Memory is a funny thing. If someone were to ask you what the happiest moment of your life was, odds are it might take a few seconds for you to respond. On the other hand, when someone asks about your biggest mistake, a memory which brings you the most shame, the mind is instantly flooded with countless, painful instances of regret. Remorse is a cruel teacher, but you never forget a lesson.
As Christians, we believe the grace of God is absolute. Once we have accepted Christ into our hearts, all of our sins are washed away. The old has gone, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17). So why do countless believers still struggle with feelings of regret over their past actions? Do we lack faith in Christ’s mercy, or is regret a call to further repentance? This was the question recently posed to John Piper in his latest article for Desiring God.
Piper’s first answer was to remind his readers that regret is the sign of a tender heart, not an unforgiven soul. It’s only natural for humans to feel remorse over their past mistakes, but the key is whether we allow these feelings to rule our lives. As an example, Piper pointed to the thief who was crucified alongside Jesus in the New Testament. He writes,
“Jesus knows all this, and he’s not saying that our salvation or even our peace of mind depends on whether we have access to the people we need to be reconciled with or whose hurts we need to set right. The thief on the cross had no opportunity to restore anything that he had stolen for decades. He must have stolen from dozens and dozens of people since he is just called a thief. And yet, Jesus said he’s going to be in paradise (Luke 23:43). He never set one thing right. Not one. Psalm 19:13 pleads for forgiveness for hidden faults. Why? Because we can’t remember them. We don’t even know what people we’ve hurt. If we can remember some, we can’t remember them all.”
Our acceptance of God frees us from the burdens of sin, but it also serves as motivation to further reconciliation. If we have harmed someone or hold bitterness against them, we should seek to forgive and be forgiven in turn. The Holy Spirit is transformational, changing us from the inside out and encouraging us to be more like Christ. If we feel regret or remorse, we should accept these emotions as part of our new life. They call us to correct our errors, not because we are condemned, but because we are now free.
Scripture tells us,
“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” – Matthew 5:23-24
All of us have made mistakes in our past. Sometimes we can make things right, sometimes we cannot. What truly matters is that we try. Try to be better people, try to follow God with pure and contrite hearts, and try not to repeat the errors of our old life. It’s not easy, sometimes it’s even painful, but whenever regret threatens to overwhelm us, we can always look to the cross and remember that Christ died for us. Nothing will ever separate us from the love of Christ. (Romans 8:31-39)
*Ryan Duncan is an Editor for Crosswalk.com