Sanctification, Sin

Guilt and Shame- Burden or Blessing?

 

I agree with what you’re saying, I’m just afraid it might arouse guilt and shame in newer believers, as well as those with sensitive consciences,” a follower recently said in response to a statement of biblical truth I posted on social media. I’ve been pondering that ever since she said it. It was good food for thought.

Guilt and shame are not subjects we often talk about outright. Rather, they seem to be a taboo silently woven into the fabric of our collective consciousness in 21st century Western culture – even in evangelicalism. It’s an unspoken law with the direst of consequences: “Thou shalt never say or do anything that causes anyone to feel guilty or ashamed for the choices she has made or the way she lives her life.” If you do, cancel culture will hunt you down and publicly eviscerate you. You’ll be shunned, and you can kiss your reputation goodbye. Why? Because our society tells us that guilt and shame are the absolute worst things someone can feel.

But is that really true? Or could it be that the prince of the power of the air is lying to us yet again?

While the church has historically done a stellar job of sharing the good news that Christ took away our guilt and shame on the cross, it has not always done a good job of explaining what the emotions¹ of guilt and shame are or the proper function they are to serve in the lives of both Believers and unbelievers.

There are two kinds of emotional guilt and shame: biblically appropriate and biblically inappropriate. Biblically appropriate guilt and shame is when you feel guilty and ashamed as a result of doing something wrong. Biblically inappropriate guilt and shame is when you feel guilty and ashamed when you haven’t done anything wrong.

Biblically appropriate guilt and shame are good gifts from God. They are like a fever that tells you you’re sick and need to take some medicine. Lost or saved, new Believer or seasoned Saint, sensitive conscience or not, if someone is sinning, she should feel guilt and shame, because she has transgressed a holy God. For the lost person, that guilt and shame is an internal reminder that she stands forensically (legally) guilty before God and needs a Savior. For the Believer, that guilt and shame is the conviction of the Holy Spirit leading her to repent and obey Christ instead of sinning. Biblically appropriate guilt and shame are biblically appropriate because your feelings about what you’ve done match the facts of what you’ve done. You feel guilty and ashamed because you are guilty of doing something shameful: sin.

The warning sign of guilt and shame is a blessing from a good, kind, and merciful God calling us to repent immediately and return to Him before we dig ourselves into a deeper pit of sin. Like a loving father who starts with a stern look when his child first misbehaves and then progressively moves on to increasing levels of discipline, God does not pour out the full fury of His wrath at our first bobble toward sin. He starts with the “stern look” of guilt and shame.

Have you ever read the Old Testament and explored some of the more drastic warning signs God had to send His people, and the pagans they lived among, when they sinned and hardened their hearts against the guilt and shame He blessed them with? Have you contemplated the horrors of eternal conscious torment in Hell, lately? When we consider…

  • how dangerous sin is for us in this life,
  • how petrifying the prospect of what God could do to us, has every right to do to us in His anger over our sin if He were so inclined,
  • how the heart of God is not to punish and destroy, but to redeem and reconcile

…it is much easier to recognize biblically appropriate guilt and shame as an act of unfathomable love from God.

If a professing Christian doesn’t normally feel guilt and shame when she has clearly sinned, she should be extremely concerned. That is usually the fruit of someone who is unregenerate, not someone who is saved, and she would do well to follow Scripture’s mandate to examine herself against rightly handled Scripture to see if she is indeed in the faith.

But what about experiencing biblically inappropriate shame and guilt? In the life of a genuinely regenerated Christian, biblically inappropriate shame and guilt mainly takes one of two forms:

  • feeling shame and guilt for your own pre-salvation sins, or post-salvation sins you’ve already repented of
  • feeling shame and guilt for someone else’s sin or for something else outside your control

This kind of shame and guilt is inappropriate because it is misapplied. God intended shame and guilt to bring you to repentance for your sin, not to haunt you for sin you’ve already repented of or for someone else’s sin or something outside your control.

If you have bowed the knee to Christ in repentance and faith that His death on the cross, burial, and resurrection paid the penalty for your sin, then God’s good gift of guilt and shame has done its job. It’s over. Christ took your guilt and shame and sin, nailed it all to the cross – and it died there. It did not come down off the cross with Jesus, and it was not resurrected with Him. You have the glorious privilege as one robed in the righteousness of Christ, to rebuke those feelings of guilt and shame over past sins any time they rear their ugly heads, armed with the knowledge that you are forgiven and free. Christ paid with His blood to give you the right not to have to feel those feelings. Send them packing by praising God for His wonderful gift of grace and mercy to you in Christ.

