Sins vs. Mistakes

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” – Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride

I hear the word “mistake” used a lot these days. Thing is, I don’t think many people are using the word correctly.

Take Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, for example. By now, most people know that Rice knocked his wife out and dragged herray rice from an Atlantic City elevator (Thank you, TMZ.). He would later apologize and call the incident “the biggest mistake of my life,” but I don’t think his wording is quite adequate. I mean, to me a mistake would have been aiming for her stomach and hitting her in the head. Taking a swing, well, that doesn’t accidentally happen.

As far as wording goes, I don’t believe a “mistake” is something that can happen deliberately. For instance, if I decide to drink a bottle of tequila and get drunk, my inebriation is not an accident. It would be poor judgement, but the alcohol wouldn’t have accidentally spilled into my mouth. I would have put it there. In fact, the Bible refers to drunkenness as “debauchery,” which leads into a very uncomfortable three-letter word…

S-i-n.

I have only recently begun to understand what this word actually means. To put it more accurately, I’m gradually realizing what Jesus dying for our sins really entails. For years, this is how I thought forgiveness works: If I commit a sin by mistake (like cutting someone off in traffic accidentally or something), God is cool with that because I didn’t know what I was doing. If I knowingly did something wrong, though, I would suffer dire consequences because God does not take kindly to His rules being broken. Thus, any bad circumstance that occurred in my life must be my fault because I can’t … stop … sinning.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Okay, I like that verse. I always say that the apostle Paul wouldn’t have spent so much time telling all those churches to stop doing bad stuff unless, well, they were doing lots of bad stuff. And these were the Christians he was writing to, not the heathens on the street. It would appear, then, that God stands ready to forgive a Christian if they sin, whether it is on purpose or not.

But…

“No one who is born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he hasbrennan been born of God.” This scripture is not so reassuring. There are countless stories out there of alcoholics who poured all their liquor down the drain the night they got saved, but there are also those stories of people who continued to struggle with addiction for the rest of their lives (Brennan Manning, author of The Ragamuffin Gospel, would be an example of this.). Did the second group not really get saved? If they confessed every time they got drunk, were they still covered? I’ve never been drunk, but I’ve done plenty of other dumb things since becoming a Christian. What does that mean for me?

To be honest, I’m still struggling with the answer to that question. I look at the story of Peter in the Bible, and I see forgiveness written all over it. In fact, Jesus even told Peter how he was going to sin. Peter didn’t accidentally not recognize a photo of Jesus that night; he deliberately and purposefully said to the crowd, “I don’t know the man.” You can’t inadvertently lie and say you don’t know the son of God when, in fact, you do. If Jesus could have mercy on Peter after that, it would stand to reason that deliberate sins could be covered.

Regardless of the answer to this question, though, the key point I’m trying to make is that sins should be owned. They shouldn’t be reclassified as “mistakes” because they’re usually not committed accidentally. And if they aren’t owned and confessed as being deliberate acts – no matter how awful the judgement may be – then they can’t ever be dealt with properly.

john newtonThe mistake would be to think I’m not the kind of person who would do that kind of thing, because I obviously was. We all are, and that’s why we need Jesus so desperately. As John Newton once said:

“I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.”

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