It’s not a sin to make mistakes
In general, we should avoid making mistakes but for some, the fear of mistakes can become chronic. We know that we are probably struggling with a deeper issue when we see all mistakes as unacceptable or indefensible. We may even attach a moral code to it that sounds something like this: “Anyone who makes a mistake will be subject to immediate judgment and condemnation.”
There are certain situations, such as life or death scenarios, where we cannot afford to make mistakes. But for some of us, the emotional anxiety of possibly making an unintentional or innocent mistake can be so strong that it might as well mean life or death to us.
When we have a crippling fear of mistakes, we can’t help but:
- Be terrified of saying or doing something wrong
- View all decisions as dangerous and risky
- Worry about what other people think about our decisions and choices
- Have a hard time forgiving ourselves for even minor mistakes
- Find it difficult to accept or forgive other peoples’ mistakes
The type of mistakes we deem as inexcusable can vary from person to person. For some of us, that may be our school grades or performance in sports. For others, it may be something like the state of our home or the way we look.
The greater the intensity of our efforts to avoid mistakes, the more enslaved we are to fear. Yet someone who is enslaved may not immediately recognise their bondage because their need to avoid mistakes has become so important to them that they don’t question its validity. Here is a testimony to illustrate.
Sally (not her real name) is a business director who sought to be a good testimony for Jesus Christ at work. Her kind and warm personality meant she got along with many in her team but there were some individuals whom she struggled to accept or accommodate, let alone love as God commands.
John 13:34-35 ESV A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
To Sally, anything “messy” was a terrible mistake, one that had to be avoided at all cost. This was not confined only to her apartment but also to her work. Where she could not control other people’s “messy” work processes, she became highly agitated and judgmental.
“I started having issues at work around three years ago. I have been praying about it, surrendering to God, repenting for judging people at work, persevering to be faithful in the current situation, and while my heart was getting better, the situation was not improving but getting worse and worse.
Since COVID, business has been tough but the challenges at work was about conflict between individuals and departments. Some things seemed to be blatantly obvious to me as “the right thing to do…” but others weren’t aligned. They wouldn’t get on board and opted for the convenient way out (in my opinion) instead. I was so overwhelmed with judgement, bitterness, and contempt for the individuals and also felt so resentful that night after night, I had to repent for all of this. Yet things weren’t changing.
I was at breaking point when I reached out to my good friend and prayer partner.
I vented, cried, and shared my frustrations. She asked me a simple question, “Why are you so affected that they’re not on board?” It is a business I explained, if we didn’t deliver for the business, my teams’ jobs could be on the line. They’re breadwinners and many of them need this job to survive.
She patiently heard me out as I preached the commercial impact that was on the line as well as “doing right by the business.” I also admitted that I often questioned if it really was for the business that I had this angst or was it about me being right. In reality it was the latter, and I knew it. But the situation was still wrong and unnecessarily messy. If only they just came on board the process and worked a little harder, the situation would not be so messy!
My friend asked, “Can you ask the Holy Spirit to show you the root of not wanting things to be so messy?”
As I asked the Holy Spirit, I immediately felt the uneasiness, restlessness, and feeling of dread I felt in my gut when I saw a messy apartment (or house). While I wanted to switch these awful feelings off by distracting myself with Instagram or reading the news, I pressed in to allow the Holy Spirit to continue speaking to me.
I like my apartment and things to be presentable. It’s got to smell good, things should be in place and everything should function well together. I enjoy thinking through the flow of how things are used in the house and organise it in a way that makes it look good and easy to use. Everything has got to have a process! This in itself isn’t bad, and most would call it being “house proud”.
When I was growing up, a messy house indicated that my mother was in a foul and abusive mood. It represented turmoil and trouble in the house. I used to feel trapped in that situation, filled with dread with the uncertainty, and the fear that made me walk as if around eggshells through my speech, the fluidity of my actions, and the tone of my voice.
A messy house with things strewn everywhere disturbed me because it meant I couldn’t rest, had to be on guard, and wrestle with thoughts on how I could’ve prevented it.
There is nothing wrong in having a nice, pretty, and sweet-smelling apartment. In fact, it is good. But what I didn’t see was that it was a comfort for a deep wound from my childhood. What I didn’t realise was that I was holding on so tight to things to “work out” because I was afraid of the mess. What I didn’t realise was that while I was called (as we all are) to be faithful with what we have been given (Luke 16:10), it didn’t mean holding on to it with a tight fist to control it. But rather to be faithful while simultaneously committing and surrendering to the Lord in trust that He alone makes it good (Psalm 37:5).
So, while it came in the form of God’s hand against me at work in the sense that things were not working out for me – the feeling of peace, renewed hope and freedom I felt after I repented was so refreshing! I repented of holding on to self-righteousness of being commercially right and confessed the fear that was driving me. And I am so thankful that God was lovingly showing and disciplining me so that I would invite Him into that part of my heart to be healed. And to truly live to the tune of the promise in Romans 8:31.
