Mailbag

The Mailbag: Regrets…I Still Have a Few

 

I know regret should lead us to repentance. My question is: After repentance and salvation what do we do with regret? Is it sinful to continually experience regret? Is it just a consequence we must live with? I feel like I’m being swallowed up by it the more I read the Bible, which is not the end of the world, but I just want to handle it correctly.

Great question. I think correct context and semantics can help us out a lot here.

The verse you’re referring to is 2 Corinthians 7:10 (which I have linked in context in your question above):

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.

There are several concepts at play here between your question and the verse, and we need to be sure we’re not conflating them: regret, godly sorrow or grief, shame, and guilt.

When we American English speakers say, Frank Sinatra-style, “Regrets….I’ve had a few….,” what we mean is that there are things we’ve done in the past that we wish we hadn’t done, and that if we had it to do over again, we would do things differently. Every Christian has had incidents we feel this way about, whether they took place before or after we got saved. If your love for Christ and your growing understanding of the blackness of sin have led you to regret rebelling against Him, that’s not a bad thing. What would be bad is if you had no regrets. When we look back on past sins, we should always do so with an attitude of regret for having committed them.

But doesn’t this verse say repentance leads to salvation “without regret”? Yes. But that phrase doesn’t mean we’ll never look back at our past sins and wish we had obeyed God instead. Read the verse in context. Paul had written his “severe letter” rebuking the Corinthian church for their sin. It cut them to the heart in godly sorrow over their transgressions and they joyfully repented, never once looking back and wishing for their old way of life. Even with the hardships and persecution many first century Christians faced, they never, for a single moment, regretted turning from their life of sin and following Jesus. (I think we could all say a hearty “Amen!” to that!) That’s what “salvation without regret” means- we don’t regret casting our lot with Christ.

Another aspect of this verse and question we need to address is this: The verse doesn’t say our regrets produce repentance that leads to salvation. It says “godly grief”, or “sorrow,” or “sorrow that is according to the will of God,” is what produces repentance that leads to salvation. There’s a big difference.

Regrets are more in line with the “worldly grief” mentioned at the end of the verse, which produces death. Even lost people like Ol’ Blue Eyes can look back over their lives and recall their embarrassing or jerky behavior and the choices they made that hurt others or themselves, and they can wish they hadn’t done those things. Why? Because of the natural consequences of sin. He got caught. He lost his job or his wife or a friend.

He had to pay the piper, and he didn’t like the looks of the bill.

Not a thought to the Lord whose laws he broke. Not a twinge of guilt and shame for committing sins that crucified the Savior who loves him. No fear and trembling at the feet of a thrice holy God of wrath who has the power to cast him into Hell for all eternity.

That is godly grief. It’s a grief that goes vertical first…

I have offended a high and holy God.

Woe unto me, for I am a man of unclean lips!

Against Thee, and Thee only, have I sinned.

Father, I am no longer worthy to be called your son.

Oh, wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

…and then, springing from that godly grief, seeks horizontal forgiveness from and reconciliation with others.

When godly grief over sin produces repentance, repentance leads to salvation. And when Christ saves you, a transaction takes place in God’s legal system in which Christ absorbs the shame, guilt, and penalty for your sin, and God, the righteous Judge, rules you not guilty.

But what can you do when you’ve been genuinely saved and you look back at your past sin not only with regret, but also feeling the weight of guilt and shame? I think maybe that’s the heart of what you’re asking.

You have to hold on to what you know to be true according to God’s Word over and above what you feel. God’s Word is objectively trustworthy. Our feelings are not. Our feelings can be fickle and fleshly. Subjective and deceptive. We have to tame those feelings like wild horses with the bit, bridle, and spurs of Scripture, and rein them in or turn them in the direction God wants them to go.

So what do we know to be true about feeling guilt and shame for our past sin?

• Whatever we may feel, the fact is that, in Christ, we are not guilty, and our shame has been removed:

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus…who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 1:4,8

“Fear not, for you will not be ashamed; be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more. For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called. Isaiah 54:4-5

• It isn’t God who is leading us to feel a way that doesn’t line up with His Word. Satan is the only one who makes false accusations against Christians:

And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. Revelation 12:10

• It is not God’s will for us to focus on the past, but to move forward like the Christians we are, keeping our eyes on Jesus:

But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained. Philippians 3:13b-16

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2

When you look back on your former life and are overwhelmed by guilt and shame, remember the words above are from the very lips of God Himself. Remember that you were guilty and covered with shame, and let that knowledge lead you to thank, praise, and worship the One who took your sin and wretchedness upon His own shoulders. Who absorbed your punishment, your blame – and set you free. Free to honor and obey Him. Free to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Apologetics

Throwback Thursday ~ There’s No Such Thing as an Atheist~ Part 2: The Tell-Tale Heart

Originally published March 17, 2009

There’s No Such Thing as an Atheist Part 1  Part 3

 

Another way that we instinctively know God exists is the pre-programming of our hearts. Just as some computers are sold with certain software already installed, we come with the software of God’s law already installed in our hearts:

For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, Romans 2:14-15

It’s called a conscience, and we’re all born with one, whether we’re raised in any particular religion or not. We know when we’ve messed up. How do we know? We feel guilty or ashamed.

