What Is the Difference Between a Sin and a Mistake?

“The Cross Means We Have the Freedom to Make Mistakes.”  

I don’t recall the book in which I read that but I have keep the quote. I have kept it mainly because I tend to want to be forgiven for mistakes and I have trouble getting beyond mistakes I have made. Someone asked me recently after I had punished myself for forgetting something, “Don’t you allow yourself grace?”  The answer was no. I am a perfectionist and I tend to see my faults and mistakes both as sins. I sometimes blow my faults and mistakes out of proportion due to a negative view of myself. God never intended us to live that way.  The cross does set us free to make mistakes because it allows for unlimited grace as we grow and learn.  In my case that is usually  how I grow and learn–through my mistakes.

Too often the opposite is true. People tend to see their sins as mere mistakes. If you listen for it, it is all around us.  Recently the mistake heard ’round the world was a well publicized one that was not a mistake at all. It was a sin. In fact, several sins. Near the end and continuing after the end  of the Olympics there was a lot of talk about ‘ making mistakes.’  Pretty blatant and contemptible mistakes with severe consequences. Were mistakes made? Absolutely. Were sins committed? You bet. But to call them sins would be to admit to the world that you believe there is a higher power to whom we are accountable.  Sins imply offenses against a higher Being.

I recently read an article  by a Christian woman who recounted  the ‘mistakes’ she had made before becoming a Christian. Among them  were  mistakes such as having sex before marriage. To make light of our sin is to make light of God’s grace and forgiveness. It is to make light of why Jesus had to suffer on the cross. He did not die to set us free from mistakes.

So what is the difference between a sin and a mistake?

The dictionary describes a sin as a transgression of divine law especially a willful or deliberate violation of some religious or moral principle while a mistake is called a misunderstanding or misconception.
  •  A mistake can be an error in action 
  • A mistake can be one of opinion
  • A mistake is an error in judgement caused by poor reasoning
  • A mistake could be caused by carelessness
  • A mistake is often made due to a lack of knowledge
  • A mistake is often an action due to poor calculation
  • A mistake is usually caused by a misunderstanding
  •  A sin is a transgression against GodA sin is usually a willful, deliberate violation of moral  or religious principleA sin can be something we do against God and his law (sin of commission) After David had taken Bathsheeba, got her pregnant and had her husband killed, he prayed   “Against You and You alone have I sinned.” Psalm 51:4.  While he had certainly sinned against everyone in Bathsheeba’s and Uriah’s families,  David knew his responsibility and therefore his sin was ultimately against God. A  sin  also can be something that Scripture tells us to do that we do not do (sin of  omission)  “Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.”
    James 4:17.   Well known specific sins of omission and their consequences are listed in a story Jesus told about coming events recounted in  Matthew 25:31-46.                                                                                                                                                                                    31“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. 32“All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; 33 and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.34“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35‘For I was hungry, and you gave Mesomething to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’37“Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39‘When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40“The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’41“Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; 42for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; 43I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ 44“Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ 45“Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46“These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

If it is only a mistake, does God need to forgive it? Does anyone need to forgive it?   How do you reconcile if you make a mistake instead of sinning? How do you reconcile  when you sin? I am reminded of Jesus’ answer to Peter when Peter wanted to know how many times he had to forgive someone.  I imagine Peter was thinking of a particularly exasperating person.

21Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother who sins against me? Up to seven times?” 22Jesus answered, “I tell you, not just seven times, butseventy-seven times!  Matthew 18:21-22

Remember whom you’re ultimately sinning against even when you fail to do good to a seemingly insignificant person. Sins are way too serious a matter to spend your time worrying about minor mistakes. But don’t forget that no matter how heinous the sin may be “Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning!” Lamentations 3:23   And another of my favorite reminders, “Above all, continue to love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins.”  1 Peter 4:8.  And, I suppose a multitude of mistakes as well, don’t you?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s