong in calling a sin a mistake.

If you’re going to err, err on the side of calling your behavior, thoughts, attitudes sinful; then, confess, repent and be reconciled (if your sin was against another or others.)

Just as I was getting ready to publish this, (Monday morning May 12) I saw this quote from, Donald Sterling the embattled owner of the LA Clippers, who is speaking out for the first time to CNN's Anderson Cooper. "I'm a good member who made a mistake." Interesting!

I am quite sure many of you reading this have some thoughts. Feel free to “have at it” and share your thoughts in the comment section below!

 

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Reader Comments (3)

This was really good, Dave. Thanks for these concrete points.
May 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterWendy
I have another word for mistakes: flaws. Replace mistake with "flaw" & you realize that the problem has less to do with an action & more to do with one's character.

All humans have character flaws save one--Jesus Christ. It is only through the Almighty God-man that we as flawed humans can receive redemption which will lead towards a change in our flawed nature.

Truthfully it's not enough to admit to our flaws (which any depraved entity can do), but rather correct them--the latter which is only possible via the power of God (aka Jesus Christ)
May 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDarnell Clayton
Great stuff! I believe there can be a distinction between the two that is healthy. There are many things that are not sin, just actual mistakes, yet those mistakes HURT people so I have actually sinned by failing to love my neighbor as myself. Intention often has little to no bearing on sin. I didn't mean to make the mistake, and unintentionally hurt someone. But because I hurt someone I sinned against them by failing to love them as Jesus loved me.

So grace is given to the offender for their failure to love, and grace is given to the offended by asking humbly for forgiveness and seeking to not hurt them again.

My rule of thumb is that if there is hurt or guilt, somewhere there is sin. Intentional or not, it makes no difference. Sin always requires grace, repentance and forgiveness. Defensiveness, equivocation, justifying...those are not characteristics of a repentant heart that understands grace and forgiveness.
May 23, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterdavid

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