The Difference Between a Sin and a Mistake

In recent years, I have noticed an increasing tendency for people to admit to mistakes rather than sins. It happens at every level, whether someone is caught cheating on their spouse, filing false insurance claims, or shoplifting from a clothing store.

A Man Experiencing Deep Grief - Photo courtesy of ©, Image #1146227

Photo courtesy of ©

After the National Enquirer broke the news about Senator John Edwards’ affair, he said,

“Two years ago I made a very serious mistake, a mistake that I am responsible for and no one else. In 2006, I told Elizabeth about the mistake, asked her for her forgiveness, asked God for his forgiveness. And we have kept this within our family since that time.”

On the surface, this admission seems humble and contrite. What more could you want?

But when people refer to this kind of behavior as a mistake rather than a sin, they are either consciously or unconsciously evading responsibility.

Why? Because of the fundamental difference between the two. Many people assume they are synonymous. They are not.

The term “mistake” implies an error in judgment—something done unintentionally. For example, a legitimate mistake might be:

  • Turning onto a one-way street, going the wrong way.
  • Pouring salt into your coffee, thinking it was sugar.
  • Mis-typing a web address and ending up on a porn site.

These could all be legitimate mistakes. They happen because we get distracted or careless. But a sin is more than a mistake. It is a deliberate choice to do something you know is wrong.

The word “transgression” is even stronger. It implies deliberately stepping over a boundary. The word “trespass” is similar. It implies entering onto another person’s property without permission.

Unlike a mistake, we choose to sin. Therefore, we must accept responsibility for it—and the consequences that follow. This is the measure of maturity and marks the transition from adolescence into adulthood. It is the foundation of a civilized society.

What can we do to make sure we preserve this distinction between sins and mistakes? I suggest five actions:

  1. Choose your words carefully. Don’t minimize your sin by calling it a mistake. The meaning of the Greek word homologeō—translated confession in 1 John 1:9—is “to speak the same word.” In other words, agree with God. Say the same thing about your sin that He says about it. You can’t be cured of the disease if you continue to deny it.
  2. Take responsibility for your behavior. If you have sinned, own it. (In fact, if you have made a mistake, own that too.) Take the hit. Even if someone provoked you, own your response. If they were 90% responsible, accept 100% responsibility for your 10%. When it comes to sin, there is never a legitimate excuse. None.
  3. Acknowledge your guilt. It is normal to feel guilty when you sin. Guilt is God’s gift, designed to motivate you to initiate reconciliation. The sooner you acknowledge your responsibility, the sooner you can resolve the problem. And never follow your confession with the word “but.” This is the preface to an excuse. It negates everything you have said before.
  4. Change your behavior. Words are cheap. Some people are very adept at saying they are sorry—but then … nothing changes. Repentance is not only a change of mind; it is a change of direction. Unless you change your behavior, you haven’t really repented, no matter how many tears you may have shed.
  5. Ask for forgiveness. You can’t demand it. You are not entitled to it. You can only ask and hope that the person you have sinned against will extend grace. Sometimes, they will wait until you have manifested the fruit of repentance, and that is fine (see Matthew 3:8; Acts 26:19–20).

Yes, we all make mistakes. But more importantly, we all sin. We need to understand the difference between the two and be willing to call it what it is. Until we do, we can’t really repair what has been broken.

Question: How did you feel the last time someone sinned against you and called it a mistake? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • Patricia Zell

    As I told our children, the first time they did or said something destructive or inappropriate, it was mistake–the second time, it was intentional. And, after the first time, I talked to the offender and explained the situtation so he/she could fully understand the circumstances.

    This is why it is so important to ask God for knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. In fact, if we concentrate on cleaving to God, then those trespasses and transgressions will begin to lose their hold on us. The Bible tells us that God is a consuming fire, and as we turn to Him (repent), the truth He gives us will set us free.

    Meanwhile, when we see a person in the midst of struggles (a condition that plagues most of us), we need to be careful not to judge, but to pray with meekness. We must remember that God does not condemn us–His focus is on setting us free.

    • paula

      I see what you are saying Patricia, but one of my challenges as a parent is helping my kids to differentiate between the unintentional and intentions which were caught.  Often my kids say, “I didn’t mean to” when they apologize for an action.  With great love, I have to help them accept responsibility by educating them on the times they did “mean to” but were caught.  If they were being honest, they didn’t mean to get caught. 

      For example, if one child hits the other because of a dispute over a toy, we have to call a spade, a spade, and help them to see their fault in the situation.  It wasn’t a mistake to hit, it was an intentional action which carries results. 

      Our sin carries results too.  By opening my children’s eyes to areas of fault, I can help them to be willing to genuinely seek forgiveness.  Then and only then can grace abound.

      • Patricia Zell

        I would replace the word fault with the word responsibility. As our seven adult children were growing up, there were plenty of those disputes and sometimes physical aggression  entered the picture. As soon as I perceived the fighting, I would get between the kids involved and intervene. My biggest job in those situations was not to punish them–although there were times when punishment was called for–but to explain how they could have acted responsibly. Kids often do not have the context to discern inappropriate behavior, so we have to patiently teach them until they get it. As one who has spent many years of her life doing just that, I can say every bit of patience has paid off. 

        Forgiveness is the result of God’s abounding grace–when He answered Christ’s prayer on the cross, only a few people had asked for that forgiveness. Sin is unbelief, so the moment we believe and receive the power of what Christ accomplished on the cross, sin loses its power in our lives. We are free to seek God with everything we have and to receive His knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.

  • JB

    Ultimately, what matters is what you admit to God. If you tell the world it was a mistake that’s one thing. Not admitting sin to God is another. Telling the world it’s a mistake and God it’s a sin is lying, and another sin.

    While it wasn’t exactly someone calling a sin against me a mistake, some time back I contemplated the anger I felt when someone wronged me. What I came up with is the fact it doesn’t matter that I was wronged, it only matters that I was wrong. Whether it was my being wrong that caused it or that I was wrong with my reaction to the situation.

    Excellent post, Mr. Hyatt.

    • Brandon

      “Ultimately, what matters is what you admit to God. If you tell the world it was a mistake that’s one thing. Not admitting sin to God is another. Telling the world it’s a mistake and God it’s a sin is lying, and another sin.”

       I agree with ya on that one!

    • Anonymous

      I agree. It took me a while to stop being a blamer and just accept responsibility. 

  • Timothy Fish

    I think there is a tendency to avoid the word “sin” because implies that we’ve broken God’s law. For people to admit that is to admit that there is someone who is a high authority than they are. By using the word “mistake” a person can go on feeling like they are still #1, but they somehow failed to do the good they intended to do to someone they feel is beneath them. Such an attitude is itself a sin.

    • Jason Fountain

      Well said, Timothy! Our society is reluctant to submit to a higher authority.

      • Brandon

        Sadly, that is the case!

    • Michael Hyatt

      I think this is exactly right. I also noticed another trend in my research: for people to preference this by saying, “Well, no one is perfect. I made some mistakes.” We don’t expect you to be perfect, but we do expect you to own your own stuff and admit your sin. Thanks.

      • Dan Greegor

        Admit your sin…how true.

    • Anonymous

      Sometimes I think it’s easier to use the word mistake over sin, because we don’t want the shame tied to it. Satan is quick to tell us, “Oh, it was just a mistake.”

    • Dylan Dodson

      Very true and well said.

    • Dan Greegor

      I would agree with that. Funny how some have such a healthy respect for the word sin and know the power of it, yet will use their words to hurt others and seem to be indifferent.

  • Roy A. Ackerman, Ph.D., E.A.

    Wonderful post, Michael.  Absolutely critical given the continuing, latest news about activities of our various (ex)-heroes.
    I do think that there are two phenomena behind these actions. 
    1.  Too many folks believe that they are entitled.  Whether by their (seeming) success in business, politics, Hollywood, etc., they feel that they have more rights and considerations than a mere human (What?  Me?).  As such, they feel that if they admit to a “mistake”, they have deigned to mollify (certainly not satisfy) those mere mortals around them and to proceed along their paths via the reverse of  “noblesse oblige”.
    2.  Too many people associate “sin” with mortal failure, the condemnation of a life.  Perhaps, reverting to the original definiton of sin as missing the mark of a moral character, which requires penance and correction, would lead to folks doing just that.  Changing their behavior and thrusting towards a noble existence.
    Thank you so much for your thoughts and the ability to share mine!

    • Michael Hyatt

      These are both excellent points, Roy. Thanks for sharing them.

  • fmckinnon

    Good word, Michael.  Thanks for speaking the truth, but clearly, in a loving, gentle tone. 

  • darrell brown

    Absolutely!!! Thanks for this post, I agree with everything you’ve said. I think it’s due to the fact that sin means we are accountable to God and in this day and age, people are hesitant to acknowledge that accountability. Thanks for this post!!!
    – Did you mean to use the word “chose” or “choose” in the first point. :-)

    • Michael Hyatt

      I think you are right. Many people in our culture hate accountability.

      Thanks also for catching that typo. That is the most common one I make!