Somehow, guilt has gotten a bad rap these days. Don’t believe the hype. Guilt is good; a gift of God, even. Not long ago, I heard a popular television preacher telling the thousands of people in his church that, “God doesn’t want us to feel guilty.” While it’s true that a Christian need not be plagued by feelings of guilt over things for which he has already asked and received God’s forgiveness, initially, when we do wrong, we most certainly should feel guilty.

God has lovingly designed us with a sense of guilt and shame in order to draw us to Him. Guilt is to our relationship with Christ what a toothache is to our relationship with the dentist. The toothache tells us something is wrong with a tooth, it needs to be fixed, and we’d better get to the person that is qualified to fix it right now. If no one ever felt guilty, no one would ever see his need for salvation and turn to Christ in repentance, without which, salvation does not take place.

So, how do we make the connection between our conscience and the God who created it? How does our having a conscience prove that God exists? Well, it does require some introspection, but for anyone who will take a few minutes to sit down and think about why he feels guilty over his wrongdoing, the answer will become apparent.

We know that feelings of guilt and shame do not stem only from participating in criminal activities. Most of us are law-abiding citizens, and yet we have still felt guilt over wrongdoing which may have been perfectly legal. Ironically, by the time someone commits an actual crime, he may have suppressed his conscience so many times that it has become seared and he does not experience feelings of guilt for what he has done.

Alright, if we’re not breaking the law and still feel guilty over some particular behavior, could it be that we feel guilty because we’re hurting someone? Well, generally speaking, we certainly should feel guilty if we hurt someone’s feelings or reputation, or if we disappoint or betray them. But, how would that explain our feelings of guilt over things that have no apparent effect on others, or that no one knows about? What about that piece of gum you stole from the store as a kid? How about that test you cheated on in college?

“Wait,” you may say, “the kid stealing the candy and the student cheating on the test aren’t feeling guilty, they’re feeling afraid that they’ll be caught and will have to suffer the consequences.” True, guilt and fear of being caught usually go hand in hand, but they are definitely two separate feelings. We know this because we can feel fearful of consequences for performing actions we know to be right. Ask any good Samaritan who helps someone despite the fact he knows he might be sued later, or a missionary who knows he may be harmed if he shares the gospel, or a German who hid Jews from the Nazis during World War II. Fear of getting caught and guilt over wrongdoing are two different things.

So what other explanation could there be for the guilt we feel over our wrongdoing which is not breaking the law, not hurting anyone, and which no one else will ever know about?

because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. Romans 1:19

Our hearts know, even if we don’t want it to be true, that there is a God.

Abortion, Guest Posts

Planned Parenthood: There, But for the Grace of God… ~ at Blogging Theologically

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You walk into your doctor’s office for your annual check up—flu shot, cancer, cholesterol and blood sugar screening, blood pressure check—you know, routine maintenance on the ol’ bod. You’ve chosen this doctor because you don’t have health insurance and he’s kind enough to lower his prices and work with you on a payment plan. His office is clean and bright, beautifully decorated, and the staff is always friendly. You even get a lollipop at the end of each visit.

But this year, as you’re walking down the hall to exam room four, you happen to notice that in exam room three, there’s a playpen in the corner with an adorable baby girl in it, cooing away and playing with a toy.

“Odd,” you think, since this is not a paediatrician’s office. You continue to your own room, don that scratchy paper gown, and wait for the doctor. By the time he comes in and begins the exam, you can no longer contain your curiosity. Whose baby is it? Why is there even a baby in the office?

“Oh, yes,” the doctor says matter of factly, “that baby was abandoned by her parents. Nobody wants her, so when I get finished with your check up, I’m going to torture her to death and then sell her organs to medical researchers.”…

Recently, we’ve been watching the horrors of what goes on behind closed doors at Planned Parenthood. But what about our own guilt? Head over to Blogging Theologically and check out my guest post: Planned Parenthood: There, But for the Grace of God…