So now while I do have a nice, clean, fragrant apartment, I do not need to be afraid of mess. God will give me the grace, the joy, and the wisdom to clean it up…. As He will in my work situation (and in all areas of my life).”
Letting go of our fear of mistakes
Fear often arises as a result of experiencing hard knocks in life which we not yet learnt to overcome with God’s guidance.
2 Timothy 1:7 ESV For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
God promises to strengthen and help us, He will uphold us with His righteous right hand. That is the safest place in this world to be. He will not let our foot slip or get caught when we make put our full confidence in Him alone.
Isaiah 41:10 ESV Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Proverbs 3:26 ESV For the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught.
Fear begins in our mind, driven by our desires, memories, and imaginations. To overcome our fear of mistakes therefore, we need to re-examine the way we think and renew our minds with the help of the Holy Spirit and God’s Word.
Ephesians 4:22-24 ESV to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
1. First, let’s recognise mistakes for what they are
As a start, it is helpful to clarify what a mistake is.
A genuine mistake arises because of a misjudgment, a misunderstanding, a distraction, or simply, a lack of sufficient information. These are not sins. Making a mistake is not the same as doing something immoral or with malicious intent.
2. Identify the root of our anxieties
Every fear begins with a seed that was planted in our hearts. Each can grow disproportionately under the ‘right’ circumstances. For example, anyone can develop a severe fear of making mistakes or “messing up” if:
- Our parents had threatened to abandon us when we were little if we made the mistake of displeasing them
- We never knew when the slightest “mistake” would suddenly set off someone’s explosive anger and abuse
- We suffered great loss, humiliation, pain, or trauma as a result of an innocent mistake
- We were penalised for trying something new
- We never received guidance when little, so any decision felt frightening and overwhelming
- We were always told we were incapable of making good decisions on our own
Not everyone is able to identify the root of their anxieties. This is not unusual because many seeds are planted when we were little and we may have forgotten or suppressed some of our memories. As followers of Jesus Christ, we can simply ask the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ name to show us the hidden truths in our hearts. God is faithful, He will help us.
John 16:13 ESV When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
John 8:32 ESV And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
3. Forgive and bless
The Bible shows us that we need to “make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends us.”
Colossians 3:12-13 NLT Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.
When we go back to the root of our fears, we will notice that there is almost always someone that we need to forgive. It could be someone who did not protect us, who failed to teach us, who terrorised us, who abused us, who deserted us, and so on. Perhaps the person we haven’t forgiven is ourselves!
Forgiveness is an integral part of following Jesus, because He modelled forgiveness to us first. In fact, Jesus has said that if we do not forgive others for their trespasses, neither will God the Father forgive us. Forgiveness is not something that is optional for followers of Jesus. At the same time, we are to “clothe ourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.”
Matthew 6:14 ESV For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,
Matthew 6:14-15 ESV For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Ephesians 4:32 ESV Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Forgiveness breaks the burden of someone’s sin against us, and frees us to experience God’s comforting love, hope and peace. It brings healing to our hearts and revives our crushed spirits.
4. Repent of idolising or judging others
Apart from forgiving others, we probably want to invite the Holy Spirit to search our hearts and show us if we have idolised anyone or judged them.
Psalm 139:23-24 ESV Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!
We tend to be in awe of those we idolise and be afraid of disappointing them. If we have judged others for their mistakes, we will subconsciously also become afraid of making mistakes because we have to always maintain a higher moral ground than those we have judged. Praying and asking God for His forgiveness and repenting of such idolisation and judgements frees us from the entanglement that we have placed ourselves under through our own sinful responses.
Romans 14:10-12 ESV Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.
5. Repent of and renounce our inner vows
Fear often drives us to make inner vows, which are promises we make ourselves to be hyper-vigilant in certain areas of our lives, in an effort to prevent ourselves from making the same mistakes in the future.
For example, we may have vowed to:
- Never make another mistake in our lives
- Never disappoint ourselves again
- Prove to other people that we are wiser / more successful / better than them etc.
- Be hyper vigilant so that we don’t get into trouble
- Always find out and consider all possibilities to ensure that we pick the best one
Unfortunately, such vows only create more anxiety for ourselves because no human being has the capability to control all our circumstances and outcomes all the time. We are bound to disappoint and fail ourselves.
It is far better to take refuge in God than to trust in ourselves. As long as we seek to follow God’s will, He will make straight our paths so we don’t wander off into trouble.
Psalm 118:8 ESV It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.