      • Brandon

        I make typos all the time! :)

      • Jocelyne

        I think the word choose is correct. “Choose” isn’t past tense, “Choose
        wisely your words”  is not the same as “He chose wisely his words…”. I
        have to say it out loud to myself to help me hear it right before I
        write it too…lol!

        Using the word “Choose”, by the way, was not a sin, nor a mistake…. ;-)

  • Donna Kastner/Retirepreneur

    Excellent post — and much needed in today’s world!

  • eileen

    This is truth.  Thank you!

  • David Santistevan

    Profound insight. This reminds me of the repentance of King David. Instead of saying he “made a mistake” he was broken and responded with “against you, you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.”

    If we could only recapture that type of repentance.

    • Jason Fountain

      David, excellent reference. David can teach us a lot about authentic repentance and brokenness.

      • David Santistevan

        Thanks Jason. I always find it amazing that David was considered a “man after God’s own heart” but sinned like it was his job :) Goes to show how important genuine repentance is.

        • Brandon

          Repentance is a totally different thing that simply “asking for forgiveness”. Great point that you made!

    • Michael Hyatt

      That is a great reference. I wish I had thought of it!

      • David Santistevan

        Thanks Michael. I suppose that’s why comments are a great thing – inviting readers to “write” with you, in a sense.

        • Michael Hyatt

          Yes, I think so. I start the conversation with the post, but I learn so much in the comments. That’s where all the texture is!

          • Brandon

            That i9s the great thing about blogging. The post is simply a facilitator of the discussion.

          • David Santistevan

            Agreed. Thanks for being so engaging and accessible here. People are missing out if they don’t comment!

    • Oodihi

      Wow! Yes, this is a perfect example for us. May conviction always lead to brokenness and repentance to God.

      • David Santistevan


    • Dan Greegor

      Good reminder. Even a man after God’s own heart knew the power of the words he used. He called sin what it was…SIN.

      • David Santistevan

        So true.

  • Robert Ewoldt

    How did I feel the last time someone sinned against me and called it a mistake?  I felt angry, and betrayed.  When someone doesn’t accept that they’ve sinned, you feel like their cheating YOU somehow.

    • Laura Droege

      Agreed. And remembering how I felt when someone did this to me makes me realize how me saying “mistake” when I should’ve said “sin” hurts them.

    • Dan Greegor

      Well said and a great perspective.

  • Ryan

    Calling a sin a mistake is just a short term coverup for the wound. We’ve probably all done it, and it leaves you feeling like you’ve taken responsibility without taking 100%. By not acknowledging something sinful as sin we’re just showing that we’re more concerned about our personal status in the eyes of others instead of God’s will for the world.

  • Jeremy Statton

    If we let ourselves off the hook by calling our sins mistakes then we do 2 things. We make it easier for ourselves to do it again, since it was only a mistake. The second is that we minimize what Jesus did for us so that our sins could be forgiven.

    • Michael Hyatt

      This is an excellent point. Jesus didn’t die for our mistakes but for you sins.

    • Brandon

      I like what you mentioned! True stuff!

    • Dylan Dodson

      Great point!

  • Anonymous

    I made a grave mistake in trusting a company I thought was sound and encouraged my partner to work with them. When he found out they were fraudulent he blamed me outright and accused me of doing this on purpose. I think he sinned against me when I had no full knowledge of the company’s intentions. He has broken away from me in our ongoing personal and business relationship and I am feeling very hurt still. I am even more hurt because he involved his children in trying to find proof that I did it on purpose when I trusted the company to be valid. There is no proof. I want to forgive him but it is hard. Please help me pray to forgive this.

  • Tony Verguldi Jr

    I am sure someone has sinned against
    me, and called it a mistake.  I just
    cannot remember those times.  What I can
    remember vividly is when I have sinned against others (usually my wife and
    family) and called it a mistake.


    Going back to not only ask for forgiveness is hard, but also
    admitting the act was a sin and not a mistake is harder.  We are (I am) better off admitting the truth
    from the beginning and working to repair the damage done.


    I think when society hears ‘sin’ they think close-minded,
    judgmental, religious, etc.  They are able
    or willing to hear / accept that word.  No
    matter our belief in God, He will judge us one day.  I realize I will be found wanting and
    short.  However, God has a plan for my
    shortcomings, failures and sins and His name is Jesus.

  • lance cashion

    Our culture waters down anything and everything to do with right, wrong and personal responsibility.  It is like we have a couple generations of folks who have not moved on from adolescence to adulthood.  Once you know the truth, you are accountable to it.  If you knowingly deny the truth, that is a sin. 

    • Michael Hyatt

      It’s like we are in a state of perpetual adolescence. Argh.

      • Dylan Dodson

        As a college student, I am afraid I am surrounded by fellow students who simply make “mistakes,” but do not do anything wrong. I often feel as if I am surrounded by adolescence.

      • Dan Greegor

        That, Mr. Hyatt, is very telling indeed. It reminds me of a quote that I cannot place right now but goes something like this:

        Young men want all the benefits of being called a man without putting forth effort to becoming one.

      • lance cashion

        It is frustrating b/c I work with Boomers.  Many of their financial
        problems can be directly linked to immaturity.  Given, I am no saint and
        I sin (and make mistakes).  I can be immature (ask my patient wife).  
        However, there must be a point where one passes from being a child to
        being an adult.  The old rites of passage within our culture have been
        destroyed by the culture of PC and replaced with a culture of blame.  No
        one is guilty unless they are caught, only then do we see any form of
        regret.  When truth is relative, moral gravity is rejected and/or
        denied.  Interesting thing about gravity… Deny it all you want, but 
        you do so at your own peril.  If you jump off your roof, you will hit
        the ground, hard.  There are consequences to denying or rejecting a law
        established by God.

  • Leo Gallant

    Someone who falls and only calls it a “mistake” probably has not fallen under the conviction of the  Spirit of God, or has not heard God’s law which brings a knowledge of “sin”.

    Let’s keep preaching the Gospel in the tremendous mission field that is, America. The Gospel being, God expects…(insert LAW)…Man falls short…(insert Spirit conviction)…Jesus exchanges your “sin” for His righteousness by God’s grace.

    It should come as no surprise that the conscience of people until illuminated by the Spirit of God, call “sin”, “mistakes”.

    • Brandon

      Someone who falls and only calls it a “mistake” probably has not fallen under the conviction of the  Spirit of God, or has not heard God’s law which brings a knowledge of “sin”.


  • Anonymous

    Michael —

    I agree with what you are saying here.  It’s like calling adultery an “affair.”  Affair is whimsical and being swept away.  Adultery is sin.  

    Vocabulary matters, and more importantly, our reaction to it matters.  

    Thanks for posting this.

    • Brandon

      It’s just another way of watering down the sin to make it a “mistake”.

  • Nina

    How did I feel being sinned against?  Devastated, heartbroken, crumbled, disgusted, humiliated.  But God does not promise an easy life.  In fact, it is the havoc in our lives which make us grow and cling to Him.  Paul tells us to rejoice in our sufferings!  In the end, we are promised grace and, ultimately, joy.  The irony is — the person who made the “mistake” thinks HE is the only one who can bring the fellow sinner to Christ.  Huh?  I am being forced to make an Abrahamic sacrifice for the supposed salvation of another?

  • Anonymous

    I appreciate that you post this under leadership.  If we had more leaders setting a strong biblical example, it would be much more difficult to deify our leaders, heroes and others in our culture that get too much time and attention as idols.  Sin recognizes our position and God’s authority.  Something that we all could use regular reminders on.

  • Pastorjd

    I t hurt. I caught my Youth Minister in several lies and also the theft from the Youth fund and local Ministerial Alliance. He admitted he had made mistakes, kind of the John Edwards story, He never once called it sin. It hurt to see his ministry self destruct.

    • Michael Hyatt

      It is sad. I would be willing to give almost any one a second change who admitted their sin. But I am not very patient with those who insist on referring to what they have done as merely a mistake.

      • Brandon

        I agree. When someone admits that they are wrong, it is the sign of true repentance.

  • Kbattle

    Outstanding. Thanks so much for your allegiance to truth and integrity Michael.

  • Juan

    Intent is the difference, we have come too far of accepting our own responsibilities, it starts right here on being responsible about Me, my deeds, my family, my future.
    The financial crisis the world just had is because a lot of people were irresponsible, the intended (they knew it really clear in their minds) to own or have more of what they could afford, if they did not know it, they still made the decision to sign the loan documents mortgage, car, credit card, store card, etc.
    Were they mistakers or sinners?

  • Oodihi

    Thanks for the post! This is much needed in our society and I have shared it with my friends via Facebook so that they too will know the difference. I was hurt the last time a friend betrayed me by telling someone else a secret we shared and apologized by saying, “I’m sorry, it just slipped out.” I thought: “Really? Just like that huh?” it didn’t feel like he was serious enough in his apology nor was he willing to take full responsibility for it.

    • Robert Ewoldt

      I’ve been hurt this way before, too. Loose tongues really have a bad
      effect… they increase distrust.

  • Thomas McDaniels

    Great post Michael.  I love the transparency and your willingness to share your your weaknesses.  It is a sign of a great leader.  Thanks for the truth and the vulnerability!  

