written by Alyssa Lok
You regret procrastinating on your ten-page paper due at midnight. You regret eating Nutella even though you know very well that you’re allergic to nuts. And you really regret wearing shorts in the rain. Because now you’re sick. And may possibly have bronchitis. The fact of the matter is that life is filled with decisions you regret. It’s easy to look back at our lives and think about all of the impulsive choices we’ve made, careless things we’ve said, and prime opportunities that we’ve passed up. But these types of regrets all point to a worldly grief. We feel pangs of remorse because we lost out or we were hurt in some way. The focus of worldly grief is ourselves—we mourn over the way that our pride has been injured, our image tarnished, and our plan foiled.
But the Bible speaks of a very different type of grief in 2 Corinthians 7. Paul writes in verses 10-11, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment!” Unlike worldly grief, godly grief doesn’t just stop at feeling sorry. Instead, the discomfort and pain associated with knowing that you are a filthy, wretched sinner before a just and righteous God drives you to repentance. Worldly grief leads to death because it wallows without hope while godly grief leads to salvation because it looks to the cross and finds new life.
Such grief over one’s own sin is illustrated in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18. Verses 9-14 speak of two men who enter the temple to pray. Trusting in his own deeds and self-righteousness, the Pharisee doesn’t make any confession of sin likely because he doesn’t think that he has any sin to confess. Instead, he elevates himself by calling attention to the sinful state of the tax collector. In contrast, the tax collector’s heart is so heavy that he stands off to the side, beats his breast, and “would not even lift up his eyes to heaven” (v. 13). He cries out, “‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’”, the weight of his sin so unbearable that he can do nothing more than plead to God for mercy and forgiveness. This is a man who is so broken over his own sin that he comes humbly before God declaring his unworthiness as a recipient of grace. This is the type of grief that God wants from us, the type of grief that David speaks of in Psalm 51:17 when he writes, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” This is the type of sorrow that leads to true repentance.
A frightening reality is that many of us may be growing impervious to the depths of our own sin, that like the Pharisee, we are trusting so much in our head knowledge and self-perceived righteousness that we are blind to the very real dangers of our hearts. Sure, we know that we’re not perfect, but we’re better people than we were before, right? We go to GOC on Friday nights and are saturated in the Word on Sunday mornings. We share openly about our lives in small group and spend hours every week in encouraging meet-ups. We’re reading our Bibles more than we ever did before, praying with an unprecedented fervency, and evangelizing to our non-believing friends. On the outset, our spiritual life looks pretty darn good. But have we become so lost in the routine and so enamored by the comfort of our Christian bubble that we have lost sight of the very Gospel that we read, hear, and preach? Have we forgotten the realities of indwelling sin that compete with our love for Christ? Because unless we are brokenhearted over our sin, consumed with a godly grief that drives us to repentance and zeal to obey, then the Gospel means nothing to us. And if the Gospel is nothing to us, then all of the things that we do for His kingdom are for naught.
It wasn’t until I witnessed others being hurt that I became aware of how insensitive I was growing to my own sinful state. It wasn’t until seeing how much my sin affected other people did I realize how much more it must upset, offend, and attack my Heavenly Father. This heartbreaking reminder produced regret so great that I wanted nothing more than to turn away from my sin and run straight into the arms of the Father. But if my sin is ultimately committed against God, it is incomprehensible that He would freely lavish His compassion on such a lowly, wretched sinner. If man, who is imperfect in every respect, struggles to forgive even the slightest wrong, how can I be pardoned by the perfect God of the universe? But it was in questioning God’s mercy and grace that I saw how cold I was growing to the truth. Did I forget that I was a sinner saved by grace? Was I discounting the power of Christ’s blood to cover ALL of my sins, even the ones that I esteemed unforgivable?
2 Corinthians 7:13 ends with this: “Therefore we are comforted.” Comforted? Comforted in what? We just established that we are sinners against the Lord Almighty, the Creator of Heaven and Earth; that’s anything but comfortable! But find assurance in this truth: that the same holy God who is glorious beyond description is also the merciful, loving, and forgiving God who has saved us from our sins. The same God whom we rejected, offended, and rebelled against is the same God who gave up His perfect son so that we might have new life in Him. Therefore we can approach God’s throne with confidence because of what Christ accomplished on the cross (Hebrews 4:16).
Isn’t it amazing how even our sin can lead us to worship? Therefore grieve over your sin and welcome the godly regret that leads to repentance. Be exhorted by the renewal of your heart that reminds you each and every day that sin is great but God’s grace is so much greater.