How to Get Back Up When You’ve Messed Up

Updated on December 8, 2017
RonElFran profile image

Ron is the founding pastor of a church in Harrisburg, PA. He is a graduate of Denver Seminary in Colorado.

A little while ago I really messed up. There was something I was supposed to do that I didn’t get done, and I felt really bad about my neglect. In fact, my mistake started weighing on me. I felt ashamed, because I disappointed the expectations of other people, and guilty because I disappointed not only God, but also my expectations of myself.

That episode brought me face to face with an issue every Christian must deal with sooner or later: how do you handle it when you’ve badly messed up? You sinned in some way, or you neglected a responsibility, or you got angry and said some things you shouldn’t have said. Whatever it was, you messed up. And now you really feel bad about it.


Feeling Bad About Messing Up? Good!

Here’s the first thing you need to know: You are supposed to feel bad about your mess-up! James 4:9 says that sinners should “Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.” Psalm 38:18b says, “I will be in anguish over my sin.” So, don’t feel bad about feeling bad! In fact, if you can sin and not feel bad about it, you are in a dangerous spiritual condition.

The Holy Spirit uses those feelings of guilt and shame to convict us of our sin and motivate us to do something about it.

That’s why when you feel bad about something you’ve done, you cannot afford to ignore that feeling. The guilt or shame you feel is like the fuel gauge in your car. It’s telling you something you need to know and that would be dangerous for you to ignore. With gas well north of $2 a gallon, I really don’t want to hear my car telling me that the tank needs to be filled again. But it’s something I need to know so I can properly respond to the situation.

That’s what feelings of guilt do for us when we’ve messed up. They let us know we need to do something to correct our transgression.

So, what do you do? Just keep on feeling bad? Or do you simply blow it off and go on about your business as if it never happened?

Of course, neither of those alternatives is the right one. We need to get God’s prescription for how you get up when you mess up. Let’s start with what I think is a very encouraging word about our mess-ups:

You Can Be Blessed in Spite of Your Mess!

Psalm 32:1-2 (NKVJ) Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. 2 Blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

This passage talks about what happens when we mess up, but the first thing it says is “blessed is the man” who has messed up but been forgiven. To me that’s a very encouraging message: you can be blessed in spite of your mess!

When we handle our mess-ups the way God commands, we can actually end up being blessed rather than condemned. So, how can we deal with our mess-ups in a way that brings blessing?


1. Acknowledge Your Transgression

Psalm 32:5 I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD," And You forgave the iniquity of my sin.

When I mess up, the first step to getting back up is to acknowledge my mess-up, first to myself, then to the Lord.

I must acknowledge that what I did was wrong. I can’t afford to excuse it or minimize it or overlook it, or say it wasn’t as bad as what somebody else did. Those are all ways of avoiding having to deal with the fact that I messed up and need to change.

If you ever catch yourself saying something like, “I know it was wrong, BUT…” watch out! That comforting excuse will keep you trapped in your sin. If it was wrong, it was wrong, and there’s no “but” to it.

I need to actively confess my sin to God in prayer. Then, if there is another person I have wronged or hurt or offended, I need to go to that person and confess my fault and ask for their forgiveness.

2. Repent

2 Corinthians 7:10a For godly sorrow produces repentance…

Once I have acknowledged and confessed my mess-up, the next step is repentance. To repent simply means to turn from the wrong way to the right way. Real sorrow about my sin always involves repentance.

Suppose I write to the manager of a store in the mall and say, “I learned in church that I’m supposed to acknowledge my sins. So, I want to confess to you that last week I shoplifted from your store. And by the way, in order to save on postage, let me go ahead and confess the shoplifting I plan to do this week as well.”

Obviously, that doesn’t work! Sincere confession always includes the desire and intention to turn away from my sinful actions, and not continue engaging in them. It’s not enough to just admit my sin. I must also determine, with God’s help, to quit doing it.

3. Set Things Right

Exodus 22:6 If fire breaks out and catches in thorns, so that stacked grain, standing grain, or the field is consumed, he who kindled the fire shall surely make restitution.

When my mess-up does damage to someone else, my repentance is not complete until I have done all I can to make restitution.