And what about feeling guilt and shame for someone else’s sin? Perhaps you did your best to raise your child in a godly way, but he grew up to become a rapist or murderer, and you feel guilty. Maybe someone committed the sin of abuse against you and you’re dying of shame inside. If I just hadn’t done this, or if I had only done that, he wouldn’t have done what he did. It’s my fault.

May I make a suggestion? Do a good, long, hard study of Ezekiel 18. God is crystal clear – in such a loving and comforting way – that He does not hold you responsible for anyone’s sin but your own. You are – not as a matter of subjective opinion or feelings, but as a matter of forensic, objective fact – not guilty of that person’s sin. So if you’re feeling guilt and shame, your feelings don’t match the facts. Your feelings are boldly and brashly lying to you in the face of what God says is true about you. He says you’re not guilty. Your feelings say you are. Who are you going to believe?

That’s why it’s incredibly important that we believe God’s objectively true written Word over and above our feelings. It’s also why it makes me so angry when seeker driven churches and women’s “Bible” study materials focus on your personal feelings, opinions, preferences, and life experiences instead of properly teaching you the Bible. How can you believe God’s Word over your feelings if you don’t even know God’s Word? When all you know is your raw emotions and not what God says, that leaves you trapped, a slave to your con artist feelings, when you could be completely set free from the shame and guilt God never intended for you to feel for someone else’s sin.

And, finally, you could be feeling biblically inappropriate guilt for an accident or something else outside your control. If we had just bought a different house, we wouldn’t have been living in this one when the tornado hit, and my husband would still be alive. If I had just taken a different route, I wouldn’t have encountered that unexpected traffic accident and missed my daughter’s senior recital.

There’s a key truth all Christians need to come to grips with here: God is sovereign over every atom and event in the universe. You are not. God knows the future. You do not. God is God. You are not. When you feel guilty for things you had no way of knowing, preventing, or avoiding, you are essentially saying you should have God’s omnipotence and omniscience. You’re feeling guilty for not being God.

And your feelings of guilt over something like this are also saying that God was wrong for allowing what happened to happen, because if you were God, you wouldn’t have let it happen. Take a moment and let that sink in. Your feelings of guilt over something unforeseen and unavoidable say that you think you could do a better job of being God than He can. Well, let me tell you what we both already know. You can’t.

God determined from the foundations of the earth exactly which day, and how, and where, your husband was going to die. If it wasn’t God’s will that he die in a tornado on that day, in that house, he wouldn’t have. If God wanted you at your daughter’s recital, you would have been there.

You don’t have control. Control is an illusion. God has control. (And that’s good. Because God knows faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaar better than we do the right thing to do in every situation.) And if you don’t have control, then you didn’t do anything wrong. And if you didn’t do anything wrong, feeling guilty is biblically inappropriate, a) because God’s purpose for guilt is to draw you to repentance over your sin, not for failing to achieve Godhood, and b) because your feelings (“I’m guilty!”) don’t match the facts (you’re not).

God is sovereign. He always does what is right and best in every situation, even if you can’t see it and don’t understand. And because He always does what is right and best, you can trust Him in those terrible incomprehensible situations. Take some time to study what God’s Word says about trusting Him.

 

A major problem in evangelicalism today is that we have followed the world’s lead and made people’s feelings into a god. We are more worried about hurting people’s feelings than providing them actual biblical help. And we all, including me, need to repent of that and stop it. It is infinitely better to fleetingly hurt someone’s feelings with biblical truth that leads her to Christ, than to allow her feelings to be an untouchable idol that keeps her in sin.

There has to be something higher, more important, than protecting someone from feeling biblically appropriate guilt and shame. There has to be something lofty enough to rescue people out of biblically inappropriate guilt and shame.

There is: God and His Word.

Exalting God and His Word to their proper and deserved place of preeminence and authority, and submitting to them in our hearts, minds, churches, and relationships is not simplistic, it’s foundational. And when it comes to the veneration of people’s feelings (and far too many other issues) we have become the foolish man who has traded a foundation on the rock of God’s truth and His ways for one on the enticingly sandy beach of worldly “wisdom”.

And, y’all…

…it’s starting to rain.

 


¹There is also a forensic definition of guilt. For example, if you rob a bank, you are forensically (legally), objectively guilty of the crime of robbery regardless of how you feel about it. This article deals mainly with the emotion of guilt– feeling guilty, or having a guilty conscience.
Mailbag

The Mailbag: Is lust a sin for women, too?

