Mistakes are common to humanity.
Think of it this way: you get in your car this morning to drive to work. No matter how hard you try, you’re not going to get there perfectly. You may roll through a stop sign, go a mile or two (or more) over the speed limit–or even if your driving is basically perfect, you may be subject to the circumstances of the road, such as a nasty rock or bug that hits your window. All these things are fairly unavoidable, just like “minor sins” are common to our everyday life.
But what about more serious mistakes? What if what is normally just a rolling stop turns into a head-on collision with another vehicle?
Just like a crash has more consequences than a mosquito on your windshield, sometimes the consequences of our sin feels irreparable. Maybe you slept with your co-worker. Or you slept with your married co-worker. You were so hungover on your mom’s birthday you forgot to call her. You looked at Porn again after swearing not to. You overate to bury your emotions. You notice the cashier didn’t ring one of your items up on the receipt but you keep it anyway. You lie about where you were so that you don’t have to answer to an accountability partner. Maybe you hurt somebody. Maybe you physically hurt somebody. We are all guilty, at one time or another, of these sorts of “big sins.” (Remember–I’m mostly referring to the nature of the consequences–at the end of the day, sin is sin is sin!)
Just like driving, these more serious offenses are more rare, just like car crashes are more rare than having a bird poop on your sunroof. But what do we do when these things happen? These are our souls we are talking about, not cars of rubber and metal that can be hoisted into repair shops.
Before I had truly surrendered my life to Christ, I had two reactions to “big sins”: one, I would feel so wretched and so ashamed of myself I would spend hours and hours listening to worship music or doing more “churchy” activities to try and cover up the stench of my mistake. Two–I would tell myself that Jesus is gracious, and forgiving (which He is), pat myself on the back, and carry on with my life as if nothing had happened, sloshing grace on me like it was some cheap perfume. It was as if Jesus’ unconditional love was just an excuse to keep on sinning.
The truth is that real love, and real grace, elicits neither of those responses. Paul says in Romans 6:1,2: “What should we say then? Should we keep on sinning so that God’s grace can increase? Not at all! As far as sin is concerned, we are dead. So how can we keep on sinning?”
You see you don’t stop sinning once you become a “Christian”–you just enjoy it a whole lot less because it’s no longer the true desire of your heart.
But when it does happen, however, what do you do? If you’re like me and your only responses are the two I mentioned earlier, or maybe even “penance” in the Catholic church or something similar, you are probably as confused about it as I was at the beginning of my true walk with Christ.
Here’s six practical things that I’ve learned from dealing with my own “big sins”:
Nothing can separate you from the love of Christ. This is biblical. Even if you just killed someone (which I pray to God you never, ever do), Jesus is right there, present with you, pursuing your heart. Crazy right? Most people in their right minds would abandon someone like that. I know I’ve certainly had moments in which I KNOW I’ve deserved to be abandoned. And you know what? He never has. Start by believing that Jesus is present with you in the pain of your mistake.
Recognize that you’re going to have to go through HIM if you want redemption. I recently listened to a Tim Keller sermon in which he said “many people use morality to avoid Christ.” The more I thought about it, the more true I realized that was. We can’t patch up sin on our own efforts. Nothing you can do, even if you are perfect for the rest of your life, will be enough to justify your mistake. Your only option is the blood of Jesus.
Go to Him honestly. This is a harder one than it sounds. My initial reflex, when I am “repenting” (admitting what you did, to God AND choosing to turn away from it) is to come before the Lord with an “Oh God, have mercy on me, for I am the scum of the earth” approach. The truth is, He’s not looking for a show. He’s just looking for YOU. Admit what you did, and better yet, why you did it. Let Jesus have access to your feelings and frustrations that are fueling the sin. Remember, ultimately He wants to heal your heart, not modify your behavior.
Receive forgiveness from Christ Matthew 21:22 says, “ If you believe, you will receive what you ask for when you pray.” There’s three things that are coming into play in this process: asking, believing, and receiving. Lots of times, we ask Jesus for forgiveness, then walk away before we have believed Him for it or received it from Him. Ask Jesus not only for forgiveness, but for the power to believe that He has forgiven you and then choose to open your heart and fully receive it.
Walk it out in community. Even if it’s just one person, tell someone what you did. When you are loved and accepted by someone else in the middle of your mess, the enemy loses the ground of condemnation against you. Just do it! Click here to read more about why this matters.
Forgive yourself. Listen, the enemy would love nothing more than to have you mope around, hanging your head, and beating yourself up for the rest of your life. Yes, absolutely take time to grieve what you did. Do everything you can to make it right. Repent before the Lord. But once all of that is said and done, you’ve got to let yourself off the hook. If you don’t, you are basically looking at Jesus on the cross and saying “Your punishment was not enough, so I must punish myself some more for this.” That’s not the gospel, that’s not real grace. He really delivers every bit of love and freedom He promises. Set yourself free.