  • David Stevens

    We have are losing our proper biblical understanding of “the fear of the Lord.”  Our unrighteousness, caused by our willfull and deliberate sinfulness, can only result in our separation from a holy God.  Sin is “self-rule” in outright rebellion against God’s proper place of authority in our hearts.  That is why we are to “guard” our hearts so diligently.  Sin is sly and quick to gain a foothold if we do let our guard down.  When that happens, then human nature takes over and we try to minimize our guilt.  But the truth of God’s Word still stands and we must always call it like it is.  Sin is sin, no matter how we try to dress it up!  

  • Chris Cornwell

    We are born full of pride and our American culture cultivates that pride. Admitting to sin attacks our own pride because it reveals that there is something out there that has more control than ourselves. Something bigger than ourselves. For the masses, this scares most. I for one delight in the fact that there is Someone I can turn things over to when I sin and I try not to hide behind the petty differences that you so well point out Michael. Thank you!

    • Robert Ewoldt

      Chris, you’re right… we are prideful, and not admitting our sin is a pride

  • Brett

    I can’t remember the last time someone truly wronged me and called it a mistake. Personally, I will admit to the sin, ask forgiveness, but I have to watch for following up w/ good psychological reasons why I sinned.  This doesn’t allow me to rest in the conviction OR experience the joy of forgiveness. If I deaden the blow, I’m not being honest with myself or agreeing with God.

  • Ben Tune

    I am more tempted to call my sins mistakes when I don’t fully own the damage I have done to other people.  Or, when I try to minimize the hurt I have caused.  

  • Theharperseatkolaches

    Sadly, I am usually the one making the mistakes (sins).  Generally speaking however, if someone “man’s up” and admits the error, I accept and forgive.  If they do not and then come up with an excuse or simply flat out lie, I do not deal with them until the offending party can look me in the eye.

  • Curtis

    I think this is something deeply engrained in us that needs to be “unlearned”.  We noticed in our children, when they were even as young as four, that saying “I’m sorry” was doable but asking “will you please forgive me” brought tears instantly. I’ve talked to a number of people over the years who have experienced the same thing with their children.

    There is actually a hierarchy of control that comes into play:
    1. “I’m sorry but…” (maintains ultimate control and admits no responsibility)
    2. “I’m sorry…”(takes some responsibility but maintains all the control)
    3. “I need to ask you to forgive me…” (Still holds control, doesn’t actually ask)
    4. “Will you please forgive me…” (Finally surrenders control)

    Watch closely and you’ll see how few people actually surrender control by going all the way to #4. Even with little kids who have barely learned what these words mean the emotional distance between 1 and 4 is incredible. By association then it makes sense to apologize for a mistake, it was a mistake, nothing intentional. Asking forgiveness for a mistake seems way too much…”It was a honest mistakes, not your fault, nothing to forgive etc.” But sin REQUIRES asking for forgiveness, one doesn’t apologize for sin.  So if I am bent on maintaining control and not admitting to something that requires that I ask forgiveness, whether of man or God, I’ll call it a mistake, let myself off the hook, and keep control.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Beautiful insight, Curtis. This could be a blog post in itself! Thanks for sharing.

    • Tracy Hoots Hoexter

      Great addition to a great blog. 
      It is also sad how many people will “apologize” by saying “I’m sorry IF…” instead of “I’m sorry THAT…”

    • Brandon

      There is actually a hierarchy of control that comes into play:
      1. “I’m sorry but…” (maintains ultimate control and admits no responsibility)
      2. “I’m sorry…”(takes some responsibility but maintains all the control)
      3. “I need to ask you to forgive me…” (Still holds control, doesn’t actually ask)
      4. “Will you please forgive me…” (Finally surrenders control)

      The common intros! :)

    • Gina Burgess

      This is very interesting insight, Curtis.

      When we look at what Jesus said in Matthew 18:15-17 we see how Jesus told us to respond when other Christians offend (sin against) us.

      1. Tell the brother he has offended you, and ask him to repent. If that does no good–
      2. Bring two or more to talk to the brother, and ask him to repent. If that does no good–
      3. Bring the matter to the church and ask the brother to repent. If that does no good —
      4. Treat the person as an unbeliever and let him have nothing to do with the church until he does repent.

      To illustrate: A missionary to Brazil noticed a man outside the window of the church he was preaching at and asked the preacher why the man didn’t come inside.
      The preacher told him, “Because we won’t allow him inside.”
      Missionary: “What? Why? What has he done?”
      Preacher: “He is in an adulterous affair, living with another man’s wife. We executed Matthew 18:15-17 all the way to the whole church confronting him for his behavior. He refused to repent and until he changes, he can’t come inside the church.”

      It isn’t a matter of punishment, but more a matter of removing sin cancer from the body so the body will stay healthy.

      The point here is that Forgiveness only truly comes from God, so asking forgiveness of sin is a vertical thing, God to man and man to God. Asking forgiveness and forgiving between Christians is still vertical and does not mean that what the person did was all right and can be done again (such as adultery in the example). It means restoration of relationship between brothers and sisters.

    • Robert Ewoldt

      Good thoughts, Curtis!

  • Andrew Hill

    Thank you , Michael, for your thought provoking post about the distinction between sin and mistakes. Though, I do not agree with your point about sin always being a conscious choice.

    I am thinking of the Apostle Paul when I say this. It seems to me that, as Saul the persecuter of Christ, he truly believed he was honouring God when he sanctioned the murder and imprisonment of Christians. He was mistaken in thinking so, and was guilty of sin, but he did not seem to know it at the time.

    Sin is also the act of being deceived so that we confuse right actions with wrong. Using the word, “mistake” as a synonym of “sin” might actually be helpful. Few people want to make the same mistake twice. We should have the same attitude to sin, whereby we aim to avoid making the same error twice.

  • Karen Davis

    Great post Michael! Saying  I’ve made a mistake certainly feels and looks better than admitting I’ve sinned against God and others in the short term, but it doesn’t make it right, nor does it please God. Thanks for such a thought-provoking post to start the week.

  • Richard

    Thanks Michael. an excellent


    The distinction between sins and mistakes
    is  helpful  and your 5 action point useful.

    The Bible speaks of sin and sins, I believe some people  acknowledge  their sins, some will even confess their sins.
    Yet many fail to recognise the root and stem of sins is – Sin.  The “Old Adam “in us  is difficult to comprehend. Thanks be to God
    we can have  the victory over sin through
    our Lord Jesus Christ.

  • Amy Riep

    This is absolutely a conversation that needs to continue and you hit the nail on the head that watering down sin by calling it a mistake speaks clearly about the posture of a person’s heart. 

    The last few years of my life were significantly impacted when a dear friend and ministry leader fell hard and his long-standing affair and lack of financial integrity surfaced. I was asked to lead the organization through the aftermath – and one of the most challenging aspects of it all was repeatedly being confronted with his lack of ownership for his sin and the devastating consequences that followed.  I’ve never wrestled with such deep anger, disgust and judgment. One of the biggest challenges in moving forward  – is to not let the roots of his sin become a choke-hold around my heart. The journey of forgiveness has been painful and messy and is still very much in process.

    • Gail

      When we sin in such big ways we often don’t realise the pain we cause others and the sins they wrestle with as a result – like bitterness and unforgiveness. I think that the effect of our sins on others is one of the reasons God hates sin so much.

  • Cheri Gregory

    When we make an “honest mistake,” shifting blame is natural, even expected: the one-way street had no sign, salt looks lik sugar, who would expect that would lead to porn?!? 

    John’s word choice invited others to blame Elizabeth. I was surprised by the viciousness with which many turned upon Elizabeth and  assumed it was yet another sign of the depths to which our society has sunk. Pondering your post, now it seems to me that John’s mis-labeling “sin” as a mere “mistake” threw the door wide open for public scrutiny and condemnation of Elizabeth, and her role in that “mistake.”

  • Anonymous

    Michael –

    I have re-tweeted and am about to post on Facebook.   All of us need to stand in front of the mirror of God’s Holy Word and truly look at the reflection we see.

    This article needs to be shared and the discussion of every talk radio host, small group and youth ministry.   If we are going to have fundamental change in our society, community and homes. it must start right here.

    Thank you


  • Anonymous

    “Taking responsibility for your behavior”… that seems to be what’s missing these days.  We are often to quick to point out reasons, excuses for our mistakes and sins.  Even in the little things, I am trying to be more aware of the moments when I have failed myself, others and, more importantly, God.  Owning every aspect of the actions that led to this is my first action …. albeit a work in progress.  Thanks Michael!

  • Brad Hensley

    As always, love the post from you Michael. In all honesty, I typically follow you for your productivity blogs that has helped me tremendously, however, I am in the midst of getting help for my sin that I fell back into and lied to my entire family about which was relapsing into a gambling addiction. I understand your post and it really has made me think about some things. I have to disagree with point number three or take it differently. I think guilt is from the devil, but I think conviction is from God. To often times, we can sulk in guilt (like I have for many months) and not get help but that could just be me as well.

    • Gina Burgess

      I agree that guilty feelings after we’ve confessed our sin to God come from Satan. He loves to throw shawls of shame over our heads so we can’t see truth. Admitting guilt after conviction is sort of the follow-through of conviction.

