When you sin (and you can’t take it back)

I sinned this week. And I really wish I could take it back.

I’ll spare you the details, but here’s the gist of it—I said something on a really public platform that really hurt people that I really care about. My sin wounded hearts, complicated lives, and damaged my credibility (and rightly so).

My intention was never to hurt anyone, but you know what they say about good intentions . . .

More than anything right now, I wish I could rewind my words. But I can’t.

Have you ever been there? Perhaps your text got lost in translation and left your friend with a hurtful conclusion. Perhaps the emotions of a stressful week turned a marriage molehill into a mountain of rehashed wrongs. Perhaps you joked about something that wasn’t funny to a trauma survivor or an infertile family.

Ever wanted to white-out your own words?

Words have the power of life and death in them (Proverbs 18:21). And when you look back on the corpses you created, it’s hard to get back to work emails with a clean conscience.

That’s why I’d like to share a few things that happened to me in the last few days in hopes they can help you too:

Run to him—It’s easy to forget that God is the greatest victim of any sin. David expressed this in shocking ways when he confessed to God, “Against you, you only, have I sinned” (Psalm 51:4). It was hard, but necessary, to realize that the worst damage I did was with God, the God who saw the full wake of my ugly words, the God whose children I damaged.

At the same time, I needed to run to God for grace. Since human forgiveness is never certain, I desperately needed to find forgiveness at the cross of Jesus. This is why I repeated the words of Zephaniah: “[The LORD] will take great delight in you” (3:17). I pictured Jesus in the room with me, not furious or disgusted, but showing me forgiveness by the expression on his face and through the scars in his hands.

So, before you try to build bridges and learn lessons, run to God. His grace is what your heart most deeply craves.

Confess to them—By God’s grace, I was able to talk with the victim of my sin within an hour of hearing about the damage I had done. I had the chance to hear how deeply my words had stung and to process what a dreadfully serious responsibility it is to talk when the microphone is on and the cameras are running.

Thankfully (and I mean that adverb with all my heart!), this brother forgave me of my sins. He assured me that he was not into payback but was asking God to bless me. He even prayed for me on the phone! I’m not sure a prayer has ever been less earned and more appreciated. I’m not sure if I ever respected him more.

Jesus once said that if there’s any tension or drama between you and another Christian, you should do everything in your power to fix it, even if you have to leave church in the middle of the service. “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23,24).

God can wait for your offering. He cares much more when brothers and sisters live together in unity. 

No, you might not be blessed with immediate grace like I received, but humbling yourself and owning your sin is always the best step for a Christian to take. It clears the conscience. It allows deep wounds to start to heal. It enables reconciliation.

So, pick up the phone. Knock on the door. Send the first text. Confess to them.

Consider yourself—I should have known better than to trust my own judgment. I’m pretty terrible at anticipating how my words will come across to others (by “terrible” I mean that empathy ended up dead last on a personality test I once took). That should have encouraged me to double-check my message with others and not assume that my intentions would be clear.

That five minutes of extra work could have saved five hours of conversations and even more heartache. The prophet Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful” (17:9). That is a powerful reminder for me to question my motives, pray for wisdom, and ask other people for feedback.

Lesson learned.

How about you? You can’t rewind and undo your sin, but how could you grow from it? As you move forward with Jesus, how could God’s people help you make next time more godly than the last time?

Today I type as a remorseful man whose Christian hope is a God who remembers our sins no more. 

He doesn’t remember yours either.

So, let’s both take in a deep breath of amazing grace and follow our Savior into a more loving tomorrow.

Pastor Mike Novotny has served God’s people in full-time ministry since 2007 in Madison and, most recently, at The CORE in Appleton, Wisconsin. He will also serve as the new lead speaker for Time of Grace after April 2019, where he will share the good news about Jesus through television, print, and online platforms. Mike loves seeing people grasp the depth of God’s amazing grace and unstoppable mercy. His wife continues to love him (despite plenty of reasons not to), and his two daughters open his eyes to the love of God for every Christian. When not talking about Jesus or dating his wife/girls, Mike loves playing soccer, running, and reading.

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