Grieving Without Regret

Did you see the film “The Bucket List” that came out in 2007? That movie created a big, long-lasting fad. Do you have a bucket list of things you want to do before you die? For many people, now having a “bucket list” means listing your goals and the experiences that fulfill those goals as you plan your life around them. I don’t have a bucket list, and I often wonder about them. Some have told me it’s because they don’t want to have any regrets about things they haven’t done, unread books, or places they haven’t seen before infirmity of old age will hijack their bodies. Our world would have us focused on what we haven’t done and what we must do to be fulfilled because life will end with all its opportunities here. The goal, of course, is to be happy and free (since having a bucket list implies the ability to-do items on the list). But God doesn’t want us to list personal ideas for achieving personal joy, fulfillment, and holiness. He has already given us the means to glorify him for all eternity in his Word. If we don’t want to have regrets, we are encouraged to seek the wisdom of Scripture and apply its truths to our lives and ourselves often. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12) If we allow him, the Holy Spirit will work through Word to pierce our pride, materialism, covetousness, gluttony, selfishness, and self-centeredness. The cure for regret is grief in confession and the resulting repentance.

Paul’s Joy for the Corinthians’ Grief

After Paul planted the church in Corinth, he was greatly concerned about his brothers’ and sisters’ sanctification. In his second letter to the Corinthians, “Paul’s opponents were undermining his work, claiming that his suffering proved he was not a true apostle. Paul responds that his suffering highlights his dependence on Christ, as it points to Christ’s strength rather than his own. Second Corinthians includes stirring perspectives on gospel ministry, encouragements to holy living, and instructions about giving.” (1) In his discipleship for holy living, he writes, “I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.” (2 Corinthians 7:9-11) The Corinthians’ grief assured Paul of their salvation, purity, hatred of personal sin, holiness, and innocence. This is the work of true repentance in God’s power. Rather than regret our failures to glorify God and live a holy life, we grieve knowing that our repentance will lead to assurance, purity, holiness, and innocence through God’s forgiveness.

Godly Grief Versus Worldly Sorrow

“The apostle speaks of sorrowing ‘after a godly manner’ (2 Cor. 7:9). But what is this godly sorrowing? There are six qualifications of it [a few of which I will quote here]:

  • True godly sorrow is inward. It is a sorrow of the heart. The sorrow of hypocrites lies in their faces: ‘they disfigure their faces.’ As the heart bears a chief part in sinning, so it must in sorrowing. It is a sorrow for heart-sins, the first outbreaks and risings of sin…The true mourner weeps for the stirrings of pride and concupiscence [lust].
  • Godly sorrow is ingenuous. It is sorrow for the offense rather than for the punishment. A  Christian grieves for sinning against that free grace which has pardoned him.
  • Godly sorrow is a great sorrow. Sorrow for sin must surpass worldly sorrow. We must grieve more for offending God than for the loss of dear relations…for in the burial of the dead it is only a friend who departs, but in sin God departs…Our sorrow for sin must be such as makes us willing to let go of those sins which brought in the greatest income of profit or delight.
  • Godly sorrow is abiding. It is not a few tears shed in a passion. True sorrow must be habitual.  O Christian, the disease of your soul is chronic and frequently returns upon you; therefore you must be continually physicking [medicating] yourself by repentance.” (2)

The Seriousness of Sin Deserves Our Most Serious Grief

Sin is serious business. Some ministries, like Ligonier, have been built upon the importance of holiness because sin is such an insidious, fatal problem. If we are to grieve over anything, it should be the effects of sin, including the death of unbelievers, tragedies, crimes, congenital disabilities, and the love of evil in the world. As my Pastor said on Sunday, “We need to have a grace-filled killer instinct toward our sin.” He compared our approach to sin like that of a fly hovering in our kitchens. Do we invite it to stay, ignore it, or most likely, try to kill it or get rid of it as soon as possible? (3) We should notice our sin and do everything we can to kill it off, rather than ignore it, with its annoying presence or even power to control us. “Sometimes confronting sin requires going beyond what love and compassion might be comfortable with. But it is necessary to do so because sin is a deadly killer. The Corinthians’ remorse was not the sorrow of self-pity, of getting caught, of despair, bitterness, wounded pride, or manipulative remorse. Their sorrow led to repentance which produced genuine change. They were not defensive; they did not view themselves as victims or seek to justify their sinful behavior. Their sorrow was according to the will of God; it was the healing, transforming sorrow for sin that God intended for them to feel, because it produces repentance.” (4) Deep, godly sorrow leads to healing from the devastating disease of sin.

Grief-motivated Repentance Proves Our Innocence 

“For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.” (2 Corinthians 7:11) In his book “The Mortification of Sin,” Puritan John Owen encourages us to hate sin, to be watchful against anything and everything that disturbs our souls. If we are only uncomfortable because of it, and our conscience is not wounded, we will ignore it. God gives believers a desire to kill sin. But many digest sin without any bitterness in their hearts, imagining that God will be gracious and merciful, without any remorse for sin. Some are on the brink of falling away from God and turning God’s grace into permissiveness, being hardened by sin. Owen writes, “To use the blood of Christ, which is given to cleanse us, the exaltation of Christ, which is to give us repentance, the doctrine of grace, which teaches us to deny all ungodliness—to countenance sin, is a rebellion that will break the bones.” (5) “The Corinthians’ genuine repentance manifested itself in a desire for vindication. [They] had a strong desire to clear their name, remove the stigma of their sin, rid themselves of their guilt, and prove themselves trustworthy. Therefore, they made sure that all who had known of their sin now knew of their repentance…Truly repentant people have a strong desire to see justice done and to make restitution for the wrongs they have committed. Instead of protecting themselves, they accept the consequences of their sins. Repentance had brought purity to the sinning saints in the Corinthian assembly, and every aspect of their lives reflected it.” (6)

Are you chained to a worldly bucket list to prevent regrets? Do you grieve sincerely over your heart sins? Will you begin grieving today, knowing that you have a choice between regretting your failures to glorify God and live a holy life, or grieving, knowing that your grief will result in repentance, transformation, assurance, purity, greater distaste for your sin, more holiness, and innocence through God’s forgiveness? “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

Related Scripture: Isaiah 22:12; Jeremiah 22:10; 16:6; Zechariah 12:10; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Philippians 4:8; James 3:17-18; 1 John 1:8-9; 3:3.

Notes:

  1. English Standard Version, The Holy Bible, Introduction to 2 Corinthians, 2016, Crossway Bibles.
  2. Watson, Thomas, The Doctrine of Repentance, Banner of Truth Trust, pp. 21-28, 2016 (1668)
  3. Taha, Allen, Christian Identity, July 25, 2021, https://www.trinityboerne.org/sermons/sermon/2021-07-25/christian-identity
  4. MacArthur, John, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, 2 Cor. 7:5-16, Moody Publishers, 2015.
  5. Owen, John, The Mortification of Sin, Urbanophile, LLC (August 7, 2019), Kindle Edition.
  6. MacArthur, Ibid. 

July 29, 2021              

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