  • Kristi

    Wow.  This really helped me understand some feelings I have been struggling with.  God’s timing is always so perfect.  I also realize I need repent and seek forgiveness for a very wrong response.  I love your posts…..stumbled across you accidentally, but have told almost every one they need to check you out. I am grateful for the gift God has placed inside of you, and your willingness to share it.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t believe that we choose sin.   We are sinners from the time we are born, always imperfect and falling short of our full potential for ourselves and for God.  We sin by nature, not by choice.

    • Gina Burgess

      Ah, but cwgmpls, when was the last time you had an opportunity to either tell the truth and face the music or tell a lie and avoid trouble? When was the last time you heard an actor take God’s name in vain in a movie and continued to watch the movie? When was the last time you ate far more than you should have at Thanksgiving?

      Those are deliberate choices that we face everyday. We choose how we react to someone else’s anger. We choose what we say when we are angry. We choose to pay a fair wage or to try to pay as cheaply as possible (which btw we all get what we pay for, don’t we?) We choose to go back in the store and pay for the item that was under the buggy that the clerk didn’t scan even when it’s 100 degrees in the parking lot and we’ve got ice cream in the back seat.

      Absolutely we have the sin nature which Paul tells us that he fought constantly. We are in a struggle every day, and there is no way we can win that struggle on our own. We can only live the Christian life through Jesus, but we must choose to give Him reign over our hearts and make Him ruler of our lives.

  • Daren Sirbough

    In regards to the question I felt wronged. I felt like my feelings weren’t important and I still feel that the person hasn’t taken responsibility for his rudeness. I held a grudge that lasted for over a year. I recently went and apologised to him for ‘my’ behaviour and regardless of whether he ever takes responsibility for his end of things, I know that I have taken responsibility for mine. I have lived in freedom because of it. During the time I held un-forgiveness towards him, it was really hard to stay close to God. When someone calls a sin a mistake, you have every right to be angry in the natural, but because you are saved you have no right at all. It may be wise to cut the person off if they continue to hurt you in that way but I don’t think this is a place to vent and not take responsibility for the way you let offense and bitterness get inside.


  • Kristy K

    Reminds me of something I heard at a recent women’s retreat.  The speaker said that all of these struggles we have — fear, disbelief, habitual issues that we can’t seem to get rid of — would probably disappear if we called them what they really are, SIN. In my own life, it’s easier to get trapped in a cycle of sin if I’m calling it a mistake or a struggle. Then it becomes more about my circumstances and less about the condition of my own heart.

  • David Peach

    Excellent information! This is timely for me. Yesterday the visiting pastor in our church was talking about sexual sins, but he occasionally used the words ‘error’ and ‘mistake.’ That didn’t sit well with me. I was bothered by his choice of words, but was not sure why. This helps me think through the word choice more clearly.

  • Cynthia Herron

    This is the perfect post for today’s world! When we’re children, I believe it’s sometimes even easier to “own” our transgressions/sin than it is when we become adults. Most kids still have that innate sense of knowing right from wrong, and are sometimes quicker at saying “I’m sorry” than seasoned adults. Why is this? Could it be that society perpetuates the notion that admitting we’ve sinned somehow makes us weaker rather than stronger in the eyes of others? We know we’ve grown in our walk with Christ when we can ADMIT we’ve sinned, then make the CHOICE to turn from it. Sometimes, it’s an uphill battle, but I’m more willing to forgive someone who comes to me with a truly contrite heart and recognizes that they’ve not only wounded me, but our Heavenly Father, as well…

  • carend

    What a great topic!  I hadn’t realized how I used the word “mistake” incorrectly so often.  You are right that guilt is God’s gift to us even though it doesn’t feel like it at times.  Thank you for the distinction and reminder of true diference between mistakes and sins. 

  • @kylereed

    I have seen this happen with apologies. 

    I have had people say “I am sorry that you took it that way” or “sorry that you misinterpreted my actions”
    that is not an apology, that is blaming someone else for your sin or mistake. 

    I often see that with apologies, that fine line that you just detailed there with sin and mistake. It really does come down to ownership over blame

    • Brandon

      “It really does come down to ownership over blame”

      And that it does!

  • Gina Burgess

    Mike, I love this post. I wish more leaders in America and around the world would stand up and say this. I have seen so many “leaders” never take responsibility for their sin. The most recent is someone who is running for president. Owning up to mistakes is a hugely mature thing to do. Admitting to sin is a courageous thing to do, but literally wins friends and influences more people than the pompous, self-righteous pride of saying, “I did not …..”

    When I was in sales and I found out what I’d told a customer wasn’t true I’d immediately call them back and tell them I’d lied to them, but didn’t mean to lie. Those people followed me where ever I worked because they knew I was being up front with them with no hidden pitfalls.

    I’ve been fired from jobs for my faith and my principles which I won’t bend “just to make a sale”. God’s hand was there catching me, holding me up and then setting me on my feet again. That rejection hurt, but by golly, being rejected by Jesus would be fatal; and I want so badly to hear those words, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”

  • Brandon

    Grat stuff! I like all of your bulleted points!

  • Uma Maheswaran S

    Sin makes me think of God. Sin makes me think of judgment. Sin would mean there’s some giant moral absolute or absolutes out there, and I’m accountable and if I’ve broken those laws or those rules that God has set up, then I’m in big trouble and I’m accountable. There might be a judgment and I might have to beg for forgiveness. Or, probably, if there’s such a thing as sin, then I’m going to be punished.

    On the other hand, when we say, “Okay, look. I made a mistake. Nobody’s perfect. I made a mistake,” the assumption is you can’t be too mad at me because it was a mistake. I didn’t know any better. I wasn’t paying close enough attention. Okay, I took my eye off the ball for just a minute. Okay, I didn’t know everything I needed to know. Could you just give me a break? Nobody’s perfect. I made a mistake. A mistake. It’s a much better word.
    Andy Stanley rightly puts that — “If you’re just a mistaker, then all you have to do is do better. Mistakers just have to try harder. Mistakers just have to break little, nasty habits. Mistakers just have to be more consistent. Mistakers just have to try harder next time. But if I’m a sinner, then that seems to be more fundamental to who I am. If I’m a sinner, then simply trying harder isn’t going to get it done, because if I’m a sinner, then I probably owe somebody something. If I’m a sinner, trying harder isn’t going to help me.”
    I believe that’s why anyone sinning against others tends to avoid the truth and calls it a mistake.

    • TNeal

      Uma, I like your illustration from Andy Stanley and your own descriptions as well.–Tom

      • Uma Maheswaran S

        Thanks TNeal. You are welcome.

    • Robert Ewoldt

      Uma, good thoughts. I ought to read this Andy Stanley book; it sounds
      great. “If I’m a sinner, trying harder isn’t going to help me.” That’s a
      very good way to put it.

  • Leigh Ann

    “Repentance is not only a change of mind; it is a change of direction.
    Unless you change your behavior, you haven’t really repented, no matter
    how many tears you may have shed.”

    I think this is the hardest thing for our secular society to grasp. In truth, it is quite possibly the hardest thing for me to grasp as a Christian. How often my flesh wins out time and time again. I can feel remorse for my sin, even godly sorrow, but what I do with that sorrow and that remorse is what will or will not bring God glory.

    Great post! So thankful for people like you who bring hard issues to light!

  • Randall

    Thanks for this, Michael.  And I resonate with (what looks like) the first comment.  This is a great distinction to make with kids, and one that I hadn’t thought of yet as a parent of a 10, 8, and 3 year old. 

    We’ve used the words interchangeably and I’ve always felt some uneasiness there but hadn’t put my finger on it.  So, again, thank you!

  • Jeanne Farrington

    The Oxford American Dictionary (comes with the Mac) has some careful examples of the differences between words like mistake, error, sin, offense, and transgression.  Although a mistake usually comes from poor judgment, it is associated more with being wrong or inaccurate.  A sin, on the other hand, is associated with wrongdoing—with violating religious, ethical, and moral standards.  “Mistake” and “sin” are not given as synonyms for each other, which supports your points, Michael.  

    I’m thinking of the post you wrote about protecting one’s marriage.  While a married person having dinner alone with someone from the opposite sex may not be a sin (depending on intentions), it could be a mistake.  If that mistake leads to more, then we have a sin.  So owning up to a “mistake” is only a  lightweight admission & doesn’t really get to the heart of the matter.  

    I think the hardest part for me is when someone does something hurtful and takes no responsibility for it at all.  a) Lies about it.  b) If the fact of it is inescapable, doesn’t apologize.  c) If there is an apology, then keeps doing the hurtful thing.  d) Wonders why there’s a problem.  ***Ouch.***

    • TNeal

      Jeanne, you offer some thought-provoking ideas. I appreciate the distinction between “dinner alone with the opposite sex,” an exercise of poor judgment, versus adultery, an act of betrayal. Your sharing of definitions makes me think of mistake as wrong thinking and sin which is wrongdoing. This distinction isn’t always so clear (Jesus condemns the thinking of evil just as vehemently as the doing of evil) but it’s generally helpful.

