Think of something you regret. It could be something you’ve done, something you forgot to do or put off…. Anything. Now try a little thought experiment. Picture the situation in your mind. Got it? Now change it. Go ahead, change it! Close your eyes, concentrate really hard, and change what you had done. Change the way you treated a loved one. Change binge-watching reality television last night instead of writing your weekly Christian blog in a timely manner. Did it work? Too bad, me either.
Clearly we cannot change what has happened in the past. Instead, we are faced with two opposing paths. We can follow the world, as Satan would like us to do, and let regret create negative emotions and feelings, or we can try something completely different. We can allow the Bible to teach us about Godly regret – regret that is a positive catalyst for growth, regret that focuses our minds and hearts on a joyous future and glorifies God in our lives. Think again about that situation, because it is time to choose a path!
One of the most striking examples of the first path, of destructive regret, is Judas Iscariot. After Judas saw the consequences of betraying Jesus he was appalled. As Matthew 27: 3-5 tells us, Judas
“changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood!’ They said, ‘What is that to us? See to it yourself.’ And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and went and hanged himself.”
Judas failed to deal with his regret in a Godly way, and it utterly destroyed him.
Judas Iscariot clearly tried to cope with his regret in a worldly way, and it led to his death. Look again at the story. When faced with regret, who did Judas confess his sins to? Who did he go to for restitution? To a merciful God? No! Judas confessed to the chief priests and elders; the very men who convinced him to betray Jesus in the first place! He turned to the world, the very condition that had caused his suffering, for relief. Proverb 26:11 poetically conveys just how nonsensical this type of behavior truly is:
“As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly!”
Take note of the priests response and see how relying on the world for relief from regret can be futile. The priests unconcerned with his confession, ask Judas “What is that to us?” See to it yourself.” Imagine some of the individuals in your life who have drawn you toward sin, can’t you just hear them responding in exactly this way? As you can see, the world (which is the source of behavior that leads to regret) ultimately has no answer for it.
So Judas’ story is a clear picture of destructive regret. What is Godly regret? 2 Corinthians 7:10 says,
“For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.”
Here we can see that regret is actually a gift from God. It is a signal from him that we have done something that is displeasing to him. But that is only the beginning of the story; this feeling triggers repentance, which in turn leads to salvation. Regret according to God’s plan is not negative or destructive at all. In fact, it leads to the greatest gift our loving Father freely gave us: salvation.
There is another important factor in God’s plan for regret: hope. Instead of dwelling on past regrets, we can focus on the act of repentance and salvation, and allow it to motivate us to change our behavior for the future. By His grace, we can learn from our mistakes through regret, which leads to repentance and salvation, which in turn empowers us to change our behavior to prevent the cycle from repeating. This process is clear in Philippians 3:13:
“Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
God reveals how much He loves us and has provided for us in His perfect plan for regret. Understanding this plan enables us to meet regret with joy, not despair. We can look for the lesson God is teaching us through regret so that we can repent our past behavior. In doing so we are able rid ourselves of past sins and look to a Godly future; a future free of the cycle of sin that created the regret in the first place. What a difference from Judas’ regret! What an amazing plan! And finally, what an amazing Savior we have!
Now return to the situation you pictured in the beginning. This time thank God for giving you a feeling of regret so that you understand what you have done wrong. Repent of that sin, and joyfully accept Jesus’ salvation. Now put it behind you, forever, as God has done. Do you feel better? In fact, would you change the lesson God just taught you even if you could? Good, me either. This is God’s plan for regret in your life; understand it and you will be able to exclaim as Paul did:
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” – 2 Timothy 4:7