What do you do when you fail — when you sin — as a child of God? Here are four precepts straight from God's Word that will give you understanding for your particular situation.

First, remember what Jeremiah wrote of Israel after her greatest failure and judgment — a judgment that led to the destruction of her temple and her holy city:

Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness. Surely my soul remembers and is bowed down within me. This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The LORD'S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. "The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I have hope in Him."
(Lamentations 3:19-24)

There is hope because God is God.

Second, recognize that God did not restrain you from failing either because you deserved to fail since you did not choose to obey Him, or because He wanted to teach you something, to cleanse you, make you more like Him. It is part of the discipline, the "child-training" of those who belong to the Lord.

All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet [walk righteously!]....
(Hebrews 12:11-13)

Third, if it is moral failure, do as David did in Psalm 51. Throw yourself on God's mercy, on God's grace. Cry...

Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions. (verse 1)

Say...

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.... Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit. (verses 10 and 12)

And from verse 13, know there is still a future for you (if not, He would simply take you home!).

Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will be converted to You.

And finally remember...

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God. You will not despise. (verse 17)

Fourth, like the Apostle Paul who realized that he had not attained (he had not hit that measure of perfection), you need to say with him,

...forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 3:13-14)

Those who keep looking back at their failures will never win the race set before them. We can evaluate where and how we failed for the purpose of learning and growing; however, the past is never to be our focus. If it is, it will cripple our future. As we look at failure, we need to understand why we fail and when we fail.

We fail when we try to do something we are not capable of doing, not gifted in or talented in. Therefore, it is important, as Romans 12:3 tells us, not to think more highly of ourselves than we should think. We need to take an honest and objective look at ourselves and recognize our limitations.

We also fail when we try to do it "our way," when we don't follow and live by God's precepts, His commandments, or when we think we are smarter than God, or don't need to involve God...this time. Multitudes are failing in their family lives, relationships, parenting, and even in providing for their loved ones because they haven't studied God's textbook for life. Thus they do not know God or His ways. The will of God is discerned by knowing the Word of God (Romans 12:1-2). We need to put ourselves on the altar and tell God He can direct us any way He desires. The steps of a righteous man are ordered by the Lord.

And closely connected to that point — we fail when we walk in presumption. Like the children of Israel in Numbers 14, some think all that is necessary is to confess that they have failed and then they can have it the way it would have been had they not sinned. When you choose to cheat, realize that you will eventually get caught — " ...be sure your sin will find you out" (Numbers 32:23).

So having said all this, what do you do when you fail?

1. Run to God and ask Him why, if you do not know.
2. If God shows you that you failed because you erred or sinned, confess your sin or your failure. Name it for what it is. Then make it right with God and with man, if necessary. It helps to clear the air.
3. Throw yourself on God's mercy. Ask His counsel.
4. Remember the character of God. Remember His promises — cling to them. You have His promise if you cling. Psalm 119:31 says "I cling to your testimonies; O Lord do not put me to shame." The secret to recovering from failure is to continue to cling to your God. We are here to teach you to cling to Him...and not let go. I urge you to go deeper into His Word this year. Number your days, discipline yourself to be a man or a woman of the Lord. When the test, the trial or the temptation comes, you can overcome. "...This is the victory that has overcome the world-our faith" (1 John 5:4).

Kay Arthur
Host, Precepts For Life
Co-CEO, Precept Ministries International