Monday, June 19, 2023

Anonymous Asks (254)

“Should Christians experience regret?”

“Regret” is not a word that appears very often in scripture, though the concept is certainly there. Matthew writes about the regrets Judas had when he saw that Jesus had been condemned to death. Perhaps he saw his betrayal as an opportunity to cash in, but never imagined the Jews would be so successful in pressuring Pilate to carry out their wishes. Upon seeing that his betrayal had sent the Lord Jesus to the cross, he suddenly wished to dissociate himself from his previous actions.

The Greek word Matthew uses for “regret” implies a change of mind. Judas changed his mind, but he couldn’t change what he had done even by giving back his thirty pieces of silver. That is the nature of regret. In many cases, there is nothing we can do about the bad choices we have made in life. That sort of regret is futile.

No Chance to Repent

Esau also experienced this sort of empty emotional experience. The writer to the Hebrews tells us, “Afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.” That’s useless regret; an emotional flap about a choice like the one Judas made that cannot later be reversed.

For the Christian, regret is something that may be inevitable at times, but produces little of value. Paul writes, “Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” Here, salvation without regret seems to be the most desirable state for the believer. In context, the salvation he speaks of is not to eternal life, but rather to a correct way of thinking about sin. We are “saved” from delusional thinking, excuse-making and self-justification. Repentance is a change of mind that produces changed behavior, but without looking back in perpetual misery. That is the desirable attitude and the objective of the Holy Spirit in bringing us to repentance.

Inevitable Regret

Yet, at the same time and in the same passage, Paul speaks of the inevitability of regret. He writes, “Even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it — though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while.” So even apostles have regrets sometimes. But Paul’s regret was short-lived. Of course he was not thrilled to have caused grief to people he loved, but he recognized that grief was a necessary step in the process of repentance. It could not be avoided. Regrets are inevitable, but Christians should not let them linger.

Part of that is being able to see a bigger picture. Unsaved people often disappoint themselves by the way they or others behave. They say, “I’m better than that” or “He’s such a disappointment.” The truth is that we are not better than that, and neither are our Christian friends. “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” The Christian knows his own sinfulness all too well: that is why he came to Christ in the first place. We are never beyond temptation in this life. So when we sin, disappointment with self serves no useful purpose. It tells us nothing new about our old nature. We already know that the moment we cease to cling to Christ, we are bound to get into trouble.

For Christians, then, sin should not be cause for endless head-hanging and moaning. Rather, it is an occasion for change and restoration to fellowship with the Lord.

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