What to Do When You’ve Sinned

GuiltDavid was a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22), yet he committed a series of terrible sins in his affair with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11). This can happen to us, even as God’s people – we can commit sins even though we have been called to righteousness.

We often talk about the need to overcome temptation – and we should, this is the goal (cf. 1 John 2:1). But what happens when we fail to overcome temptation? Are we without hope? No, we can be forgiven. Should we continue that errant course? Again, no, we are still to strive to do what is right. So what should we do?

In this article, we are going to notice six things we need to do after we have sinned.


First and foremost, we need to see our sin. If we do not recognize it, we will never do anything about it. To recognize sin in ourselves, we need to honestly evaluate our lives. As Paul told the Corinthians, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5). However, because we can sometimes overlook our own sins, we need to be willing to listen to others when they correct us. David did not see his sin until it was pointed out to him by the prophet Nathan (2 Samuel 12:5-7, 13). Paul had to confront Peter about his sin (Galatians 2:11-14). Through all of this – self-evaluation and correction from others – we need to spend time in God’s word because that is the standard that defines sin. Paul wrote, “I would not have come to know sin except through the Law” (Romans 7:7). John explained, “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). We have to know the word of God so we can know how He defines sin.


Once we recognize our sin, we must stop and turn away from it. This is a mental decision that leads to a certain action. Once our sin is made known to us, we cannot continue in it. Some Christians in Rome apparently believed this could be done, but Paul corrected them: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2). If we continue in sin after recognizing it, we risk having our conscience “seared…as with a branding iron” (1 Timothy 4:2). In other words, we will no longer feel guilt for our sin which makes repentance all the more difficult. If we do not repent, we cannot expect God to forgive us. Forgiveness comes after repentance (Acts 2:38; 8:22).


After we repent, we need to go to God in prayer. This is true for every sin. John wrote, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). As we pray to God and make confession to Him, we are also to ask Him for forgiveness. Jesus highlighted this in the model prayer: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). God is “faithful and righteous to forgive us” (1 John 1:9) if we will do this.

However, it is important to note that this step of praying for forgiveness after repentance is for the Christian, not the non-Christian. For the non-Christian, baptism for forgiveness follows repentance. Peter explained this to those who asked him on the day of Pentecost what they needed to do to be saved: “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). After repenting, they needed to be baptized to be forgiven. Once they did that, they were able to repent and pray to God forgiveness, just as Peter told Simon after he sinned following his baptism: “Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you” (Acts 8:22).


This is an important step that I believe is often overlooked. After we have recognized our sin, repented of it, and obtained God’s forgiveness, we then need to figure out how it happened and how it could have been avoided. God has promised a “way of escape” with every temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13). If we sinned, then we failed to take that “way of escape.” When we evaluate to see what happened, we may find that certain things need to be removed from our lives – people, situations, habits, etc. Jesus explained that we need to be willing to do whatever it takes to remove sin from our lives: “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell” (Matthew 5:29). We also may need to find others who can help us. We are to “bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). This will often mean that we help one another overcome sin.


We have to deal with the consequences of our actions. Even when God forgives us, there are often repercussions from what we have done. Whatever damage we have caused, we need to try to correct it. Zaccheus displayed the right attitude in this when he told Jesus, “If I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much” (Luke 19:8). As much as possible, we must make things right. We should seek forgiveness from those who were impacted by our sin (Matthew 5:23-24). For certain sins, we may even need to endure whatever punishment is due in this life. When Paul was on trial, he said, “If, then, I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything worthy of death, I do not refuse to die” (Acts 25:11). Whatever the consequences might be for our sins, even after God has forgiven us, we must endure with patience.


Finally, after we have sinned we simply need to get back to doing what we ought to be doing. The Lord expects us to be actively engaged in good deeds. James wrote, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22). We cannot allow past sins to hinder us from our service to God in the present. If anyone could have allowed his sinful past to hinder him it would have been the apostle Paul (cf. 1 Timothy 1:13). Yet as he wrote to the brethren in Corinth, he explained how he did not allow his past to stop him from diligently serving God: “For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me” (1 Corinthians 15:9-10). After God forgives us, He does not remember our sins against us (Hebrews 8:12). Therefore, as much as possible, we need to put our past sins out of our minds so that they do not stop us from doing what the Lord wants us to do now.


We are to strive to keep ourselves from sin; but when we do sin, we need to take the proper steps to deal with it. We may have all sinned in the past, but our goal must be to be faithful to God and forgiven by Him.

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  1. Sadly, people typically do not see themselves as God sees them. When they do, after sinning they will experience what the Bible describes as “godly sorrow” (2 Corinthians 7:9-10). Godly sorrow is not the sorrow of mere regret, but the sorrow of offending God.