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.
- 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!