  • Katherine Hyde

    Great post on a very important topic. I’d just like to point out something about your definition of “mistake”: A mistake can also be a deliberate choice, but in a morally neutral area—a choice made in good faith that does not lead to the results one was hoping for. Financial decisions often fall into this category.
    If we were infallibly able to discern God’s will in every situation and chose to go against it, these choices would be sins; but since most of us haven’t attained that level of spirituality, I think they qualify as mistakes.

  • John Richardson

    Sometimes our sins are hidden from our eyes by ignorance. I like this quote from Eleanor Roosevelt

    “So much attention is paid to the aggressive sins, such as violence and cruelty and greed with all their tragic effects, that too little attention is paid to the passive sins, such as apathy and laziness, which in the long run can have a more devastating effect.” Eleanor Roosevelt

    This implies that sometimes our sin is inaction rather than something we have actively done. Something to think about…

  • Anonymous

    Whoa! Thanks for sharing this.

    I have recently experienced this with a friend who has relapsed several times over the last two months. She won’t accept help. She has been very quick to point out that she has made a mistake, but she will get better. I have taken the Biblical steps to hold her accountable, but not once has she owned up to the sin she has committed. It is all a “mistake” and to add to that, it seems to be everyone else’s fault. 

    Sending her this blog post. She can’t be more mad at me than she already is. Thank you again for posting. 

  • James Randorff

    First, thank you for writing this.  I’ve gotten so accustomed to hearing (and saying) the word ‘mistake’ that I hadn’t really thought of it as being a sinner’s cop-out.

    The words, “I made a mistake,” (typically preceded by, “Okay,” or, “Hey”) immediately make me feel like someone is trying to have the final word (“Hey, I made a mistake… now can we drop it?”).  In contrast, the words, “I have sinned,” are not only contrite and apologetic, they invite an open and honest discussion.

    Again, thanks!  I’m glad to take on this nugget of wisdom this morning.

  • TNeal

    When I compare two statements, I see how words can clarify and deepen the personal impact plus provide greater incentive for taking personal responsibility.

    I made a mistake vs. I chose to do wrong.

    I messed up vs. I violated our marriage.

    In other words, I see your point. I also recognize how deeply this issue must resonate with you since you’ve used two public marital failures to illustrate your points in this and another post.

  • Cyberquill

    The question is whether there exists a prefab and objective list of sinful behavior independent of our own personal sense of right and wrong, or whether a sin is simply any behavior we knowingly engage in even though we believe it’s wrong, i.e., it violates our conscience. 

    For instance, I consider knowingly entering a porn site a sin only (a) if it’s child porn or (b) if this leads to neglecting one’s spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend, in which case I’d consider it equally sinful to watch a baseball game or some dopey sitcom. 

    On the other hand, I find it a sin to eat a steak when vegetarian food sources are available aplenty, as I generally view the consumption of meat as an act of aiding and abetting unnecessary cruelty perpetrated upon sentient creatures. Similarly, I consider alcohol such a destructive force in society that consumption of it in any form and quantity is a sin in my book, as doing so helps subsidize an industry that causes way too much injury and death for my taste. 

    Now, of course, you may hand me a Bible and ask me to flip to the page where it says that consuming meat or alcohol in any quantity is a sin. In response, all I can do is to point to my chest area as the place where God communicates with me the loudest, and if this voice doesn’t square with Scripture in every respect, what am I supposed to do?  The voice is still there, loud and clear. 

    So to what extent do you consider it legitimate to follow one’s own heart as far as sin identification irrespective of what Scripture may dictate? Or would you say that if my personal sense of right and wrong fails to comport with the Bible in all respects, the Devil has encroached upon my conscience? 

  • Ralph Stoever

    This is a thoughtful and important contribution towards increased moral awareness. I believe the distinction made is important and can only fully support doing it. The issue has been debated for many years and I’d like to add some thoughts and questions.

    In my opinion, our acts must be judged both by their intent (sin or not) and their results (mistake or not). The reason is that sins are sometimes required and mistake must sometimes be avoided at all costs.

    I’ll start with a well know example from discussions on Kant’s categorical imperative. Should you tell the truth or lie (sin) to a murderer who asks you where your children are?
    This example might seem contrived, but you’ll get the point and I’ll spare you philosophical arguments. In my humble opinion, what matters is that your action (lying or not) must sometimes be judged intelligently based on the greater good (moral values) you want to achieve. It is still a sin and not a mistake to lie, but might it not be the best moral choice?

    A more striking example (for me) steps from a bar discussion when I was a student. Say a distracted driver crosses a red light at rush hour by mistake. How does it compare to a sober driver who crosses a red light on purposes at 03:00 am in the middle of nowhere (say northern Canada for example) after carefully checking a well-lit intersection? How does your assessment change if the former ends up in an accident that kills children, whereas the later gets a huge fine?

    Finally, how do either compare to a critical Apollo 13 type of situation when lives are at stake and Gene Kranz tells you ‘Failure is not an option’?

    Example 1 (murderer) and 2 (driver) show that results could matter as much or even more than intentions (I think) whereas Apollo 13 illustrates a situation in which moral values (lives at stake), intentions (save them) and results are all crucial.

    So Michael is right to distinguish between the 2 and this distinction must be reinstated, but as a guideline, I’d say we must  always remain aware of both and how or moral code values potential results.

  • Monica Taffinder

    Thank you for addressing this distinction. As a Christian and a mental health counselor, I have seen the damage that results when someone minimizes what they’ve done or what’s been done to them. I’ve also witnessed amazing freedom when someone truly acknowledges their sin. I am more grateful each year for Christ’s words that the truth will set you free. 

  • Dylan Dodson

    I love this post, sin and mistakes are not synonymous. As a college student, I am afraid many in my generation are being taught that anything that we knowingly do that is wrong is merely a mistake. This of course, is not the case.

  • Lyndon Olson

    You make an excellent point about using “mistake” as a watered-down euphemism; I’ve often had the same thought as I see “lawyered-up” public figures use the word as a semantic “lowest common denominator” to downplay the severity of their actions while still appearing contrite.

    However, I’m equally uncomfortable with your use of the phrase “own it” to describe the attitude we should have toward a sin (or mistake) we make.  In full context, I’m sure you mean “take full responsibility for having committed the act”, which is fine,  but the “own it” term is too conducive to a mindset which can subconsciously lock someone into the behavior pattern at the same time he/she outwardly disapproves of it.

    Generally when we “own” something, we don’t get rid of it –or if we do, we no longer say that we “own” it.  In some circles, this term seems to get used without being analyzed first, but it’s important not to fall into a colloquial ditch on the other side of the same road from the one that soft-pedals a sin by calling it a “mistake.”

    On the whole, though, I heartily agree with your sentiments here.  Thanks for the thought-provoking observations.    

  • Daniel Decker

    Wozers. Powerful post Mike and one that is massively needed. I think, as a society, we have begun to minimialize the word “sin.” It’s not used as much in most churches either. Why? Not 100% sure. Maybe the word is too painful for some, maybe the accountability it brings to too tough to deal with, etc. But, we won’t get better by sweeping it under the rug and pretending it doesn’t exist. I agree, we need to face it head.

  • Tk Beyond

    Amen & amen!

  • Mrstcr

    Thank you for this excellent post!  Not much else to say — there have been some excellent comments as well. 

  • Dan Greegor

    Great post. I have been challenging myself lately to “call a spade a spade”. Why do we find it so hard to tell someone that I have sinned against you? We’ll use phrases such as “my bad” or “I apologize” yet saying “I’ve sinned against you. Please forgive me” is akin to maintaining a proper diet; you know you should but its so hard to do.

    Why do we have a reluctance to saying the word “sin”?

  • Anonymous

    About 15 years ago my pastor did a message called “What ever happened to sin?” and it was on this very topic. We take the reasons for sin and make them into excuses (fear, unbelief, horrible childhood etc…).  The lesser sins of the bible (gluttony, drunkeness…) become “addictions” which they are, but as Christians our victory is calling it what it is – SIN.

    Last year I was talking to my therapist about all the changes in my life. I kept saying they were “disappointments” and I couldn’t figure out why I felt so down.  He finally corrected me and said “you suffered losses and needed to grieve.  A disappointment is going to 31 flavors and them being out of your favorite flavor of ice cream!”  He was so right. It’s important for our well being to see things as God sees them. I think in our attempt to remain bold & courageous we wordsmith ourselves into deception. 

    • W. Mark Thompson

      Love your comparison. As much as I like ice cream, I agree with you.   :)
      We should definitely call sin what it is.
      God bless.

    • TNeal

      Laurinda, excellent illustration and helpful. Using the right word, disappointment vs. grieving, often clarifies the feeling which hopefully leads to the appropriate response and/or action. Thanks for sharing.–Tom

  • Anonymous

    Amen! We don’t like to use the strong words for our own offenses! We know when we’re in sin! I’m so glad you wrote about this. It’s an important topic and one I think we try to brush under the rug in America. We love to blame others in our society. Not being honest makes it hard for others to connect with us.

    Please feel free to stop by: Trailing After God

  • W. Mark Thompson

     Yes, John Edwards sinned. He called it a mistake. Trying to hold on to as much pride as possible, he got a speech writer to make him look as guiltless as possible. Not a good idea. Still more pride. Pride before the fall & after the fall doesn’t really provide proof of a person who has fallen on his face in true repentance.

