The words rolled off your lips, the email was launched, the unkind act was committed, and regret was forming in your mind. There was no way to undo what you did.
Regret, simply put, is lingering sadness about a moment, a season, or a series of events from the past. It is different from temporal sadness. Temporary sadness is a normal human responses to undesirable circumstances. Lingering sadness does not end and should not be the norm for a Christian.
There are two ways in which bad things happen to me: (1) I make mistakes and (2) others make mistakes which impact me.
There are a few moments in my past which I regret, but to hang on to these unwise moments can only lead to more problems. Sins like anger, bitterness, fear, despair, blaming, justification, and gossip can quickly attach to my unwillingness to let go of the past.
The biblical process of letting go stops the spiraling effect of regret. To not let go is a temptation toward self-righteousness. A self-righteous person rejects God’s grace while seeking to live by their own standards. Thus, when they sin, they experience un-resolvable regret because they have not met their standard of right living.
This is where biblical repentance, which appropriates God’s grace, would empower them to be released from the guilt of past misdeeds.
There are other moments in my past where people have acted in unkind ways towards me. Fortunately, God has given me a way to be released from what they did.
If I persist to hold on to my understanding of what right is, then I will set myself up for regret because imperfect people will never be able to consistently meet my expectations.
To expect, desire, and hold others to a level of righteousness negates the point and usefulness of the Gospel. Jesus did not die for the perfect person. He died for the failures (Romans 3:10-12).
Oh, the beauty of grace.
The First Regret
A backward reflection into life’s most regrettable moments will eventually lead you to Adam and Eve. If they had left the fruit alone, Christ would not have had to suffer and we would not need the gospel.
Though I am sad for Adam and Eve’s rebellion and do not justify or play down their actions and most certainly have been impacted by their sin, I’m amazed at how God has graciously triumphed over what they did wrong. Their sin was God’s moment to redemptively impose Himself.
The right response to our most regrettable moments, regardless of who initiated them, is to view and respond to them through the lens of God’s sovereign and redemptive care in our lives.
Many times there is a difference between how God responds to sin and how we respond. God uses sin redemptively. The cross is the most profound example of what the Lord can do to sin.
Dark moments provide God a context to give grace which brings change into our lives. He does not expect or hold us to a level of righteousness which we most certainly could not attain. He also does not let our sin go.
The question is who is going to be punished for the wrongs. Will I continue to punish myself for the mistakes of the past by regretfully reminding myself of them? Or, will I allow Christ to take the wrongs, while giving me unending, unmerited grace?
The Redemptive Purposes of Sin
The day is coming where we will be completely released from the guilt of our past (1 Corinthians 1:8). We will not be bound or controlled by what we have done or what has been done to us (Revelation 21:4).
The good news is we don’t have to wait for that day. Sadness over circumstances is real, but God can give us a better experience of Himself, as He comes alongside us to redeem those situations for His glory.
If you know someone who is overly fixated on their past, the first thing to do is to come alongside them and begin teaching them about this basic application of the Gospel. Give them God’s perspective on grace and sin, while appealing to them to focus less on the reminders of their fallenness.
It would not minister grace to them to look backward with regret, while misunderstanding God’s activity, God’s guiding, and God’s purposes in their lives (Genesis 50:20).
If we can agree God uses sin sinlessly, then we can begin the process of moving away from the past sin by working redemptively rather than regrettably. To respond otherwise is to disbelieve God’s active goodness on our behalf.
Join the Conversation
What additional biblical counsel do you have for dealing with regret—either regret over our sin or hurt over being sinned against?