What Do We Do When We Mess up?

1 John 1:9; Psalm 51:17; 2 Corinthians 7:10; Genesis 24:67  •  5 min. read  •  grade level: 8
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It is important to recognize the seriousness of sin in the sight of a holy God. Grace does not lessen God’s standard — far from it. In fact, it is those who seek to gain acceptance before God through works, or by keeping the law, who must make excuses or limit the law’s reach1. It is in the gospel of the grace of God that we alone have the full revelation of divine righteousness. There is no acquittal from sin; we must judge sin as God views it. Once sin is recognized in this light, we begin to see something of the horror of it. True repentance is taking God’s side against oneself. If I truly recognize that Christ has suffered for me on the cross, it will not make me indifferent to sin — though I see my deliverance there. Rather, it will give me a greater tenderness of spirit and feeling.
Failure isn’t addressed through penance, renewed promises or by berating ourselves. There must be confession and a forsaking of those things that led to the failure (Prov. 28:13). “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). True repentance will manifest itself in a broken and contrite heart (Psa. 51:17); broken for having dishonored the Lord, and contrite because of the failure. It is not God’s desire to lead us into despair where all is hopelessness — that is Satan’s doing. Rather, it is the Lord’s advocacy that brings us, firstly, to repentance through the application of His Word, and then, secondly, into a place of true restoration (Luke 22:61-62; John 21:15-19). Bear in mind, this is a process and not a point in time. “Grief according to God works repentance to salvation, never to be regretted; but the grief of the world works death” (2 Cor. 7:10 JND).
Sin is invariably accompanied by consequences, and in moral things they may be significant (Gal. 6:7). Nevertheless, this does not preclude restoration. It may certainly mean changed circumstances, but if we judge the sin and wholly turn to the Lord, we will be blessed. David sinned in a most egregious way. He committed adultery with Bathsheba; he caused the death of Uriah the Hittite; and through it all, a child was born. In Psalm 51 we read David’s prayer of confession and humiliation. In the end, there was blessing: Bathsheba’s son, Solomon, ultimately sat on David’s throne. Nevertheless, the price that David paid was high. He lost the child conceived through his adultery; his son Amnon was murdered; Absalom died as a result of insurrection; and finally, Adonijah died for his pretension to the throne.
One who has been restored in the Lord should be received as such (2 Cor. 2:6-8). The deep lessons that such an individual will have learned will leave their mark indelibly on their soul. Such a one may well be of greater service to the Lord after the fall than before, for the weakness that led to the failure has been recognized and judged. Peter was fully restored to the Lord and to his brethren.
On the other hand, when one repeatedly falls into sin — especially when it’s the same sin — then it is questionable whether the thing has ever been really judged. Repentance must be accompanied by action; it’s not simply words. “Ye shall know them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:16) is a solemn but true warning. When it comes to marriage, it would be unwise, and possibly unscriptural, to enter into a relationship with a person who, time and time again, falls into a sin, especially when it is of a moral or addictive character.
Marriage is an institution established by a Holy God for the blessing of mankind. Never one to be satisfied with what God has provided, man has redefined the matrimonial relationship to suit his own sinful nature. Irrespective of what human reasoning may decide, if we walk in obedience to the Word of God, its blessings are ours to enjoy. However, we should not view marriage simply as something for our own good and blessing; it is honoring to God and brings glory to His name. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven (Matt. 5:16). This should be true of all that we do, and for that matter, of all relationships that we enter into — not the least of which is that between husband and wife. Furthermore, within the marriage relationship there should be an expression of that love and respect that exists between Christ and His bride, the church.
Sadly, many Christian marriages are based on selfish desires. They have not been entered with much consideration, either for the needs of the other person, or for the glory of God. Christendom must bear much of the blame for the breakdown of the marriage relationship. Nevertheless, even in the most awkward of marriages, blessing and happiness is still possible when the Lord truly becomes the focus of both husband and wife — even when there seems little else in common.
This booklet has been written for those seeking a spouse. Although it may seem negative, with many warnings and much advice, this is an important step with serious consequences. It need not be complicated or frustrating, but the outcome will depend on the maturity and attitude of those involved. If we put God first in our lives, and the one we profess to love second, a happy ending is very much in view. “Isaac brought [Rebekah] into his mother Sarah’s tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her” (Gen. 24:67).
1. As with the lawyer in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29).