    You can always tell true repentance in the consistent action following the claim.

    Matthew 7:16

    But, as I’ve found out, even in true repentance, there may be consequences that you’ll have to live with for the rest of your life. It may not be easy, but there is something about being free of that guilt that can’t be replaced. The only way to explain it is like being able to breathe. Really breathe.

  • paula

    My mind is going in circles on this one.  I often help people to realize that we are all sinners by drawing attention to the fact that we all err and we aren’t God.  Missing the mark and not pleasing God defines “sin”.  God being perfectly on the mark is therefore sinless.  I picture the perfect center of a bulls-eye when I say “on the mark”. 

    It’s hard to visualize someone saying in the public forum, “I’m a sinner.  I sinned against my wife.”  To admit the “mistake” is the more public face for the occasion.  All sins being equal before God as missing the mark, it’s tough to think of how one would publicly make a statement in accordance with the blog statements here.

    What would you want someone to say in a public format? 

    Between the spouses the discussion is different.  Between God and man the discussion is different. 

    We don’t want a “boys will be boys” mentality of  oops “I made a mistake”.  But can we accept and handle hearing, the depth of the truth?

    Yes, he sinned and  I don’t know if he truly acknowledges that before God. 

    We must also be careful when parsing the words other people issue that we know and fully comprehend their content.  If I’m recalling the golden rule properly, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” I’m certain my  speech couldn’t handle equal parsing, regardless of my thought process.

    • Michael Hyatt

      The point here is not what we should be saying in public. I used the example as emblematic of a larger cultural shift away from personal responsibility and accountability.

    • TNeal

      You make some good points and raise some important issues. I recognize that John Edwards doesn’t owe me an apology. I’m not the one he offended. On the other hand, I would hope, if placed in a place of public prominence, I would address two things with crystal-clear candor.

      I did wrong. I betrayed my wife and damaged my marriage.

      I take full responsibility for my actions. I made the choice. I caused the damage.

      I am thankful that my wrongdoing has not made anyone’s front page (or even the Want Ads). But, whether publicly or privately, the message needs to be consistent. I did wrong. I am responsible.

  • Jonathan G

    Perhaps in your favored circles, referring publicly to a mistake as a sin might be
    appropriate.  However, for some readers of your blog, the religious tilt of this
    particular post is bound to make them uncomfortable.  I read your blog
    because I am looking for thought provoking ideas and business suggestions,
    not preaching.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks for your input.

      I don’t see this as preaching so much as I see it about one of the essential characteristics of any real leader: the willing to accept responsibility for one’s actions.

      • Kelly Combs

        The comment about “preaching” reminds me of the saying, “You just stopped preaching and started meddling.”   I know when I don’t like the preaching, it’s often because the Holy Spirit is elbowing me saying, “hey, this one’s for you!”

        However, I can understand why non-believers wouldn’t want to use the word sin.  Still, I think it was a great post Mr. Hyatt.  Thanks.

    • W. Mark Thompson

      I found the post very thought-provoking. Great advice in business as well. If you call things what they are, it just lends you to be more credible. Not to mention a stronger leader. Credibility and strength are great business [and leadership] traits. But that’s just my 2 cents.  :)

  • Chrissy N

    FANTASTIC post, Michael.  I am progressively learning how to “own” my sins and mistakes (even when they aren’t entirely “my fault”) and am amazed each time at how freeing it is to do so.  As a person with experience on the other side of the sin also (as in, the other person sinned against me and called it a “mistake”), I know how incredibly hurtful that can be.  Thank you for encouraging us all to take a stand and take responsibility!!!

  • bethanyplanton

    Thank you for writing about what is right and moral instead of what might be popular! Your blog always challenges me to live out my faith better. 

  • Kim Bruce

    Nicely said.  My church tends to use the term “moral failure”.  One of our Pastors recently had a “moral failure”.  I guess that’s better than “mistake”, but it still doesn’t quite say “sin”. 

    • Michael Hyatt

      Yea, I have heard that, too. I don’t know why people work so hard to avoid the “s” word.

  • Dustin W. Stout

    Michael, this is a fantastic post. As to your question, I’ve learned to be very quick to forgive. It isn’t easy as some people, whether consciously or unconsciously, require different things in order to forgive. I was the type that needed not only to be asked to forgive, but I needed to “have the score settled” in a sense. I’ve learned that when someone sins against me, it is selfish of me to not remember that they have sinned against God as well, and that is a greater offense. 

    I am thankful that God’s amazing grace is sufficient for me in my moments of sin, so I will continually strive to extend that same grace to those who sin against me.

  • TNeal

    In reading some of the other comments, I recognize that “mistake” and “sin” are in essence different. The word “sin” may or may not translate well into a particular culture or sub-culture. And, from your post, the heart of the matter isn’t a question of semantics. It’s a question of orientation, recognition of damage, and willingness to assume responsibility.

    An affair, adultery, a fling–each of those describes the same event. But they are worlds apart in recognition of damage and willingness to assume responsibility. When you’re told, “You’re a wrecking ball destroying your family,” as a friend once heard, then you discern with much better clarity the difference between “I made a mistake” and “I did wrong.” Now you’re left with a real choice about what you’re going to do about it.

    Most of us don’t move into healthier decisions, therefore healthier relationships, until we see the genuine wrong, the destructive evil, we’ve done to others.

  • Joe Lalonde

    Wow Michael, that’s a hard hitting blog post! But it is so refreshing to hear the truth.

  • Tony Alicea

    Wow, there’s so much wisdom in this post. I have plenty of one liners that stick out. I definitely see that there isn’t enough of people “owning” their sin. There is a culture of passing the buck, even within Christianity.

    There is so much more honor in owning your wrongs, even when you can’t immediately fix what you’ve done. You can bring healing to the one you wronged when you simply take responsibility for your actions.

  • Eric Mark

    Congressman Wiener just admitted to making “mistakes,” although he says he is accepting full responsibility for his “deeply regrettable mistake.”  Maybe he should have read Michael’s post.

    • W. Mark Thompson

      I just heard that press conference. Thought the exact same thing, Eric. 

      • Robert Ewoldt

        I told my wife, “You ought to read MH’s post today. It’s very applicable to
        this situation.”

        • W. Mark Thompson

          No doubt, Robert. Very applicable.

    • Robert Ewoldt

      Ha ha.

  • Dean Waskowiak

    This is a very timely blog in relation to Rep Weiner’s admission to a “mistake” today.

  • Scott Gingold

    I really enjoyed, and agreed with this post when I read it early this morning. Words however became action when New York Congressman Anthony Weiner admitted that he made a “mistake” but not that he sinned. Perhaps the Congressman ought have a long conversation with you Michael!

  • Kevin Brinkley

    Good timing on this post….Congressman Anthony Weiner today ““This was a mistake and I am very sorry for it and take it very seriously.”

    He also referred to it as a “joke”.

  • Kelly Combs

    Can you tweet this article to NY Rep. Weiner? He has made some “terrible mistakes,” I understand from his press conference.

    We started the rule with our kids that they can’t just “I’m sorry,” but must instead say, “Will you forgive me?”    “I’m sorry” gives the power to the offender.  “Will you forgive me?” gives the power to the offended. 

    Of course, as Christians we always respond “yes, I forgive you.”  But asking for forgiveness is very humbling.

    Thanks for the opportunity to offer my input.

  • Alfred

    I have discovered that people have a tendency to undermine their errors (sins and mistakes) and over emphasize their good deeds. I sometimes feel tempted to follow suit but an inner desire to be free from the weight of guilt outweighs the urge to escape the consequence of my actions. I am not interested in sweeping the dust under the carper, rather I desire a complete cleansing and deliverance from such habits.

    I believe that facing my sins (and mistakes) for what they truly are is an important step in achieving wholeness and liberty from falling into it again. It is not easy, but it takes a genuine state of repentance to do it. Why should I settle for less when there is complete restoration awaiting at the Foot of The Cross.

  • Marsha Young

    An excellent essay on the difference between a mistake and a sin.  Thank you.

  • Aaron Householder

    Guts.  Thank you for your guts to write it straight up.
    Grace.  Thank you for your grace in delivering the truth.

  • Espeir1700

    This was a great post. I could not think of a better way to say it. I have been thinking about this very subject this week. It’s a shame that no one wants to take responsibility anymore or be honest about themselves. We often try to rationalize or minimize our behavior because everyone makes “mistakes.” As leaders God has called us to high standards and just because we change our standards it doesn’t mean “He” changes his! Great post!

  • David Adeola

    Awesome word for all and a clear warning to the body of Christ walking in sin with an unrepentant heart hiding under grace! Thank you for this word which I have shared on my Facebook Page.

  • Gail

    The definition we use for sin in our kids ministry is “Sin is doing something God told us NOT to do or NOT doing something God told us TO do.”

    James 4:17 says “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.” This takes us to a whole other level of sins. This takes us beyong “mistakes” to neglecting our responsibilities as Christians like loving each other, forgiving. looking after the poor, praying, being thankful, rejoicing, having faith. Sometimes there can be more intentional choice to NOT do one of these things than to do a sin of comission e.g. lie, steal.