Originally published September 17, 2018

 

In the past, I’ve had lots of trouble wondering about my desire and tendency to look at, and get excited by, physically attractive men, especially men who reveal a lot of themselves in underwear modeling and soft-core porn. I think this is a sin, but I’m not sure.

I’ve gotten mixed reactions when I’ve mentioned this to people. There are some who say that, yes, this is the sin of lust. Yet there are others who have told me that women cannot possibly struggle with lust, only men do. I once dealt with one particular man who was very dogmatic that God created men and women to be tempted differently, and that lust is not a temptation women deal with, so he dismissed my struggles with this subject.

When I tried to search Scripture, using Matthew 5:28, it would also seem that this is a male-only sin. So is it OK for me to keep looking at male models, including underwear modeling and soft-core porn?

This is an awesome question for three reasons. First, you’re concerned about whether or not you’re sinning with the aim of mortifying this behavior if it is a sin. Second, you’re not relying on your own feelings, opinions, or experiences to determine whether or not this is a sin, you’re turning to Scripture to find out. Those are both very encouraging things. They demonstrate that the Holy Spirit is working in your heart to sanctify you and make you more like Christ. Third, it gives us an opportunity to take a look at the Scriptures in more depth and give an example of handling God’s Word correctly and in context for everyone reading this article. So, thank you for asking!

The short answer to your question is, yes, lust is sinful for the women who experience it just as much as it is for the men who experience it. But I don’t want you to just take my word for it, so let’s look at why.

The Scripture you’ve cited, Matthew 5:28, is definitely one of the passages that addresses this issue. It says:

But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

I suspect this verse might be the reason the man you spoke with said that lust is a male-only sin, because this particular verse speaks to men lusting after women. However, to make a blanket statement that because God created men and women differently, lust is never a temptation for women is foolhardy and shows a lack of biblical knowledge and understanding as well as a denial of reality.

Let’s address reality first. It is true that God created men in such a way that they are more likely to be sexually stimulated by what they see than women are. However, that does not mean that no woman anywhere has ever experienced lust. God also created men in such a way that men are usually taller and stronger than women and women are usually more emotionally expressive than men. But we can look around us and see that some women are taller or stronger than some men, and some men are more emotionally expressive than some women.

Furthermore, while you really can’t do anything about how tall you are (and, to some extent, how strong you are), lust is something that can be introduced to women and encouraged in women by culture. A hundred years ago, it would have been unthinkable to see advertisements featuring nearly naked men, or strip clubs with male dancers, or pornography aimed at women, so readily available and with so little shame attached. And at that time there were probably far fewer women who struggled with the sin of lust.

These days, it’s right there on your phone or computer or TV or at the bachelorette party for your friend. Lust, lewd behavior, and lurid talk by women are actually encouraged by the feminist movement. (If men are going to objectify women with lust and porn, we’re going to objectify them right back. Really? This is equality? The right to sink to the same depth of degradation as the scuzziest of men? No thanks.) Watch any sitcom or drama on TV. You’ll see it soon enough. And, of course, there’s money to be made by making women into consumers of porn and other sexual material, so the businesses that peddle these things encourage women to lust as well. All of which means that today, just a hundred years later, far more women are struggling with the sin of lust.

So we can see that the reality is that lust is a temptation experienced by some women, even though men are more prone to it.

But is lust a sin for women if Matthew 5:28 is speaking in terms of men lusting? Yes. There are a couple of different reasons for this, one cultural, and one biblical.

Let’s go cultural first to understand more clearly why this particular verse is addressed to men rather than men and women. We start off with the knowledge that men are much more likely to experience lust than women. Then we take the culture of the time into account.

Jesus spoke these words in a patriarchal society. In His culture, there were no women in positions of authority and power. Men ran the political system, the religious system, and men were the heads of their households. (By the way, despite what our culture today would say, this wasn’t a bad thing in and of itself. In fact, most of this was perfectly biblical.) Normally, women were not educated, and they depended on men – first their fathers, then their husbands, and finally, their grown sons – to take care of them their entire lives.

So when Jesus was teaching to the crowds as with the Sermon on the Mount (which Matthew 5 is part of) the cultural understanding was that He was primarily teaching the men, and any women and children they brought with them were basically along for the ride. Indeed, many would have thought the women incapable of understanding teaching (since they were intellectually inferior to men) or unworthy of receiving teaching (because God had created them as “lesser” than men).

The Jewish understanding that Jesus was primarily teaching the men would have been similar. Rabbis didn’t teach women, they taught men. Any intentional biblical instruction women received would have been from their fathers or husbands at home. We can see further evidence of this cultural and Jewish understanding in several different Scriptures. A few examples:

At the feeding of the five thousand, the feeding of the four thousand, and some other New Testament “crowd scenes”, the crowd is numbered by the number of men present.