For example, if I had shoplifted goods from a store, just confessing and repenting are not enough. I need to restore to that store owner the value of what I stole.

In the same way, if I said something nasty about someone, so that their reputation was affected, I need to do all I can to undo that damage. That might mean going not only to that person, but also to others who heard my slanderous comments, and publicly apologizing for what I said.

Whatever it takes, if I’m going to have a clean slate after repenting for my mess-up, I must do all I can to make appropriate restitution for the damage I’ve caused.


4. Forget It

Philippians 3:13a Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind…

When God forgives, He forgives completely! 1 John 1:9 says that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” That means once we sincerely confess our mess-up to the Lord, it’s gone! It’s no longer on the books. God has forgotten it, and so should we.

Don’t let the weight of old sins hold you in bondage. When the guilt and shame of sins you have confessed and repented of come back to your mind, remember that on the basis of 1 John 1:9, you are forgiven and you are clean.

Here’s a truth that has often helped me when I’ve felt guilty about past sins: The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sins to bring us to repentance. The devil condemns us for our sins to keep us in bondage.

Whenever you experience feelings of guilt or shame about sins you have already confessed and repented of, that is condemnation and it is from the devil, not from God. The only reason to remember past sins is to learn how to avoid them in the future.

5. Move On

Philippians 3:13b-14 one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Once you have confessed your mess-up, received God’s forgiveness, and done your best to make appropriate restitution, put it behind you and move on. Fix your gaze resolutely on the positive things ahead of you, and press toward them.

And don’t let other people hold you in condemnation. No matter what people say, refuse to dwell on past mistakes, reach forward toward your future, and don’t look back!

Since God has forgiven and forgotten your mess-up, there’s nothing back there anyway.

© 2013 Ronald E Franklin


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      Elyssa Marie 2 months ago

      Today I am taking my Pre-Calc Final Exam to wrap up my first semester of college. Last school year, my Senior year, I did exceptionally well in my classes and my grades were pretty high. Last year was the highlight of my life and I knew it’s was because I finally allowed God to work in me. I was very excited about this because my sophomore and junior year, I was going through a rough time with sin, family, and self esteem issues, nearing depression. So of course, my grades were very bad.

      Back to this semester, things are still going well, except for my Pre-Calculas class. Grades from my other classes are great, family is great, things are great, but for the past 2 months, this math class has become a real burden. It’s mostly due to procrastination and avoiding studying or completely assignments because this class brings so much anxiety. So when my grade gets lower, my anxiety gets higher, and I’m in this awful cycle. I’ve been so ashamed and disappointed at myself for letting it get this bad and letting things get out of control. I see it as me going back to my old ways, and knowing how far God has brought me, I hated what I had done. I have also been fearing the final grade I will get in the class because my heart is set on this certain school I want to go to, and knowing that if I got a low grade it could ruin my chances.

      All of this has been playing in my head for the past 2 months and sometimes I’ll come to my senses and know God’s in control, but then I’ll ignore my homework or avoid seeking help from the teacher. In church the pastor said something about how we can’t violate our faith by not using wisdom. That really hit my because I ignore my responsibilities as a student and then pray for God to fix things when I’m still not making the effort and putting in the work.

      In 3 hours I will take my exam that I’ve been dreading for the past 5 days. I’m still a little nervous but what grade I get, I have been reassured that I will be ok. I called my mom and she said that my future and my life does not rely on a math grade, and that was the lie I was believing. This was a very hard lesson for me to learn, but I am so ready to take this test, go home for christmas, and come back next semester with a new mindset and new approach to school and life in general. God really is comforting me and now I can breathe. I might get an F or a C or even an A, but I am confident that God is going to use this for my good and His glory. Because of your article I know that my darkest hours are God’s finest hours. Thank you.