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  • Dave Anthold

    Anytime people are involved there is bound to be some heartbreak involved.  I think understanding your own responsibility is often the toughest.  In order to work through all the steps to get to forgiveness (whether asking or receiving) you need to undergo some type of self-examination.  As I get older, I find that God has me in the midst of different storms-all to challenge me, some to grow me and some to grow someone else.  When you have to have the tough conversations, if they are not bathed in prayer – forget it – your own strength isn’t enough.

  • Paul B Evans

    I love this article, Michael! There have been plenty of times when I’ve called my sin a mistake. Our culture makes us way too soft and protective of our reputation to accept full responsibility.

    Even our churches focus so much on acceptance that we often reframe sin as a “struggle.” Which it is, but until we call the struggle a sin and confront it, we’ll probably always have a problem with it.

  • Dubmcm

    This is a great article. It is so easy to call our sin a mistake rather than owning up to it. 

  • Anonymous

    Great post Michael.  I think that you lay out a great way to acknowledge a sin and dealing with it.  I think that all too often that we forget to do this with the people we hurt.  He find it easy to go to God for God’s grace and forgiveness, but we forget the people that we have hurt sometimes and do not acknowledge it with them.  At the same time, I have experience to often the plight of someone who has sin against me and does 1, 2, 3 and 5, but does not do 4 and without changing the  behavior, it just seems like an empty task to ask for the forgiveness.  4 in my opinion is the most important part for us to do in the actions we take to right a wrong sin.  Sometimes we forget that repent has this part tied too it.  Repent does not just mean asking for forgiveness, but implies that as part of that you will change your behavior to no do it again.  We are not perfect and therefore my fail sometimes, but the intention is the key.

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  • Aaron Harris

    Great post!

  • Buddyxlee

    Read your bible….. Sin is not necessarily an intentional act. There are two types of sin the bible covers clearly, intentional sin and unintentional sin. The price for unintentional sins usually involved reimbursing those you unintentionally harmed, remaining unclean for a certain period of time, and making an offering to a priest. The price for intentional sin was often death.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Yes, there are. However, the point I am making here is that people often misapply the language of unintentional sin (a mistake) to an intentional, immoral act (sin).

  • Paul Steinbrueck

    Case in point, on the very day this excellent post is published Congressman Weiner apologizes for lying, ‘terrible mistakes’ –

  • Shannon Mijo

    Great Blog Michael, Loved it!

  • Lolivetti4

    I agree, but I would go even further. We can break God’s law and sin unintentionally. Unintentional sin is not as grievous as intentional sin before God, but we are still responsible for the consequences.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Yes, I agree. The bible distinguishes between the two in several places, the most obvious being manslaughter and murder.

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  • LLM

    I agree with your post, but it makes me nervous!! I was in an evangelical denomination for 8yrs that taught it was possible for Christians to go days,weeks, even months without sinning.  They made a distinction between a “mistake” and “sin”.  And an awful lot of rationalization or minimization went on. It is so easy to rationalize, overlook our sin, make excuses, and be self-deceived. And very ironically, in this denomination where sin was suppose to be taken seriously, holiness emphasized, and it was taught that you could be sinless for long periods of time…we saw more serious sin/trespass going on than in any other denomination we have ever been a part of!! Somehow the emphasis on our ability to be holy, and the distinction THEY made between “mistake” and “sin” led to a lot of self-deception…

    • Michael Hyatt

      That doesn’t surprise me. We have to insist that people call a sin a sin, and yet embrace them with grace when they do so.

  • Sharon

    Most people that get caught in a sin call it a mistake. When this happened in my marriage, by my spouse, it led to divorce. I don’t wish to divulge the ugly sin it was…but when he chose to call it a mistake, it seemed to trivialize the magnitude of his hurt caused by the deed. It was like shrugging his shoulders and saying, oops, sorry…

    • Michael Hyatt

      I agree. It really minimizes the consequences.

  • Anonymous

    What a great distinction…mistakes vs sin. Another key distinction is between feeling sorry and repentance (metanoia). If we could confess our sin and move beyond our mind to true repentance – oh, what a world!

  • Melanies Reed

    Michael, I read this again today.  I have posted it on my facebook.  You spoke the truth in a society that increasingly is not speaking it (and that includes a growing Christian “culture”) .  You spoke truth about the aim of forgiveness being reconciliation.  Amen!  That is our work: “as Ambassadors of Christ become reconciled to God”  That is to be extended in our earthly relationships as proof of God’s  life-changing, supernatural power.  If it is not, then mercy and forgiveness become empty of their godly power.  Indeed, what then is really sought by the “words without the behavior to back them up”  is indulgence.  And indulgence becomes the dissonance of mercy.  It mocks the surpassing beauty of godly repentance, redemption and reconciliation.  God bless and make powerful this witness of Christ!

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  • Geoff Talbot

    This is a really interesting topic. How much did Jesus actually talk about sin?

    I think sin and guilt need to be protected from condemnation and the downward spiral that follows that. I guess mercy and grace, cover and protect us from condemnation.

    Relationally I think we avoid calling things sin, because often we do not feel secure enough to admit our error… love is actually at stake or that is our it feels (often in our brokenness love probably is at stake); so it is easier to call it an accident or a mistake.

    When we are all covered by mercy and seated together under the acknowledgment of grace it is so much easier to own our sin.

    Thanks for the post

  • Melanies Reed

    Another thought came to me about this from a thought by C. S. Lewis.  To “get” what he is writing requires a bit of understanding of the idiom he is using.  One of his quotes states: “There are just some people who won’t be forgiven.”  He’s not talking about judgement. What he means is what you are talking about here: there are some people who (as Jesus puts it) don’t want to “come to the light”: that humbling of self to have one’s sins admitted in full and without evasion and the freedom from captivity to the sin that affords.  They are too worried about consequences, recompense, exposure, pride etc. to the point that grace can’t come in. In other words, they really don’t want forgiveness no matter how much you may be willing to give it.  They want excuse and covering up of the sin so that they can go on sinning – which is different than covering sin over in love.  Everyone has sinned and fallen short.  But Love restores and makes amends.  It seeks to do justice for the wrong out of love.  We used to live this more deeply than we do now in the main.  Paul has a great discussion about this when he makes the differentiation between godly sorrow and worldly sorrow.  So many  troubled hearts could be relieved by reminding them that the regret they feel can be removed when they are willing to seek to do what is right (amends as far as it depends on them.  Obviously if it involves death, that is something that will have to wait for restoration) and let the Holy Spirit help them to do it and live through them. Rather than cultivating hatred for what is behind us, looking for the wrong kind of grace as Bonhoeffer put it,  there could be love and a witness to others of God’s power if only we would own up and make right.

  • Dyetjt

    Mistake no not when you deliberately do it.

  • Christian Ray Flores

    It seems that there has been an overflow of leadership sex scandals in the news but really its just getting harder to hide things with so much connectedness and social media available to communicate to the world. If we are to lead and have impact we need to protect the gift of marriage. 

  • Louise Thaxton

    I remember when this happened that my husband made the same comment – “mistake” or “sin”?  And that no responsibility was being taken.  And unfortunately I can remember times in my own life where I wanted to label my “sins” by another name – “mistake”.  I pray the Holy Spirit will always reveal the Truth to me – sin is sin. 

  • Paul Stanley

    Michael, this article prompted me to write a similar blog. Thanks for our insight and hope you don’t mind the mention.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Paul. I appreciate you writing this and referencing my blog.

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  • Jeff Goins

    I saw a video once on “How to Speak Christianese” – it was hilarious. One of the lessons was on vocabulary: “I struggle with that” – an expression Christians use to justify moral failure.

  • Mike Key

    This whole article could be rewritten to say the same thing about people saying they have a problem, rather than admitting sin.

    Example: I have a problem with pornography, alcohol, gambling, etc.

    We don’t talk about sin today, we talk about problems. The reason problems are more convenient than sins is that we don’t have to do anything about problems. If you only have a problem, you can get sympathy for it or understanding for it, or professional help for it.

    SIN on the other hand has to be repented of, confessed and forsaken.

  • Beck Gambill

    Hard hitting! I so appreciate your bold approach to addressing a word our culture would prefer to avoid!

  • Anonymous

    I was on vacation when this article was posted, but I’ve been saying all week (every time Rep. Weiner was quoted):  “It’s not a mistake. It’s a sin.”

    Great article.

    I also see this problem in reverse.  Some people think their mistakes are sins.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks. I think the reverse is far less damaging. Sin is technically “missing the mark.” So is a mistake. The difference is intention. Regardless, a mature person takes responsibility for both.

  • Jeff Randleman

    Great thoughts here.  I spent the past week at church camp, and I know this would have made a great addition to several conversations I had.  i wish I’d had it a few days sooner.

    It’s definitely going into my Evernote file for sermons/teaching resoutrces.


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  • Tinaracheleopp

    So good to read this and know i am not the only one who makes this differentiation.  I tried to tell my ex-fiance this and he didnt get it. 

