As a Christian, I rejoice that my sins are forgiven. I have sinned a lot in the past, but I am not bothered by guilt. My conscience is clean. Guilt and shame are washed away. This is the great blessing of the grace of God in Jesus Christ. It is real and powerful.
But what if, after sins are forgiven, failures remain? What if a Christian lies awake at night, not troubled by past sins, but by past failures?
Psalm 103:12 says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” What about our failures? What can be done for them? Can they also be removed from us, and if so, how far away?
This article is about dealing with past failures in the light of the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Failures are not sins. They’re just the things that you tried to do but couldn’t, or the things that you were required to do but did poorly. You probably have a lot of these in your past.
I’m not talking about moral failure, which is a euphemism for sin. If that’s your problem, call it a sin and get it forgiven.
But what about the other kind of failure, the kind that’s not moral in nature? For example, what about the athlete who failed to make it as a professional baseball player, even though he tried as hard as he could? That’s a clear example of failure that’s not sin. He was trying to do something for which the success rate is incredibly low and for which all the hard work in the world can’t make up for the lack of natural-born talent.
Chances are that you have experienced failures of this kind in your life—a few big ones and a lot of little ones. Can forgiveness help in dealing with these? The point of this article is to answer “yes” to that question and to explain why.
And an explanation is necessary. Since failures are not sins, they don’t leave anything to be forgiven. So what can forgiveness do for you in such cases?
A lot, as it turns out.
If your past failures trouble you, if you try to forget them and move on, but find yourself frequently remembering them, here are three reasons why the forgiveness of God offered in the gospel might be just what you need.
(As you can see, this article is addressed to Christians who believe that their sins have been forgiven because Jesus died for them and rose from the dead. If you don’t fall into this category, I think you will still find some helpful information.)
So here are three reasons why, perhaps, you can and should get your failures forgiven.
1. You Might Be Trained to View Failure as a Kind of Sin
Our concept of sin is determined by our concept of righteousness. Our concept of righteousness is determined not solely by the Bible, as it should be, but also by our surrounding culture. Let me use, as an example, something the New Testament says about the biblical nation of Israel. Romans 10:3 says this about Israel: “For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.”
Israel was not unique in this respect. All nations and cultures are ignorant of God’s righteousness and seek to establish their own. They don’t necessarily call it “righteousness.” They define it in a lot of different ways. But all cultures develop their own standards to determine if a life is being lived right and if a person is worthy of respect and honor. And when people seek to answer these kinds of questions, what they are really looking for, although they don’t realize it, is righteousness.
Biblical righteousness is about more than morality and good behavior. That’s part of it, but there is a lot more to it than that. It’s about acceptance and favor with God, confidence and a sense of belonging; it’s about being aligned with the truth and being certain of your place in the universe, not only in this life, but also in the life to come.
All of this blessedness is part of the gift of righteousness that comes by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. To the extent that Israel was ignorant of this promised righteousness, they made their own definition of righteousness. They defined it in terms of being born to the right parents and keeping some rules. This was simply their own, cultural righteousness that they had mistaken for true righteousness before God. All nations make a similar mistake, according to their own ignorance.
In some nations, cultural righteousness is a matter of loyalty to family or to a code of honor. In this respect, it is similar to the cultural righteousness of Israel, but without the benefit of the word of God, which Israel had been blessed with (see Romans 3:1-2).
Some nations make personal success a key component of their righteousness. In some cultures, individual achievement gives value to a person’s life more than other things do.
Personal achievement isn’t bad. It’s great. So are morality and loyalty. But none of these things are true, biblical righteousness that counts before God, and they make poor substitutes.
The point to remember is this: if your culture has made personal success into a kind of righteousness, then personal failure will feel like guilt and shame, even if it’s not a result of personal sin.
If this is the case, then failure can continue to trouble your conscience even though you are confident that all of your sin has been removed as far as the east is from the west.
So maybe it would be a good idea to seek forgiveness for your failures, after all—not for God’s sake, but for yours. You may not have done anything to displease God, but you still need His affirmation to replace your sense of failure. You need the blessing of biblical righteousness to replace the cultural righteousness that condemns you. And this blessing comes by forgiveness.
It’s not that simple, however. There is another reason why it might be right for you to seek forgiveness for your failures as well as for your sins. It’s possible that, deep down inside, you wonder if it was actually your sin that led to your failure. It’s also possible that, even deeper down inside, you know that it was.
2. Maybe It Was Your Sin That Caused You to Fail, After All
A little leaven leavens the whole lump. The influence of sin is pervasive and insidious. We don’t always recognize it. It tends to get mixed in with our failures. After all, maybe things would have turned out differently for you if you had acted with a little less pride, envy, dishonesty, general selfishness, etc.
Maybe not. Maybe you did everything right and success was just not attainable for you in that area. But how can you be sure? You can’t be, and the uncertainty will torment you.
Remember that baseball player we used as an example, who came really close to making it into the Major League. Maybe if he had overcome just one minor character flaw it would have pushed him over the top.
It might be easy, in theory, to draw the line between moral sin and amoral failure. In practice, it’s impossible. Only God can judge.
You can’t look at past failures and determine what was really out of your control and what wasn’t. You can’t do it with any kind of certainty anyway, and the uncertainty will torment you.
The uncertainty will keep you up at night, replaying the past, remembering things you have tried to forget, wondering why you didn’t do things differently.
This brings us to the third, and final point: if you are not certain whether or not, or to what extent, your failures were caused by your sin, why not be on the safe side and receive forgiveness for any sin that may have contributed to your failure?
3. You Can’t Really Be Over-Forgiven
It’s better to err on the side of seeking forgiveness. It won’t hurt you if you seek forgiveness that turns out to be unnecessary. It’s better than the alternative: missing out on the forgiveness that you actually need.
We tend to minimize the practical benefits of divine forgiveness in our daily lives. All humans do this, because we are ignorant of God’s righteousness. Christians still do this because we still have some ignorance remaining. We need the eyes of our hearts enlightened so that we might know the power of God’s gift of righteousness.
There is a God-given freedom from your past failures, and it’s always available to you. When failures are put into proper perspective, in the light of the grace of Jesus Christ, they really are nothing at all. Your sins were greater than your failures, yet God has forgiven them. Your sins were greater than you have probably realized, yet they’re washed away.
I want to tell you that God has done the same thing with your failures.
I have shared with you three reasons why it makes sense to get your failures forgiven. But maybe you’re still not convinced. That’s OK. Right now, I’m going to go ahead and risk erring on the side of unnecessary forgiveness.
If you are a Christian who is confident that your sins are forgiven but is still troubled by past failures, let me tell you right now that God has forgiven all of your failures.
You failed. You failed big, probably. God forgives you. Maybe people were depending upon you and you let them down. God has forgiven you.
For the sake of His Son Jesus, God Himself pronounces that your failures will not be held against you. In God’s sight, your failures can’t stick to you any more than your sins can.
That’s God’s decision. Nobody else’s opinion matters.
Your life has not been wasted. It has been redeemed.
Thank you for your time. May God bless you and magnify Jesus Christ in your life.