The Right Response to Messing Up

I always struggled with how to respond to a bad grade in school. Hopefully, I won’t have to deal with that for a while, now that I’m graduating and all. But there’s been times where I’ve been pulled between two different responses: 1) Just let it go, not worry about, it’s done, just do better the next time, or 2) Freak out, fret, obsess over how I blundered each and every mistake.

A handwritten book report is given an F for poor work.The idea for both responses was to stir myself to do better the next time, to not make the mistake I just made.

The same thing doesn’t really apply with sin, because we’re going to mess up again. It’s not like we can just perfect everything until we’re blameless in our actions. God promises to make us more like His Son; in fact, He predestined it from the beginning of time (Romans 8:29). But we’ll continually sin because that’s who we are. I haven’t heard of older men who say, “Yeah, I don’t really sin anymore.” In fact, all I’ve heard is that sin is still there. I imagine that, as one advances in life, you find different ways to sin. If I get married, I’ll sin in different ways than I do now as a single person. If I take a leadership position in a company, I’ll sin in different ways than I do now as a currently-unemployed about-to-be college graduate.

What I’ve found difficult over the years is how to respond to my sin. There’s two different ways I’m thinking of that we could take, one extremely detrimental and self-centered and the other extremely helpful and God-glorifying.

1. Work to get back on God’s good side.

This is generally my first reaction. When I see sin in my life, my first thought tends to be, “OK, crap, how do I turn this around? What can I do to get back to being a ‘good Christian?'” Usually, this involves seeking an intense time of Bible study with a relevant passage, reading a book related to the topic, some time spent in prayer. The thing is, that’s not what God desires of us in those moments.

In Romans 4:5, Paul states: “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.”

When we mess up in the classroom or at the workplace or in the social arena, we usually have to do something good to get back on the teacher/boss/friend’s good side. When I make that bad grade, I need to work extra hard to earn an A on the next project to make up for that C or D.

I don’t think God works that way. Yes, when we mess up, we need to seek restored relationship with God by spending time with Him in those ways I mentioned early. That’s crucial, for reminding us of truth, for confessing sin and seeking repentance, etc. But we should not approach those times with the mindset of “getting back on God’s good side.” That’s an ignorance of our status with God as His children and the grace given to us by the blood of Jesus.

Plus, we can’t “get on God’s good side” on our own ever.

2. Spend time with God for healing.

Our sin hurts us. Sin of others hurts us. Sin hurts. There’s no getting around it. That’s why, when we see the sin in our lives, we need to turn to God for healing.

Hebrews 4:16 says that, because we have a great high priest Jesus, we can “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” 

We don’t draw to the throne of grace to work our way back up the totem pole of “good with God”-ness. If you’re in Christ, you’re already good with God! Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” In those times of sin, we can still draw near to God with confidence to “receive mercy and find grace to help.”

We receive mercy, not getting what we deserve: condemnation, death, punishment. And find grace, getting what we don’t deserve: forgiveness, healing, new life.

So when we approach God after seeing our sin or spending time committing intentional disobedience, we need to go with Him for restoration and healing, reminders of our status before God, reminders of His love for us, reminders of our mission and call as Christians. Only with the truth of God’s Word can those wounds be sewed back up. Only with time in prayer can that relationship be restored.

But we must approach those times seeking healing that only God can provide. Healing, not work, is the right response to sin.