  • Marc Arlt

    Thanks Michael for a great post. I was reminded of something my wife said – often people are not sorry for what they have done, they are just sorry they got caught doing it. The awesome thing is that when we acknowledge our sin, only then are we in a position to receive grace and mercy.

  • Donna Martin

    Very interesting post. I believe in God

  • BC

    When admitting something in a workplace environment to someone who may or may not be a christian and understand sin..would you still use the word “sin”?  And would you ask for forgiveness in that context? Or would it be a matter of owning up to your wrong-doing ?

    • Michael Hyatt

      I think the key is owning up to it. The exact language would depend on the circumstances.

  • Gordon Farmer

    If god wanted a perfect world, why did he fill it with so many imperfect people?

    • Robert Ewoldt

      Who says that God wanted a perfect world? And who’s to say that he didn’t create it perfectly? In fact, I believe that the Bible says that, when God created the world, he DID say that it was “good.”

    • Melanies Reed

      Gordon, the short answer is: He didn’t fill it with imperfect people.   People want choice. You want it.  I want it.  But that brings an incredible heart-breaking risk with it, and also a conversely incredible amount of love with it.  A paradox.  I haven’t met anyone , so far, that says: “No, I’d rather not have choice if this is what we have to go through.”   We’ve all seen or read or heard about the explorations of this concept in some sci-fi literature where there is the “perfect” dystopia.  Not a pleasant place to be, is it?  And on thorough examination, a dystopia is missing the one lifesaver that a world, even such as ours filled with evil has: hope!  God thought love (as He defines it) was so important that it was worth the risk of choice gone terribly wrong because evil is not so powerful that it vanquishes hope.  So imperfection doesn’t come from God; imperfection comes from our choosing to be imperfect, in essence, to sin.  That has to be learned.  God chose not to make that an autonomic response on our part but to make us like Him: with choice.  So we choose not to be like God or we choose to be like Him…with the help of the Holy Spirit and following the Way: Jesus.  The idea that God would choose to suffer before striking the sinner with an instant punishment, would choose to live in poverty (born in a manger) when He could have anything He wanted, would choose not to  make a showy display of His power in every circumstance we feel is wrong, would choose to be so patient that years pass (in our eyes) before action is implemented for many injustices and evils, smacks in our eyes as strange….IF we have adopted an attitude that limits the personality of God to the force of brute power as the solution for everything we decide is bad.  And most importantly, limiting God to our concept rather than who He really is prevents us from ever becoming like Him.  (John 1:12)

  • Mason-Theresa

    After reading this I feel like someone beyond hope. I’ve been angry and rebellious for so long I’m not sure there is any redemption left. I’m 56, and tired of the constant struggle against the sin in my life. Thanks for this post, since, I have been a Christian all my life, I finally know the difference now.

  • KeepinthePeace7752

    It continually amuses and amazes me how a people involved in a religion that where the main message is to love, judge so quickly and think they know about sin.  Especially when the information is derived from a book that has been so manipulated, distorted, and used fro control purposes throughout our history.  
    Mere men decided what books would be in and was written and rewritten so many times by various Kings, it’s a wonder anyone can interpret anything.  The words that really count are that of Jesus whether he was the son of God or not.  

    He didn’t judge or cast dispersion on those that made mistakes…  A sin is NOTHING more than a mistake…  Get over it and free your mind from the dogma and control based rules.  If we do everything in love, walk in love, and do what Jesus did most of the time no rules and dogma are necessary.

    Oh, and by the way, Church isn’t only on Sunday and doesn’t exist in side four walls.  Fellowship and church happen in every moment of every day that we exist.  When I am alone in the woods/forest and in peace and meditation, I am in church as two or more of God’s creations are with me.  Everything is energy and we are all one in God and God in us.  We don’t have to get back to God; God never left and we just need to recognize and admit that to ourselves.    

    The Greek word hamartia (ἁμαρτία) is usually translated as sin in the New Testament. In Classical Greek, it means “to miss the mark” or “to miss the target” which was also used in Old English archery.There’s more to this, actually:”The English word sin derives from Old English synn. The same root appears in several other Germanic languages, e.g. Old Norse synd, or German Sünde. The word may derive, ultimately, from *es-, one of the Indo-European roots that meant “to be,” and is a present participle, “being.” Latin, also has an old present participle of esse in the word sons, sont-, which came to mean “guilty” in Latin. The root meaning would appear to be, “it is true;” that is, “the charge has been proven.” The Greek word hamartia (ἁμαρτία) is often translated as sin in the New Testament; it means “to miss the mark” or “to miss the target”.”Sin” was also the name of the Babylonian moon god. Some students in recent times have postulated a connection with the modern English word “sin”, but this can only be a folk-etymology, because the etymology shown above from Anglo-Saxon synn is historically documented, the certified cognates are in Germanic languages, and no connection with the Babylonian religion can be cited.”

  • KeepinthePeace7752

    Please excuse my typos etc…  :)

  • MMS

    I sinned and made mistakes in my life. May God forgive me through the mercy of Jesus Christ.

  • Darrell Good

    When I was done wrong and the person referred to what he did as a mistake, even though it was on purpose, I felt like the person didn’t care about me. My relationship with that person didn’t matter. Our friendship didn’t mean anything. He was not a trusted friend. I could no longer trust him.

  • kimdodson

    You made a VERY grievous mistake in your article, hope you can correct this one quickly before many people are led astray. You wrote “Yes, we all make mistakes. But more importantly, we all sin.” … instead of “we don’t all sin”. Only true salvation will take care of that.

    • Michael Hyatt

      No, I meant it just like I wrote it. We all make mistakes. And we all sin. But there is a difference, and they each require a different response. Thanks.

      • kimdodson

        Well I am indeed sorry to hear you say that. You need to search the scriptures out, because it is filled with “Good News”, that Christ came to take away our sins, so that we could live a sin free life as in the beginning. For instance, All of Romans and 1 John Chapter 3. I am thankful that when he saved me, I was done with the sin. I am still human however, and make mistakes like “sinners” do. Your readers need to know that we have a Powerful God, who did not send His son to die, so that we could remain in our sins. I am just just 1 who actually lives it. Thank God by His grace, and not that of myself.

        • Michael Hyatt

          I don’t want to debate this. But I would invite you to consider 1 John 1:8—‟If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us *our* sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Note that the apostle John uses the pronoun ‟we.” He includes himself in this group.

          • K. Dodson

            Yes, I know may use that single scripture to try and override all the others. Some had thought themselves without sin, and needed no repentance. We ALL have… but once we have had true contrition of heart which leads to repentance, we do not go on continuing to sin. (Repent, is to turn away from sin) (The willful transgression of the law) Many scriptures not only support this, but the whole of Jesus death would be for nothing if we were not restored and able to do what the Bible promises us. Mind you it does take faith, and without faith in the word that says this, we certainly would not be able to live without sin after salvation (we would just go back to being a sinner again).

          • K. Dodson

            I do not wish to go on in this either, as you seem to be set it that thought. But a quick question. If you could live free from sin, wouldn’t you want to?

  • aileen

    Sin for me is pre- meditated before doing it, it comes first in our thought whom the devil injecting it in our mind that is why we can avoid it, JAMES 4-7

    Submit yourselves, then, to God. RESIST the devil, and he will FLEE from you.
    Mistakes done OUT OF IGNORANCE…

  • The Sales Whisperer®

    I could get on my soapbox for days on this, Michael. As a Christian, a parent, and a writer I know that words mean things. Politicians, business executives, etc. have handlers and choose their words carefully.

    We live in an “anything-goes,” “instant-gratification” society where we not only have “morning-after” pills to terminate pregnancies, we now have pills to take to prevent a hangover after knocking back a few too many the night before.

    Thanks for reminding us all to lead by example.

  • hhugorivera

    Thank you for the article I think acknowledging guilt is very important and the first step to fix the problem, I’d like to contribute with this related topic: can sins be forgiven? :

  • philrothschild

    Insightful. Powerful. Needed. Thanks Michael.

  • Abby Hatch

    Beautifully said. Thank you for this distinction.

  • James Marler

    One of the first lessons I taught my children (I’m talking age 3) was the law of non-contradiction. Why? Because I was laying the groundwork for the four fundamental truths that would carry them through their lives and by which EVERY thought, philosophy or action should be tested.
    1. You exist.
    2. The law of non-contradiction
    3. Your senses are basically reliable.
    4. Words have meaning.

    I bring this up to point out that when we “spin” a situation by using a word that’s easier (for us or others) to swallow, we, ultimately are attemtping to change the word’s true meaning. Michael picked a great example. John Edwards didn’t make a mistake. He made a choice. His choice was to sin. Period. Calling it anything else cheapens the truth and belittles those to whom he is speaking.

    It’s hard. It’s ridiculously hard. But we’re called to confess our sins to one another. (Yes, there is a time and a place, and even a proper audience, but that’s a different subject.) When we confess our sins, yes, first to God, then to others, that sin loses its power over us. Only then are we free.

  • Kevin

    What about teaching kids early to understand the meaning of and say “I was wrong” instead of “I am sorry”, followed up by “What do you need?” so a conversation of reconciliation can be started when either a mistake or sin occurs?

    • Michael Hyatt

      Love that!