Proverbs 3:5-6 ESV Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
To be freed from our fears, we need to learn to renounce our inner vows and repent before God for not seeking His will and truth first. For instance, we may replace the inner vows listed above with God’s truths, such as:
- “I repent of judging what is good and what is a mistake from my own human point of view, and commit to following God even if it looks like a mistake from my perspective. God knows best. I don’t.” | 2 Corinthians 5:16 NLT So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now!
- “My life is dedicated to God first and foremost. It is God that I should not grieve or disappoint.” | 1 Corinthians 6:19 ESV Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own,
- “The Bible says that if I want to be of significance in heaven, I need to humble myself and be willing to be last on earth. This is not about other people, but about how I relate to God.” Matthew 19:29-30 NLT And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are the greatest now will be least important then, and those who seem least important now will be the greatest then.
- “It is God who watches over me even when I sleep, I will put my faith in His goodness and faithfulness rather than in my own abilities. I don’t have to be hyper vigilant, I can rest in God.” | Psalm 121:1-8 ESV I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.
- “I can trust in God’s wisdom to lead me to the best path. I just need to humbly ask Him for wisdom and be willing to follow His choices for me.” | 1 Corinthians 1:25 ESV For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
6. Extend God’s grace to ourselves
God is merciful and gracious, When we make mistakes, He will graciously help us to recover from them. All we need to do is go to Him to confess, repent, and ask Him to turn our wrongs into good for His glory. We may suffer some consequences of our wrongs but they are often less than what we deserve. God is an expert in working all things together for our good – even our most foolish mistakes. Praise God for His mercy!
Psalm 103:8-11 ESV The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
Romans 8:28 ESV And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
7. Extend God’s grace to others
In our deep fear of making mistakes, we can become afraid that others may also make mistakes. We project our fears onto others and try to intervene and stop them from suffering what we are afraid to suffer ourselves.
In contrast, we see that God does not stop His people from making mistakes because this can teach us rich lessons in humility, wisdom, and discernment. We see an example through Jesus’ interaction with the apostle Peter.
In spite of being forewarned that he would deny Jesus three times before the rooster crowed, Peter still went ahead and made that very mistake and sinned against his Saviour. We see that Jesus did not try to stop Peter. Instead He prayed for him and lovingly told Peter to strengthen his brothers when he had repented and turned to Jesus again. Jesus could see that there was an important lesson for Peter to learn and a powerful testimony of God’s grace that was about to unfold.
Luke 22:31-34 ESV “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.”
There are times when we should confront someone who sins against us or who is sinning against God. The Bible calls us to do this in a spirit of gentleness. But when we project our own fears on to others and try to manipulate them into following our will for their lives, we sin against them and against God. This calls for wisdom because our anxieties can sometimes get the better of us and lead us down the wrong path. Thankfully, God promises to give us wisdom when we pause and ask Him to.
Galatians 6:1 ESV Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.
Matthew 18:15-17 ESV “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
James 1:5 ESV If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
8. Be willing to listen to feedback
One consequence of being fearful is that we no longer recognise that we are being led and controlled by our fears. We see our behaviour and reactions as being legitimate because there were once very valid reasons for them. The problem is that we continue to project those initial fears onto many other circumstance in our lives.
Fear in our hearts clouds our judgment and shuts out the truth. When someone tells us not to be so risk averse or very hard on ourselves, we will retort with numerous reasons why they are wrong. It is little wonder that God’s Word tells us that our heart is the most deceitful of all things.
Jeremiah 17:9 ESV The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
It can therefore be helpful for us to humble ourselves and to seek the counsel of God-fearing believers who will pray with us and seek the Holy Spirit together for our true motives, so that we can repent of any fears that prevent us from putting our faith in God alone. When we obey and follow the Holy Spirit’s counsel and correction, we can learn to overcome our fears.
Galatians 5:16 ESV But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
What we should not tolerate – the spirit of error
There are certain mistakes we should never allow in our lives and that is related to ideas that misrepresent God as well as false teachings. We live in the Last Days where deceitful spirits will lead God’s people astray. We need to be careful to not make the mistake of falling for false teachings that sound good to our ears but actually insult or grieve God. Let us be sure we are vigilant to test what we hear or read for the Spirit of truth versus the spirit of error.
1 Timothy 4:1-2 ESV Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared,
2 Timothy 4:3 ESV For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,
1 John 4:5-6 ESV They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
Mistakes are not sins. In fact, some very useful inventions have come about as a result of the inventor’s accidents or mistakes. Examples include the microwave oven, fireworks, ink-Jet printers, post-it notes, and X-rays.
The fear of mistakes can in fact, lead us to sin against God, against others, and against ourselves because we end up:
- living our lives based on our past and our fears, rather than based on God’s will
- procrastinating when God calls us to do something
- distrusting and controlling people by default
- judging others based on their mistakes
- enslaved by a spirit of perfectionism
- robbed of joy and freedom
Let us repent of our fear of making mistakes and learn to trust God to lead us in all circumstances.
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