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Mistake? Or Sin?

June 22, 2012 — Leave a comment

I’ve heard a lot of discussion these past few days about sin, shame, forgiveness, repentence, grace. I’m all about the grace. I write about it a lot because I’ve experienced it a lot.

I often reference my past, and hint that I was not a model citizen, and joke around and say things like, “I can’t tell you everything due to various local statutes, etc.” I know the statute of limitations has run out on various activities/atrocities I perpetrated as a youth, but if I were to begin a list of the horrible things I did, I wonder just how far grace would be extended?

I know God has forgiven me. That is a fact. I no longer live in regret, and where applicable, I have made amends. But there are some people I have hurt that I don’t even know who they are, how to get ahold of them – my change of heart and mind came many years after the fact, and in many instance, I literally do not know who or even where they are. I can’t make right what I did in those circumstances.

Am I guilty? You bet. For all of it. Were my actions mistakes? No!

A mistake is when I am at work documenting a file and I hit save and then realize I was in the wrong file. A mistake is when I think it’s 35 MPH in my neighborhood but according to the nice officer it’s actually 30. A mistake is forgetting to set my alarm clock back to 6:30 am after a week of vacation.

A sin is something you do knowingly, blatantly, often times hiddenly. Sin is always on purpose, which is why there’s such as thing as grace to begin with.

Remember when God asked Adam, “What have you done?” He’d already sinned – the first sin ever – and he followed it up with the second – blame. It fell to Eve, and she committed the third sin ever which was blame as well. In fact, how it went down was like this, “It’s just some fruit. Maybe God was wrong. Maybe he won’t notice just one piece missing.” Then Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed God.

God gave us power of choice. I learned that a long time ago, but it was recently reinforced by pastor Alan Smith in his brilliant post which you can read here. I said it once already, and I’ll say it again – this post on blame is the most important thing I’ve ever read. You would be doing yourself a huge favor to read it now.

My choice is either to do the right thing and be rewarded, or do the wrong thing and suffer consequences. Sometimes the reward is just a warm fuzzy feeling. Sometimes the consequence is a kick to the conscience and an “I’m sorry.”

I have done some things, and I have had to give way more than an “I’m sorry.” My sins have cost me money, time, reputation. I completely lost my ability to be a witness in an entire geographical region. I’ve tried to go back several times, but it’s just not the same, and may never be.

So – is it sin or is it a mistake? Well, is someone else hurt over it, or do you just need some whiteout?

Another brilliant article, this time by Michael Hyatt, gives some insight. He writes, “The term ‘mistake’ implies…something done unintentionally. Unlike a mistake, we choose to sin. Therefore, we must accept responsibility for it—and the consequences that follow.”

He goes on to suggest five actions when you have sinned:

  • Choose your words carefully – Agree with God that your actions were sinful.
  • Take responsibility – There is no excuse. If you’ve sinned, you need to own it.
  • Acknowledge guilt – Don’t make excuses.
  • Change your behavior – True repentance = true change.
  • Ask for forgiveness – I would change that to say you’re sorry. Asking forgiveness puts burden on the ones you have sinned against. They don’t owe you anything, you owe them. A little lesson I learned from Freedom Ministry at Gateway Church.

I’ve sinned horribly. I have hurt and offended many people. I am guilty. Do I deserve a second chance? No – but I got one anyway. And a third, and fourth, and fifth.

There are do overs. Unlimited chances. When people give up, turn their backs on you, when you are all alone in this world, there’s always going to be God. He’ll never quit on you, he’ll never condemn you, he’ll always be there to clean up the mess you’ve made of your life. Nothing you do will ever be too horrible to make him love you less. There is hope, and there is grace.

It was springtime, 1984. I was 18, my nephew John was a few years younger. We were mowing one Saturday, and had come to a patch of ground that was guarded by a pretty mean bumblebee. He was a kamikaze – every time we’d get near, he would dive-bomb us. We were both scared to death, and my dad was yelling at us to just get in there and get it done.

I would grab the mower, rush in, cut a small section, then run away, then John would do the same. It was going to take hours though, and we were all getting frustrated. The very last time I ran from the bee, I saw an acorn on the ground, scooped it up, jumped and twisted in mid-air, and threw the acorn as hard as I could. And it knocked that bee right out of the sky.

John said, “That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.” How right you were, John. And it’s in the top 5 coolest things I’ve ever done.

As Christians, we hear a lot about “hitting the mark.” We’ve been taught that sin is missing the mark, so we struggle and strive to hit it – whatever “it” is. Sometimes, the result of this is a theology based on performance – “I must do XYZ or God will not love or accept me.”

What I have learned is, there is nothing farther from the truth. God IS love! He already loves you, and since he is God, he could never love you any less because of any bad thing you have done, and he can’t love you any more because of any good thing you have done.

We have heard that sin is missing the mark, but what if our definition of sin is wrong? What if sin is not something we do or don’t do? What if the things we do are just the outward signs of sin? What if sin is actually a condition – the condition of being separated from God?

Definitions are important, or so I have learned, from a pastor at my church. His name is Bob Hamp, and his book Think Differently, Live Differently: Keys To A Life Of Freedom has helped me redefine a lot of things in my life. Starting with sin.

The metaphor of hitting the bee with an acorn is appropriate when discussing trying to hit the mark. I really did hit the bee. How unlikely was it that I would, though? I hit an acorn size flying insect with an actual acorn. It’s a once in a lifetime kind of deal. I couldn’t have done it on purpose, and I think the purpose of that happening is so I can share these things with you now.

We can’t hit the mark. Most of us will spend a lifetime trying, a lifetime striving, a lifetime feeling guilty when all God wants is for us to be free. We can’t wake up one day and decide we will stop drinking or cursing or lusting or whatever symptom of sin we are struggling with. We can’t exchange one set of behaviors for another and declare we are free. We can’t change ourselves. Only God can help us to think and live differently.

In Bob’s book, he tells the story of the creation and fall of mankind. Adam and Eve had a choice – life or knowledge – they chose knowledge and we have been trying to gain life on our own ever since by trading the knowedge of evil for the knowlegde of good. In other words, we make resolutions, we go to 12 step programs, we read self help books, we wear a nicotine patch, we improve ourselves by learning and even doing good things. But trading one type of knowledge for another doesn’t really change anything, when you consider eternity.

The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is all one tree, and it’s still not life. God offers life to us, and we choose to do good things and call it even, while on the inside we are killing ourselves trying to do what we think is right.

When we choose life, everything changes. It’s like a blind person seeing for the first time, a deaf person hearing for the first time. We don’t have to have intentions anymore, we don’t have to struggle to gain God’s love and acceptance anymore, we don’t have to worry about whether or not he loves us. He does! We don’t have to worry about our lives making a difference or being important – they will, and we are!

We can be transformed by the renewing of our minds. This is what repentance is. Another definition – I was taught that repentance is me choosing to turn the other way, away from my sin toward God. This goes back to making it about me and my performance. No – repentance is me doing the only thing I can do that is right – submitting my will to God. When I give my soul to him, he changes my mind, and he frees me from the trap of being me.

What is the Spirit saying to you right now? Have you been laboring under a false definition of sin, of repentance? Let God renew your mind, let him show you a new way of thinking – not thinking different, but thinking differently. You have nothing to lose, everything to gain and all you have to do is one thing – the only thing you can do - release control of your will and give it to God.