…Yes, I am guilty of this too – many times stopping short of just feeling bad without letting the heart really gets it – the wrong done against God, the injustice done against others, and the price I’ve gotta pay for my own mistakes…but fully admitting that my sin breaks His heart, and gathering courage to walk away from a wrong habit?, this takes more than just feeling bad, it takes courage and conviction. So I’m thankful for these words…precious words shared out of the husband’s heart treasury, spoken over our church’s podium and meditated upon as we vacationed away from home that beautiful Sunday…
Guest Post by The Husband
“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!” (2 Cor 7:10)
We’ve all felt the pangs of guilt and regret. Sometimes it’s because we see the effect of our bad decision, sometimes it’s because our God-given conscience suddenly awakens. We may hear a sermon, read something, or someone who may say something to us – and suddenly, we realise that something we have done before was wrong. Very wrong.
Feeling bad about something doesn’t always lead to change.
Take the man who is bound by alcoholism. He drinks until his liver fails and he ends up in hospital. For a few weeks he deeply regrets his drinking, but soon after he returns to his drinking. Or the gambler who has gambled away his family’s savings. Confronted with bankruptcy his gambling pauses – long enough for him to avoid losing his house, and for him to feel confident again that he will be able to win it all back. Then it starts all over again.
Regret in itself doesn’t necessarily produce lasting change.
In fact, after the alcoholic man has given into temptation, what do you think happens when he starts wallowing in self-pity the next day? The deep regret he feels drives him back to the very thing he regretted.
Why do we even feel guilt?
It seems counter-productive, or dare-I-say, weak, to have to feel guilty about doing something “wrong”. Would not natural selection weed out all of us with such a strong sense of guilt and self-examination? Why does this universal experience of guilt even exist?
I don’t believe that the theory of evolution can answer that. One could argue that the prone to guilt humans were more aware of other’s needs perhaps and therefore more sociable and likely to have more children. But I would argue that these people that were struggling with guilt would hardly be the ones reproducing. They would probably have been plucked off by their psychopathic counterparts.
No, I believe that this tendency to feel guilt is part of human nature because we were created in God’s likeness and were given a conscience – a sense of what is right and wrong. When sin entered the world, our consciences had a lot more work to do, as now our very natures were prone to evil. Guilt became a moral pain signal – something’s wrong. Just as pain tells us that there is physically something wrong, Guilt tells us that there is something morally wrong.
If the pain system doesn’t work properly, like in leprosy, the body can actually be damaged severely without the person knowing. So a person with untreated leprosy could lose limbs because they are not paying attention to the damage they are doing on a day to day basis.
If the guilt system doesn’t work properly, it signifies that the person’s moral awareness is lacking and the soul of a person is damaged on a day to day basis. But it means even more than that.
So what does “moral” really mean?
In a post-modern culture – one can argue that right and wrong is all relative. But according to God’s word, morality is based on God’s law, which is in turn based on God’s nature.
What is right and wrong then depends not on man’s culture or values or latest ethical theories, but on God’s nature which is expressed in God’s word.
So when we sin, the sin issue, is primarily between us and God. I may have hated my brother, but the sin of hating my brother ultimately is a sin against God because God is love. I may have stolen from my company, but the sin of stealing is against the law of God first, and then against the laws of my country. Sin is always an issue between us and God.
As Christians when the Holy Spirit enters into our lives, our consciences become sharpened by the Holy Spirit through the word of God and suddenly there’s a lot more awareness of morality, and indeed more pangs of guilt. That’s because the Moral law giver, now dwells inside an imperfect vessel.
The way out is through Godly repentance.
Feeling the pain of guilt and regretting our sin is only the beginning. For genuine repentance to occur, there are three main elements that are essential.
1. Understanding that I am a sinful person – in the absence of Christ. I was born sinful and therefore I have done sinful things.
The first step in repentance is to realise that in retrospect, what I’ve done is actually wrong. Very wrong. Further than that, prior to being regenerated by the Holy Spirit, I was sinful in my very nature. So I would do things wrong because I was wrong by nature.
2. Understand that this sin is ultimately against God and let’s hate it!
I’ve tried many times to change some bad habits I have. Like stepping into my shoes instead of untying my shoelaces. But I haven’t changed it because I’ve never really been convinced that it was sinful. But then I noticed that my children started doing the same thing and in the process, their shoes were being ruined, like mine were. Suddenly I realised that my laziness was being passed on, and my heart has been convicted that I should stop showing a bad example to my children. The Holy Spirit pricked my heart, and I realise that this seemingly “little” sin, is actually a sin against God – because it contradicts God’s nature. Now I’m not saying that it’s sinful for anyone in the world to step into their shoes without untying their shoelaces, but if it’s driven by sheer laziness, as in my life, then yes, laziness is actually a sin. Why? Because God’s not lazy. That’s it.
Another seemingly “small” thing is the playing of Video games. For many years, I would spend time playing a seemingly harmless computer Game – NBA 2K. I mean I love that game. I think of it as a basketball simulation rather than a computer game. But then God started convicting me that it was eating into my time and some nights I would lose control and play more than I wanted to (just to win the game). It was becoming an idol in my life. I had to give it up completely for a period of time so that it no longer had any hold on me and now I have very little desire to play it. Gaming, for me at least, contradicted God’s nature on several levels. God does not waste time – in fact he specifically tells us to “redeem the time”. It’s hard to argue that long bouts of computer gaming is not a waste of time as it is rarely productive. You may say that gaming helps you to relax, but surely 6 hours of it is too much “relaxing”. God is a God of self-control. It’s easy to lose self-control on games. In fact, the developers design games so that they are addictive.
So these are two examples of sins that on the surface, there does not appear to be any particular “victim”. However, in both examples, when I do these things I sin against God. This makes them reprehensible.
3. Turning to a merciful God through the cross of Jesus Christ – we must turn to God if we are to have any chance in permanent change in our lives.
Let’s be honest. How many of us make new year’s resolutions, only to break them shortly after? What chance do we have in instituting change in our lives? We can barely keep to a new diet for more than 2 weeks, let alone put an end to selfishness in our lives. Let’s face it, we all need Jesus. Without Jesus, I cannot truly change.
In the next post, we will explore how Judas felt deep regret, but failed to demonstrate true repentance.