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      Steph 6 months ago

      I want to change but perhaps I don't try hard enough... I know that God is forgiving but I know for I have unfortunately messed up more than 'sometimes'. I really might be the worst Christian but I hope to repent by being more disciplined in my thought life especially. Hopefully God will see how sorry I am

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 12 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Brian, the great thing about the gospel is that it is for sinners! We all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. He doesn't ask sinlessness of us, but repentance and, with His help, obedience. When you commit yourself to Christ, you become a new creation, but not a sinless one. We all still mess up at times. That's why God gave 1 John 1:9, which says that if we confess our sins (and that includes the idea of repentance), He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. So, if you've asked Jesus to be your Saviour and Lord, the fact that you mess up sometimes cannot change that. Confess, repent, and move ahead in the confidence that Christ took your sin upon Himself on the cross, and in God's sight the blood of Jesus has cleansed you from all unrighteousness.

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      Brian 18 months ago

      I struggle with cursing when I am overwhelmed. I always curse under my breath but sometimes I even say gods name in vein. It is a sin that I have always struggled with.

      I believe with all my heart god forgives me. I have tears of joy coming down my face as I type and confess this. I can feel it in my heart. It must be the holy spirit. At this moment I am sure I am saved.

      But I know the struggle will continue. There will be times where I mess up. There will be times where I feel insecure about being saved.

      god in heaven please save me! Please save me. Love Brian

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Anon, I'm glad you've decided to confess what you've done. That's really the only answer. Even if there's a price to pay, in the long run making a free confession, making restitution if possible, and turning away from whatever behavior led you into that mess is the only way to get a new start. May God bless you as you do what you need to do.

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      Anon 2 years ago

      I messed up really really bad. What i did involves trouble with the law and I'm only sixteen and i know what i did was wrong, but i am really scared to confess to my parents what i did. I keep praying that there was another way out of this but it looks like i have to confess. This has kept me up at night and will not get off my brain. This article helped me and has convinced me that i need to come clean and confess even though i'm very scared of whats going to happen. I haven't confessed yet but i plan to next Monday. Thank you for this article and i pray that coming clean and confessing will work out for me.

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Thank you, Hannah. I'm glad the article helped.

    • Hannah David Cini profile image

      Hannah David Cini 2 years ago from Nottingham

      I liked the focus on the use of guilt and how it actually has a purpose; there is often a lot of focus on forgiveness and not much on the process of repentance. This was a really refreshing article that changed my perspective on the matter. Thank you.

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 3 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Donovan, I'm really glad this has helped. Thanks for sharing.

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      Donovan 3 years ago

      This was a blessing. This helped to put me on the right path. It was extremely encouraging.

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 3 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Thanks, Bongzwane.

    • Bongzwane profile image

      Bongani Zwane 3 years ago from Pretoria, South Africa

      This is a great article indeed.

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 3 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Lakeshia, dealing with ungrateful and inconsiderate family members is one of the most difficult things we have to do. But, as Scripture says, it's a trial that's "common to man." Many have had to deal with this type of situation, and through God's strength and the wisdom of His word have overcome. It's not easy, but it will teach you to rely on God rather than on your own ability and righteousness. So, don't give up! Ask God for strength to "bless those who curse you" and you will receive it. I'm praying for you.

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      Lakeshia Harris 3 years ago

      What if ur Family the very ones u love nd helped to the bitter end(wen i a lot of times neglected myself nd then my children nd they treat u like Ur absolutely nothing!!! But i got the answer the ppl that actually saw Jesus still didn't believe if he can do it nd still believe in us then I'm gonna try!!! It's so hard to do good. BUT very easy to sin!!! I don't kno why it seem like some sins is like satisfying!!!! But wen God first spoke to me i was scared nd the devil try to make it like i was crazy, but God would overpower nd It was sooo Amazing!!! God Blesses all BUT he Really sticks to me for some reason! !!! I ask All those who Can get a prayer thru pray my strength in the Lord!!!! My name is Lakeshia Harris!!!! God luvs u nd so do I!!!!! Be Blessed

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      Ronald E Franklin 4 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      I can only tell you that God is real, and He is involved in all of life. Many people who have messed up in their lives in the most deep and serious ways imaginable have found their way to a productive life through God's forgiveness and guidance. The Bible teaches that God so loves us, even when we hated (or disbelieved in) Him, that He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die so that we might have a Father-child relationship with Him. I sincerely hope and pray that you will experience that love for yourself.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

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      * Unknown * 4 years ago

      Well, this is good but ! I hate the fact that " God " is involved in this.

      I am a Atheist so this is displeasing