Day 10: Sorrow vs Regret
Today's lesson is about regret and sorrow, what the two represent and how we can reject the unhealthy effects of regret. Regret is focused inwards, thinking only of self. Sorrow, when used correctly, focuses on the glory of God. It takes us out of the equation and puts the emphasis back on our creator. Regret is a poison, driving us into the depths of self-pity. We need to replace it with Godly sorrow, which convicts us and turns us back toward the Father. What it comes down to is personal responsibility for one's actions. Recognizing that we have fallen short, owning up to it, and turning back to God instead of self-pity. Take a look at one article posted in The Huffington Post:
A German study published earlier this year in Science magazine suggests that Homer Simpson will not age very well. He simply has not been able to disengage himself from his troubles, and according to researchers, that's what emotionally healthy aging is all about.
As the article explains, there's an emerging body of scientific literature that shows that as humans grow older, they tend to experience more positive emotions and fewer negative emotions like anger and regret. The feeling of regret depends on a sense of responsibility for an event, but healthy older individuals tend to disengage from a sense of personal control. Instead of saying "It was my fault, I screwed up," they say, "Screw it, it's not my fault." And they feel better for it!
Here's how the study worked. Study participants were presented with a row of eight boxes, seven containing a gold bar, and one containing a devil. They could start opening the boxes from the left, or from the right, but either way they had to open them in order and the position of the devil was random. They could stop anytime they felt like it and pocket their "winnings," but if they ran into the devil, they lost it all (D'oh!)
Yelling "D'oh!" is one measure of frustration and regret, but these researchers used a sophisticated MRI scanner to measure activity in the deep areas of the brain like the ventral striatum, which seems to code the value of experienced rewards but also that of missed opportunities.
The researchers collected volunteers from three groups -- young adults, depressed seniors, and emotionally-healthy seniors -- and had each of them play the game 80 times. Sometimes they stopped just in time -- the devil was in the very next box, and sometimes the devil was all the way at the end -- they stopped too early and missed out on a lot of phony loot!
What the researchers found was that the young adults and depressed seniors responded in very similar ways: When they stopped too early, their regret led them to play the next round more aggressively. And the more gold they missed out on, the more risk they took on the next round. 
Regret has a way of changing us, making us do things that otherwise might seem foolish. Almost immediately after falling into sexual sin, be it lust, pornography, homosexuality, adultery, etc. we begin to feel regret. It debilitates us, drawing us away from God through shame and guilt. We foolishly run from the very thing that will save us. Oftentimes it can even cause us to go into a frenzy, so to speak. In our regret, we give up all hope of being free, and give into sin more aggressively. We call this, "chain-sinning."
It’s easy to confuse sorrow with regret. This is especially true in times of great pain or loss, where our emotions tend to get the best of us. Does this train of thought sound familiar:
"I screwed up again... I'll never be free. Forget the whole thing, I'll just struggle my entire life and never be free. As a matter of fact, I'm going to give in again, right now."
This is a defeated mindset. It fails to recognize the cross as ultimate. God died for you and I while we were sinners. That included all past, present, and future sins. He is not in love with a perfect version of you because that version only exists by the blood of Christ. The rest (working out of this salvation) comes through sanctification. Sanctification is a crawl - occurring over the course of a lifetime. Notice how the above thought process is centered around me and my struggles, my regrets. Me, me, me, me...Compare that to a person experiencing Godly sorrow:
"God, you are sovereign and holy. My actions have offended you yet again, but you deserve so much better. You alone are worthy of praise. Through Christ, I have freedom and can glorify and honor you with my body. I will try and try again until I'm able to fully honor you with my life."
Sorrow is a drive in us that runs deep. It motivates us to make changes that will directly affect our future. This reality is strictly due to an understanding of just how significant the cross was. There is no sin bigger than the cross. There is no sin bigger than the cross. There is no sin bigger than the cross.
On the other hand, experiencing regret comes from a longing to change the past, to avoid humiliation, or to become a better version of ourselves. Following Christ is about Christ - perfection happens as a result of focusing on the cross, not simply addressing behavior. Regret rarely helps us, and only drives us farther into guilt. Consider the words of the Bible:
We believe that worldly sorrow refers to regret, a selfish motivation behind our sadness. We need to grasp that God's grace is an unstoppable force, which teaches us an important lesson about His nature. He is a strong and courageous king but also a kind and forbearing father. His grace is the very thing that leads us to repentance in the first place. This ultimate example sets the bar of forgiveness high and teaches us how to extend the same grace to others.
Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? -Romans 2:4 (NIV)
As a father, I rejoice in the days where my kids stumble and grow. I do not discipline or get angry with them for trying to walk and failing, for eating and accidentally making a mess, or for driving a car and forgetting to shift gears. If I, being a wicked human being, am capable of such patience and love for my kids, how much more so is our heavenly father? Godly sorrow causes us to repent and brings about a longing to serve God. When we feel sorrow over our past we draw closer to Him. As a result, we find freedom from our guilt and have no regret. When we try to please God and feel regret, we think that God turns away from us - that we must be good in order to draw near to God. Grace teaches us that God doesn't turn away from us as a result of our sin; that as a Christian we feel sorrow but that we know God is standing with us, helping us to face our sin issues together. And in doing so, we draw near to our heavenly father in the midst of our mess. This is accomplished only through Christ since before the cross we were far from God. Sorrow recognizes that God has already taken care of our sins at the cross but still deserves obedience from those of us he has saved.
Worldly sorrow is self-centered. It asks "how can I be satisfied, more of a Christian than those around me. How can I make sure that I've done enough to get my place in heaven, how can I eliminate all pain and simply live a comfortable life?" Maybe you’re simply here to make yourself a better person. It’s shameless to admit that, but when obedience to God becomes a reason to brag about how faithful of a person we are (even if it's just to ourselves) then we ought to question if we truly have a desire to love God and know Him deeply. When I'm focused on having Godly sorrow, ironically I feel a lot less guilt and shame. Instead, my soul longs to please God and ache for how I offend Him with my sins. Coming to a place of sorrow in this way is about more than being sad, it’s about aligning our hearts with our heavenly father. We begin to weep over the things that God weeps over, and a desire to serve him grows within us. Again, this is a long, painful, and far slower process than any of us would like.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. -Matthew 5:4 (NIV)
Godly sorrow awakens us to the reality that we are desperately stranded in a cycle of pain and suffering of our own making. As a result it points us straight to the cross, where we recognize our daily need for Christ. Without Godly sorrow, we are selfishly wanting freedom for attention, a feeling, an emotional high, or any other reason that becomes about us. Instead it is about Christ and His sacrifice, regardless of how many days we've gone without masturbating or watching porn. When we seek Him first, for His glory, for His sake… all other things, including our struggles with sexual sin, fall into their place.
I cannot say it better than Matthew 6:33. So often, I try to focus on modifying my behavior, only to fail over and over in the areas I am weak. However, when we instead shift our mind to focus on the cross and serving the kingdom of God - freedom from sin happens on its own.
FLESHING IT OUT
So change your course today. Refuse to settle for worldly sorrow and regret. Turn the focus from inward to outward, towards God. Here's how to get started:
- Focus on the Glory of God, Especially Right After Stumbling
Instead of seeking our own desires (to look good in front of others or to feel good about ourselves). This can be as simple as entering a time of worship and prayer after you fall. This is most difficult right after falling. It is in that moment we feel most dirty. Have you ever noticed that it only takes a few days to start walking with a bit of swagger again? It's relatively easy to see our need for the cross a few minutes after a fall. It's days, weeks, months, or even years later that it becomes increasingly difficult to remind ourselves of Jesus. That leads to the next point...
- Recognize Where Salvation Comes From
It's not from within. We are not saved by our works, but by grace (Ephesians 2:8). You will always fail if your goal is to grit your teeth and white-knuckle through temptation. You heard that right - always. It is aligning our minds with the cross that sets us free. Purity is a byproduct of what God does in our hearts through His word, prayer, and fellowship. Keeping this in mind removes the pressure and stress of trying to keep the law. Instead we focus on obeying God out of genuine desire, rather than forcefully.
- Refuse to Accept Giving Up as a Viable Option
Failure is not an option. Literally, once we've come to Christ it is no longer possible (John 5:24, John 10:28, 1 John 5:13, Romans 10:13, Ephesians 2:8-9). So why then do we treat it as one? Why are we so tempted to give up when we stumble? Simply because we're believing the lies of the enemy, telling us that we still need to somehow earn our way to heaven and to fellowship with God. Don't believe the lie! Don't believe that you're now somehow too unclean for the cross. Don't believe that you're starting over. Don't believe that God is in love with a better version of you. You are just as pure now as you'll ever be - that is the message of the gospel.
Day 10 Application
Do you see the differences between godly sorrow and worldly sorrow (regret)? What are these differences?
What would it look like to feel godly sorrow over your past life of sin?
How have you spent time with God today (prayer, reading the word, worship, etc.)? Have you been in contact with your accountability partner such that you were asked tough questions about purity?
Since the last lesson, how have you been with maintaining your sexual purity?