Both the woman at the well herself and the disciples “marveled” that Jesus was speaking with a woman.

Due to Martha’s cultural and Jewish understanding of women’s roles, Jesus had to explain to her that it was OK – even good – for Mary to sit at His feet and learn.

At Pentecost, Luke refers to the “multitude” as “devout men“, and Peter addresses this crowd as “men of Judea“, “men of Israel“, and “brothers“.

So, in Jesus’ secular and Jewish cultural context, He was understandably speaking to the men present. (And what was He telling these men who lived in a world that taught them that women were inferior to men, and that men could regard and treat women any way they wanted to? Jesus elevates the status of women by telling the men they’ve got to respect women even in their hearts. They’ve got to respect their wives by not committing adultery with other women in their hearts, and they’ve got to respect those other women by not using them as objects of sexual gratification in their hearts.) It would have been an unnecessary distraction from His message to address the women directly, and it would certainly have been viewed as inappropriate, maybe even perverted, for Jesus to have suggested that women lusted after men.

So Jesus’ culture, and the fact that lust is largely a sin committed by men, required Him to address this remark to men. But those two things do not have any bearing on the intrinsic sinfulness of lust itself, and they do not mean that this instruction applies only to men. In the section of Matthew 5 preceding the section on lust, Jesus deals with the sin of being angry with your “brother”. Does this mean anger is only sinful if you’re angry with a man instead of a woman? The section of Matthew 5 immediately following the section on lust says men may not divorce their wives except for unfaithfulness. Does this mean women are free to divorce their husbands for any reason? Of course not.

But it’s important to remember that Matthew 5:28 is not the only passage of Scripture that deals with lust. Let’s look at some others.

These passages describe lust as female attribute:

a wild donkey used to the wilderness, in her heat sniffing the wind! Who can restrain her lust?
Jeremiah 2:24a

Oholah played the whore while she was mine, and she lusted after her lovers…everyone after whom she lusted…the Assyrians, after whom she lusted…Her sister Oholibah saw this, and she became more corrupt than her sister in her lust and in her whoring, which was worse than that of her sister. She lusted after the Assyrians…all of them desirable young men.
Ezekiel 23:5a,7b,11,12a,c,

Ezekiel even describes Oholibah viewing pictures of men lustfully. Doesn’t it sound like a woman viewing pornography?:

But she carried her whoring further. She saw men portrayed on the wall, the images of the Chaldeans portrayed in vermilion, wearing belts on their waists, with flowing turbans on their heads, all of them having the appearance of officers, a likeness of Babylonians whose native land was Chaldea. When she saw them, she lusted after them and sent messengers to them in Chaldea.
Ezekiel 23:14-16

In the Jeremiah passage, the lusting woman represents Israel. In Ezekiel, Oholah represents Samaria, and Oholibah represents Jerusalem. So these are not individual women lusting, rather, God is using the illustration of a woman lusting after her “lovers” to describe the unspeakable abomination of Israel’s idolatry. He was using the severest language He could to disgust His people over their sin and move them to repent and turn back to Him. God could have chosen any sin – male lust, robbery, murder, etc. – to represent how horrific their idolatry was to Him, but what did He choose? Female lust. Let that sink in.

Romans 1:18-32 clearly refers to the sins of both men and women, with verse 24 stating:

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves,

These passages speak of lust in neutral, rather than male or female, terms:

and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion
2 Peter 2:10a

For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.
1 John 2:16

Lust is a form of coveting – the greedy yearning to have something that God has not given to you or has given to someone else, and that is certainly not limited to men. Also notice in these passages that you can covet a person, and that coveting is often linked to sensuality or sexual immorality.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.
Exodus 20:17

coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.
Mark 7:22-23

But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints…For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.
Ephesians 5:3,5

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.
Colossians 3:5

Finally, lusting after another person – adulterous coveting – is not loving your neighbor:

For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Romans 13:9

When you look at another person with lust, you are loving yourself. You are thinking selfishly about how that person could gratify your base desires, make you feel good, serve you. That is the antithesis of everything Jesus taught and stood for. Our Master, the One we follow and strive to be like, said:

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Mark 10:45

Jesus came to die on a cruel rugged cross to pay for the sins of the flesh. He would never have thought of using another person to gratify His own selfish desires. How could we?

Is lust a sin for women too? Absolutely. Stop it. Repent. Receive the merciful grace and forgiveness Christ offers.

