We all have regrets. Who among us wouldn’t punch in a few specific dates in the DeLorean and fix a few things? Regret is a powerful emotion. If left unchecked, it can render us hopeless, swimming under a sea of condemnation.
I was amazed this past week as we discussed among our youth. Regret is not only for those of us with miles under the hood. Every young person acknowledged not just one, but many regrets. We had each of them, by way of symbolizing our regrets, mark on a single white piece of paper a colored dot. It didn’t take long for each of us to make our markings.
What is regret? Is it not an acknowledgment that we’ve acted, thought or spoken in a way that we’re ashamed of? Regret, like it’s sister shame, can be a result of sin. Sin in ourselves and the broken world around us. Some regret is simple disappointment. The danger is however that all regret can have a negative impact on our lives if left unchecked.
When we screw up, regret and shame come swooping in upon our conscience. I think this is a universal experience. We each have a certain ‘view’ of what we want to be, the person we know we should be. When we act against this image, once we come to our senses, we realize we’ve fallen short of this invisible standard. We are disappointed in ourselves, but it can go much deeper.
“These feelings of regret, guilt, condemnation, which are initially just reactions to failures, become powerful instruments of the enemy to destroy us even further.”
Think of all the ways regret (at least in the context of personal failure) can be used against us. This slide below outlines some of them.
No one should have had more regrets than the Apostle Paul. Once Saul, he hunted down and imprisoned men, women and families who professed faith in the resurrected Christ.
He stood by in approval, collecting the coats of the men who stoned Stephen to death (Acts 7). The man who wrote 2/3 of the New Testament had a mountain of evidence against him and every reason to wallow away in regret for the remainder of his life.
Yet, this man, somehow, was able to utter the phrase:
“But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead.” Phil 3:13
Paul found a certain power in the Cross. A power to not only absolve the crimes against God and the conscience, but a power that motivated in mission forward.
He understood, as should we, that the enemy will come rushing in to accuse and condemn, it’s his nature. If we sit back and let him do this, we will wallow in pity, infested with bitterness and excuse.
Paul knew the Cross cancelled the decrees against us, literally nailing the accusations in the person of Jesus, securely to wooden beams.
“Having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” Col 2:14
The cross never ceases to amaze. It’s the character of God revealed to us! The God of perfect love doesn’t want us to live in a past of regret. He takes no pleasure in holding our sins against us, reminding us of what we’ve done or our failures. So great is the Father’s love towards us that believe, that He took on flesh AND our sin.
His last words, “It is finished,” should echo in our heart, and right back to the enemy when he attempts to undo this amazing covenant of grace!
If you feel ‘hooked’ to past sins, the Cross is the only place of absolution. Release from our regret comes by faith exclusively in the mercy of God in Christ. We can attempt to drown our sorrow in sin or pleasure, but it will be there the next day. We can also attempt to reform our lives morally, thinking this will distance us from our regrets. We can’t undo what has been done outside of Jesus atonement. If we think we can, we’ll only find ourselves fashioning a different weapon against God, religion and self-righteousness. A moral or outward attempt to find freedom will only bring death (2 Cor 3:7).
Isn’t it utterly astonishing that the only place we can be truly free, is the place where the Creator utterly suffered! What is foolishness to the world, is the wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:18). When we embrace our sin, our need for redemption, we will find complete rest for our souls in the risen Savior, simply by believing on Him! (Rom 10:4, Gal 2:16, Eph 2:8-9).
During our meeting we each took our dot filled papers and individually nailed our regrets and sins to a large wooden beam. It was a powerful moment, I hope, in most of their lives as we realized the cross was much more than a religious symbol. If it’s not a deeply personal event, it’s not an event at all in our lives. If it’s not the place of complete freedom, the fountain of every blessing, we’re probably still living in the past, holding on our regrets.
If you are reading this and thinking, “Ok, I have some major regrets, and sin that just won’t let me go. What practically can I do about this now?” The good news is that Jesus knows your situation, even better than you do. We also have the promise that He embraces contrition and humility. Go to Him, don’t delay, let Him take your sin and regret at the Cross, see it nailed, see it finished in His death. Then, like Paul, set your eyes on moving ahead with Christ and the things He has in store for you. Forgive others, ask for forgiveness if it’s necessary. Ultimately, in your heart and mind, stay near the Cross where your God demonstrated His love over you – you won’t regret it!
“Flee to His wounds, and you will be safe.” Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466-1536)