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How to Let Go of Lingering Regret

  • Dawn Wilson Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • Updated Nov 14, 2018
How to Let Go of Lingering Regret

Regrets hang over us like gloomy clouds of self-condemnation. Regrets can bring a wide variety of emotions into our lives, everything from recurring sadness to deep, painful and overwhelming remorse.

When I think of regrets, I can’t help but think of Adam and Eve. The plush Garden of Eden, walking with God, their sinless innocence—they lost it all with one willful choice. Talk about regret!

Imagine how they winced at every new sin that cropped up after that day. Their own relationship became strained, and their grief over Abel’s murder must have crushed them. They knew their sin changed everything they’d held most precious.

We know our sins wound us and deeply grieve our Creator too. Our regrets weigh heavy on our souls. How can we find relief and release?

Regret in a Biblical Way

Regret in a Biblical Way

First, we need to understand not all regret is wrong. There’s a big difference between godly regret and worldly regret. The concept of godly regret is sorrow or grief—understanding we have done wrong and how sin grieves the heart of God. It’s the kind of sorrow that leads to repentance and salvation, and it’s not debilitating.

Sin and its consequences are cast off and left behind so the believer can move forward in grace and Christ-like beauty, like the freedom of a butterfly emerging from a restrictive chrysalis.

Godly regret, then, fulfills God’s design for sorrow over sin, and then there’s no longer a need to linger in it. Paul says, because of Christ’s work in us, we are to rejoice in God’s provision, forget the forgiven past and press on to what lies ahead.

On the other hand, worldly regret or sorrow brings destruction. Because there is no repentance toward God or change involved, the effects or consequences of our sinful choices run their natural course. Worldly regret goes on and on, pressing our conscience with guilt and ultimately affecting other areas of life.

There’s a big difference between regretting consequences and having genuine moral remorse for sin. A good example of this is the rich man who was in a place of torment, but there was no evidence of godly regret.

Unfortunately, sometimes people don’t even have worldly regret! They hold onto their past because they don’t want to forget sins they may have once enjoyed. They may claim they can’t help themselves. In an odd and twisted way, they relive and delight in or savor lingering over their sin.

Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Elijah O'Donnell

Rest in God’s Forgiveness

Rest in God’s Forgiveness

Some say they can’t seem to “forgive themselves;” but they misunderstand the extent of God’s forgiveness. Forgiving ourselves is a controversial point, sometimes shared by well-meaning counselors in order to help people dispense of their regrets. But this isn’t ultimately helpful, because forgiving ourselves relies on our changing emotions.

The Bible, in fact, never speaks of forgiving ourselves. We are told to forgive others because we are forgiven; but regarding ourselves, we are instructed to take our sins directly to God and ask for His forgiveness, trusting Him as our Savior and Lord. If we confess our sins, He is faithful; He will forgive and cleanse us from every sin. He has already paid for every sin, and it is foolish and a lack of faith on our part to not appropriate that payment.

Jesus is our sacrifice for sin. There is no offering we can bring to Him—no amount of personal remorse—that can adequately cover our sin. “Jesus paid it all, All to Him I owe; Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.”

Lingering in regrets once we have confessed our sin is playing into our enemy’s hands. Satan is the accuser of believers, and loves to watch us squirm in past sins. The devil says, “If you feel guilty, you are.” That’s a lie!

The Bible says God “remembers our sins no more.” He is not a forgetful God, but He chooses to not ever bring up our sin to Himself or to us or to anyone! No matter our feelings, we need to claim that truth and rest in the Lord’s marvelous forgiveness.

We need to change the channel in our mind that constantly accuses us and tune in instead to God’s restful channel of peace.

As John MacArthur says, “Our sins are forgiven, rebellion ceases, the war is over, and we have peace with God.” (Romans 5:1; Colossians 1:20-22).

There’s really only one time it’s good to remember our past sins—when they remind us of God’s good grace, and enable us to forgive others’ offenses from the heart. 

Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/JWayeCovington

Resist the Urge to Beat Yourself Up

Resist the Urge to Beat Yourself Up

The Apostle Paul had every right to beat himself up after becoming a Christian. He likely had many regrets. With raging fury, Paul persecuted the early church, dragging men and women off to prison, and approved of believers’ executions—but this “insolent opponent” of Christians received God’s mercy.

Paul likely felt unworthy of God’s mercy. In fact, in deep humility he called himself “the least” of all the saints.

But when he came to the point of healthy, godly regret and repentance, and confessed his shameful past to the Lord, he may have continued to remember his horrendous sins but he was no longer consumed with regrets. He saw his sins through the Savior’s eyes and became a changed man; He only wanted to live for Christ—the one he previously persecuted, the head of the church.

Peter, Jesus’ fearful disciple grieved the Lord when he denied Him three times, and Peter “wept bitterly” with regret; but Peter was also a changed man. Moving past his grief and regrets, Peter went on to courageously feed Jesus’ sheep and even die for the Lord.

Like Paul and Peter, we must banish Satan’s attempts to make us dwell in guilt and shame. We can respect ourselves because of the Christ who lives in us. Forgiven, we must resist the urge linger in regret and beat ourselves up.

Instead, we can turn our regrets into gratitude for grace. This will get our eyes off ourselves and our regrets, and help us focus on the Lord’s mercy and forgiveness and how He wants to use us. We choose to linger in a place of humility and dependency on Him.

Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Naassom Azevedo

Reset Your Mind with Truth

Reset Your Mind with Truth

We can’t live in the past, and we do that through our thought life. Don’t let mistakes in your past, even grievous ones, influence and control present thoughts, and ultimately, behavior.

The best way to reset your mind is to focus on the truth of scripture. It’s how God changes us. His Word purifies us; it is consecrating truth

When the enemy brings you plates full of lies, reject them. Feed yourself a steady diet of God’s truth.

I remember one evening when I struggled over a “how could I have done that again?” sin. The enemy rushed in to condemn me and I sat in the dark in my living room weeping. Would I ever learn? Would I ever walk in victory? How could God forgive me … again?

Then suddenly I smiled. It was as if the Holy Spirit gently spoke to my heart with words that changed everything. Words of truth.

“I distinctly remember God forgave you for that.”

For the rest of that evening, I reset my mind with truth about God’s mercy, grace, love and forgiveness. And that’s what I’ve done ever since when regrets threaten my peace. I am being transformed by the renewing—the resetting—of my mind. 

Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Sean Kong

Redeem Your Regrets

Redeem Your Regrets

Right any wrongs you can. If there’s anything you can fix, fix it.

But if you cannot—if there are consequences that can only be redeemed in eternity—leave that work to the Lord. He is the Savior, after all. He will make all things new.

Allow the Lord to break down the strongholds in your life according to His plans. Allow Him to redeem your regrets by giving you His strength to change your future with Him. Allow His truth to set you free.

One of the blessings I’ve discovered in regard to regrets is how God uses them, transformed by His grace, to help us encourage, comfort and challenge others. It is in this “redeeming” of what has brought us godly sorrow that the Lord is brought great glory.

So let go of that lingering regret. Reach out to the One who desires to use you for His holy purposes and praise.


Dawn Wilson and her husband Bob live in Southern California. They have two married sons and three granddaughters. Dawn assists author and radio host Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth with research and works with various departments at Revive Our Hearts. She is the founder and director of Heart Choices Today, publishes Upgrade with Dawn, and writes for Crosswalk.com. Dawn also travels with her husband in ministry with Pacesetter Global Outreach. 

Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Nathan Mcbride