Additional Resources:

Just Stop It: Instructions on how to repent at The Cripplegate

Hey, Porn Addict: Stop It by Gabriel Hughes

How do you stop looking at porn? at When We Understand the Text

God Over Porn

God Over Porn Women

Every Woman’s Silent Struggle: Fighting Lust with Sisters in Christ by Marian Jacobs

Confessions of a Lusting Christian Girl at The Biblical Creative


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.

Abortion, Gospel

Throwback Thursday ~ Planned Parenthood: There, But for the Grace of God…

Originally published August 15, 2015

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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 pediatrician’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.”

Your jaw hits the floor. Your stomach turns. You can’t believe the monstrous words you’ve just heard.

“How could you do such a horrible thing?” you scream over your revulsion. The doctor looks surprised that you should ask.

“It’s really no big deal,” he says. “We only do a few of those a week. The vast majority of my practice is providing health care and counseling for patients like you.”

Let me ask you something—would you use that doctor and think that the care he provides you mitigates his atrocious behavior? I hope not. Yet I have heard people defend Planned Parenthood (an organization which has been torturing babies to death for decades, and, we recently learned, profits from the sale of their organs) because Planned Parenthood ostensibly performs a minimum number of abortions and mainly provides health services, such as the ones mentioned above, to women who need them. Somehow, in these people’s minds, the health care Planned Parenthood provides makes up for the heinous murders they commit day after day.

Does it really all balance out? Of course not.

In fact, let’s say, Planned Parenthood had only ever tortured fifty babies to death (instead of the millions they’ve actually killed). And let’s say they provided free health care to everyone on the planet, cured cancer, and brought about world peace. Those are some wonderful things, but does it erase the fact that they brutally ended fifty innocent lives? Do all those good deeds make up for even one murder?

No. They don’t. Good deeds can never make up for heinous crimes. Planned Parenthood’s hands are drenched in blood that all the free health care in the world can’t wash away.

They’re hopelessly guilty. Just like we are.

Apart from Christ, we are Planned Parenthood. We come before God with blood on our hands. Not the blood of millions of babies, but the blood of one child. God’s child. Jesus. We are responsible for His death. It was our sin that caused Him to be tortured to death. Our sin that brutally murdered Him.

“Oh, but it’s no big deal. I’m mainly a good person. The vast majority of my life is spent doing good things and helping people. That totally makes up for those few sins I’ve committed. My good deeds outweigh the bad.”

No. They don’t. Good deeds can never make up for heinous crimes.

But, grace… But, mercy… But the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior intervenes and wipes away the guilt. Washes our hands of Christ’s blood. Cleanses us from all unrighteousness, if we only turn to Him in the repentance and faith that He is gracious enough to give us.

Good deeds can never make up for heinous crimes, but the grace of God can.

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:4-7


This article was originally published at Blogging Theologically. Photo credit: Aaron Armstrong

Easter

Throwback Thursday ~ The Daily Wonder of Easter

Originally published April 1, 2014

“What should I preach about on Easter Sunday? Help me out, here.”

That’s the gist of a tweet I saw recently from a pastor. It caught me quite off guard, and it must have had the same effect on many others who punctuated their excellent advice –“preach the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ for our sins”- with lots of “duh’s” and other indications that this should be a no-brainer for a Christian pastor.

Traditionally, the prevailing line of thought about Easter (and Christmas) services has always been, “This is one of the two times a year that a lot of lost people go to church. It might be our only chance to reach some of them. Let’s make sure we give them the gospel.” Maybe after so many years of that, some pastors feel that their church members have heard it all before and they need to move on to something else in order to keep people’s attention. Sometimes, as a pastor, it’s tough to know just what to do to best reach people for Christ.

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But, see, the thing is, Christians never move past our need for hearing the gospel again and again. Young or old. Newly saved or seasoned saint.

We need the gospel.

We need it because we forget. We forget that we are great sinners in need of a great Savior. We forget to slow down and pour out our gratitude and worship for the sacrifice of our beautiful Savior. We forget to bask in our wonder, our amazement, at His glorious and triumphant resurrection.

As Christians, every day our sin sick souls need to bow at the cross and be washed afresh in the precious, atoning blood of Christ. What can wash away my sin? Nothing –nothing– but the blood of Jesus. Daily, we must approach the tomb, see the massive stone rolled away and shout with joy over its emptiness. Hallelujah! Death has lost its victory and the grave has been denied! The very reason we worship on Sunday instead of Saturday is the celebration of an empty tomb. Every Sunday is Easter Sunday.

Remember, and rejoice!


Originally published at Satisfaction Through Christ.
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.