Tuesday, December 27, 2011

It Was Just A Mistake

Todays post may not be applicable to all demographics (yes, the seven of you represent different demographics :), so bear with me if you've "been there, done that, and have the T-Shirt." Refreshers for seasoned veterans are always a boon.

Mom and I watched a string of Hallmark Christmas movies until my schmaltz cup runneth over. In one particular plot, an errant husband, returning home after many years to announce is upcoming Bahama nuptials to his children, suffers a heart-attack. Grounded until his health improves, he lives with his current wife and family during the holidays. You can probably type the rest of the script out yourself, but the thing that leapt out of the TV was his continual reference to his sins as "mistakes." A penchant for stewardesses, not contacting his children for years, and leaving the family in a pool of heartbreak - a "mistake."  Hmmm.

Here is The Oxford dictionary's definitions of a mistake:
  • to be wrong about: she thought he'd mistaken her for Diana
  • accidentally; in error: she'd left her purse at home by mistake
  • an act or judgement that is misguided or wrong: coming here was a mistake 
So, he mistook a stewardess for his wife? Wait, he forgot to go home. No, let's see....he took a wrong turn at the light and left his family by mistake. Now I'm all confused.....

After that night, I thought of all the times that I've heard others (or myself) refer to sin, often grievous ones, as a "mistake."  Interestingly, when we sin it's easier to think of it as a mistake, but when others do so - it's clearly sin. I was reminded of the aftermath of destruction that my kids' dad left behind, all the while claiming he had just made a few mistakes.

Mistakes and sins are not synonymous. The year my son passed, I did my own taxes. I forgot one line item, because I tucked some stub in some box that arrived shortly after, and that error cost me $2,500! I had to make $50/month payments until the fine was paid off. I was living in a fog and should not have attempted to do my own taxes. It was a (HUGE) mistake, but not a sin. The following is Oxford's definition of sin:
  • commit a sin: I sinned and brought shame down on us;Lord, we have sinned against you
  • an immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law: a sin in the eyes of God 
  • an act regarded as a serious or regrettable fault, offense, or omission 
I did not act immorally, lie to anyone, or transgress against God's law.  And, I never did my own taxes again.  I consider $300.00 a bargain to ensure I never have to deal with the IRS ever again. Oy, the stress!

I believed that blogging about the distinction between these words could be helpful, but was confused the next morning when God directed my reading to Jeremiah.  My first thought was, "Really? I was sure I was supposed to write about "mistakes v. sins."  I dutifully read, and when I hit chapter seven, I thought, "Ah, now I get it." In this chapter, Jeremiah is speaking to those of us who attend church to worship the Lord, but because our hearts are hardened to sin, we "are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless" (v.8). Trusting in sanitized preaching that doesn't convict us of sin or encourage repentance - worthless. Moreover, we wrongly feel "safe" by virtue of attending church (v.10), regardless our disobedience and sin.  Hollywood used to poke fun at the Catholics when the story line included mobsters diligently attending mass - but, I think most denominations struggle with deceived members who believe their church attendance, offerings, and works negate the need to repent from sin.

In a past post, I wrote that in serving God we are in a constant state of motion, and Jeremiah 7:24 explains what operates this movement: (We) did not listen or pay attention (to God's commands); instead, (we) followed the stubborn inclinations of (our) evil hearts. (We) went backward and not forward. Thus, obedience in God's commands causes us to move forward. I suggest that rewording our "sins" and referring to them as "mistakes" deceives us of our need to repent, resulting in a backward motion - or backsliding. After all, the word "sin" is so harsh, a little ugly, and kind of embarrassing.

Jeremiah 15:19 quotes the Lord saying, "If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me; if you utter worthy, not worthless, words, you will be my spokesman." Worthless words. Is disobedience a mistake? Can we "accidentally" disobey? Then"I love you, Lord" might be considered a worthless word. WHAT!? "If you love me you will keep my commandments," is a statement that occurs multiple times in the Bible - but if we aren't keeping His commandments, they are worthless words. In Jeremiah 7 we are admonished to change from our sinful ways otherwise we lose out on God's mercy (Proverbs 28:12-14). Solomon warns us of God's consequences when we utter meaningless words and break our vows claiming they were just a mistake (Ecclesiastes 5:4-7).

All of us have sinned (Romans 3:23) and "if we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us" (I John 1:8).  How can God forgive, deliver and cleanse us from sin if we won't confess it as such, but rather a mistake? Concealing sins prevents us from prospering but confession and renouncing them grants us mercy (Proverbs 28:13).

So, let's "confess our sins, (for) he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (I John 1:9). Do you rage at your family, and blame it on a hard day at the office? Sin. Do you secretly purchase items outside your budget, and then lie to your spouse how much you spend? After all, he did just get a pair of new shoes, don't you deserve some, too? Sin. Do you gossip about other families' problems with your friends, so that you can "pray for them?" Sin. Not mistakes, just slithery traps laid by our enemy who wants to separate us from God.

The prescription for Mistakeeitis? I realize that not all churches lend themselves to preaching worthy words, but you can read your Bible daily, pray, and repent when God opens your eyes to a particular sin. I saw on Facebook a blurb about Dr. Grant Horner's Bible Reading Plan. It's a big commitment, 10 chapters a day, and the interweaving strategy claims to offer "broad-scale contextualizing across both testaments," variety and consistent conviction. The following Chart can be tucked in your Bible to make it easier to track your daily reading. That's my plan for 2012. I don't want to be deceived about my words or behavior.  I want a more intimate relationship with the Lord, to commune with Him daily and be FREE from my besetting sins!


  1. My mind keeps returning to this post, so I thought I'd drop by. I've always been intrigued by the idea of trying to find out a good synonym for sin. You're right, "mistake" is not a good synonym.

    I usually balk at the idea that sin is like a tainting substance that seeps in under the doors and over the window sills, infecting pure hearts like a poison... as though it's a sentient mist seeking out new victims to taint...

    The best I've come up with is that a good synonym for sin is "disobedience"... I've often heard that sin means "missing the mark", as though you shoot at a bullseye and miss it to some degree or another. If at any given time, there's something God would have me do (i.e. a "mark") and I do anything else other than that, I miss the mark. The mark symbolizes obedience (He said it, I did it), and doing anything other than that is disobedience (He said it, I did something else instead).

    Kinda strips some of the mystery out of it for me to look at it that way. Then life becomes a matter of conquering the sin (disobedience) in us, by learning to hear His voice, and then learning to trust what He says at any given time, and obey His voice. Hitting the mark instead of missing it.

    Anyways, great post. Food for mental chewing, as usual.


  2. Dave,

    When I read your comment, the conversation between Cain and the Lord came to mind. Right v. Not Right, or as you termed it, "missing the mark." It's interesting how God doesn't say "wrong," thereby indicating that anything else but the "right" thing is sin, no middle ground, no gray area, no "mistakes."

    I agree with you that the key to all of it is hearing from God and obeying Him because our thoughts aren't always His, and vice-versa. What is sin for one, may not be sin for the other, etc…

    I like what Paul calls the entire process in 2 Corinthians: the ministry of reconciliation.

    Thanks for your thoughts and being one of my demographics!