OVERCOMING TEMPTATION, part 1

     We could all use regular exercise.   For some, the motivation is not there until the doctor says, “Adjust your eating habits and get exercise—or die.” How about an exercise program for the soul?  God has provided it. A temptation is a test. It’s like a good workout, and the result of consistent victories is strength of character. Temptations are often viewed as annoyances.  It’s no fun to walk on the beach anymore, because we men are riveted with temptations. How about changing the way we look at these irritations? God could have snuffed Satan, but He chose to keep him around to help us stay in shape.  So “count it all joy” and brace yourself for a workout. No one smiles while pumping iron, but they do six months later when results begin to show. The same principle of resistance puts muscle on the soul. Try out some truths about our training:

DON’T THINK YOU’RE A SPIRITUAL BLACK BELT!

Self-confidence precedes falling: “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall” (I Corinthians 10:12).  Satan has three main weapons in his arsenal–accusation, intimidation, and deception. The latter is the one most used in temptation.  He tricks us by making false promises that we are foolish enough to believe. Or he fools us before the temptation even comes–by getting us to think we’re invincible. Temptation is a mind battle.  Overconfidence is dangerous thinking, isolating us from help. Stay sober. Paul saw the possibility of falling. He disciplined himself so that he would “not be disqualified for the prize” (I Corinthians 9:27).  If the veteran apostle saw failure as a potential, then I should not think that I can easily handle any temptation that comes my way. Larry Christenson, under whom I worked for many years, once asked me how I was doing with temptation. I answered that I was doing just fine.  He responded, “I am not. I battle with it often.” I wished I could have retracted my response. I felt like a fool, realizing that my outlook would not serve me well in the war.

.DON’T BE TAKEN BY SURPRISE.

Paul writes that “no temptation has seized you except what is common to man” (1 Cor. 10:13).  The word “seize” is a strong picture and suggests grabbing, carrying off. The RSV uses the word “overtake.”  The action is aggressive, not passive. Temptation confronts us with force, however friendly the invitation. Give the advantage to the temptation; surprise is a battle strategy that puts its proponents at the advantage.  Every temptation comes with a reward or a punishment. James writes, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial (the same Greek word is used for “temptation”—“peirodzo”), because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12)  The reward is a crown, a picture of reigning. But then he goes on to say that “after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full grown, gives birth to death” (15). The net result of giving in to temptation is death. Sort of looks like life at the outset. So we have the reward of life or the curse of death with each temptation.  A “no” decreases its power, while a “yes” increases its authority. Sin is aggressive, progressive, and addictive. (More truths about overcoming in part 2).

4 TRUTHS FROM THE TEMPTATION OF JESUS

“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry” (Luke 4:1,2).  

EXPECT TO BE TEMPTED.

Ask the Israelites. The desert is a place of testing and temptation. It comes to us all–between the promise and the promised land. Tests come from God to prove us. Temptation comes from Satan to take us out, so we don’t walk into our destiny. Jesus went from the Jordan (lots of water, vegetation, and people) to the desert (no water, no trees, no crowd).  His company was wild animals and angels (Mk.1:13). Sometimes we hear the voice of Satan more than the voice of God. The Israelites flunked out and never made it into their promised land. Really sad!

IT’S NOT WRONG TO BE TEMPTED.

Just learn to say “no.” Put your tongue on your upper palate, widen your mouth, hum, shape your lips like a fish, drop your tongue, and let the sound come out–nnnno! If Jesus was tempted, then it is not wrong to be tempted.  In fact, it is a good thing. Temptation can strengthen our resolve to follow Jesus regardless, voting for God and denying the devil access. The Spirit led Jesus to the desert to be tempted, and he will do the same with us. “Submit to God; resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Good advice!

GOD HAS A VOICE. SO DOES SATAN.

The devil sometimes comes when we are weak, physically or emotionally. He comes before major changes or important breakthroughs. He tempts us with things that are possibilities, not impossibilities, but outside the will of God. The devil tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread. The stones even looked like bread, especially to a hungry man. The devil showed him the kingdoms of the world that would someday be his–but not yet, urging him to rush the process. The devil tempted him to do something spectacular–but outside the will and purpose of God. The devil tempts us to be religious rather than righteous, to be self-centered rather than God-centered, to turn desires into demands. He pounds away mercilessly.  He tempted Jesus for forty days.

WE ANSWER TEMPTATION WITH TRUTH.

Three times we read, “The devil said…”  Three times Jesus answered, “It is written…”  The devil speaks to our minds, giving us ideas, suggestions, alternatives.  Jesus didn’t consider them opportunities; he responded with truth. The longer we consider what Satan suggests, the closer we are to doing them.  We need to resist him, not entertain him. When tested, it is good not to get into our emotions. The Word of God is “out there,” objective, unchanging.  Temptations are not fun. They are sometimes endurance contests. Who can outlast the other? Satan finally left. Keep resisting until he leaves you as well. You can win if you don’t give up!

5 TRUTHS ABOUT TEMPTATION

IT IS TEMPTING.

It is not a temptation if it does not pull on our sinful desires. I have never been tempted to jump out of an airplane. I had the thought once, but it did not take any will-power to resist. A temptation grabs my attention and must be resisted. Eve was tempted to grow wise outside the will of God. The fruit looked good and it came with a promise (Genesis 3:6). It attracted her enough to defy the God who created her and fellowshipped with her. James wrote that “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” (1:14).

IT IS WRONG TO GIVE IN.

It is not a temptation to be moved to read the Scriptures. That is an invitation, not a temptation. We are tempted to say with a temptation, “It’s not wrong,” or “Not that wrong,” because we know it is.

IT COMES FROM SATAN.

God tests us to bring us into new places of victory. Satan tempts us to step outside of the will of God. James wrote, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (1:13). 

IT CHALLENGES THE CHARACTER OF GOD.

The serpent managed to put doubts into the mind of Eve about God. He made her think that God was a bit too controlling, selfish, manipulative, unwilling to share His wisdom. Every temptation is an assault on God’s character. It maligns Him, like He is holding back from us something we have a right to have: “One more drink is not that big a deal.” “Speeding won’t hurt me.” “She said she was a religious person.” “You would have done the same thing if you were in my place.” “It was something that I simply could not resist.”  We must justify it in our mind, so we boldly challenge God in order to give in: “He is not looking out for me.” “He is not as faithful to me as I expected.” “He doesn’t answer all my prayers.” “I’ve waited long enough.” “My life has been too hard.” “I need a harmless break.” Listen to your self-talk. It is coming against God.

SAYING ‘YES’ TO TEMPTATION IS SIN AND LEADS TO DEATH.

“Desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:15). It is never profitable to give in to temptation. Satan will tell us that it is harmless, that it affects nothing. Giving in to temptation IS a big deal and is step one toward death. Not a good idea. Every sin has the seeds of death in it. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Obedience brings life, disobedience brings death, one sin at a time. One look at porn seems so harmless, but two months later when the addiction takes us away the Scriptures and into deeper sin, our mind is dulled from saying “yes” to God, and Satan wins big. There’s a better way: “Submit to God; resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

DEAL WITH YOUR ANGER!

Sacrifices in the Bible were often thank offerings. When the best was given, it was saying that they had been given the best. “Abel brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions” (Genesis 4:4). He wasn’t holding back. His offering showed that he was truly grateful for heaven’s blessings.  Cain skimped on his offering. It is clear in God’s warning: “If you do well, will you not be accepted?” (7). Cain did not give the best, showing that he had little regard for God. His life following the judgment from the Lord proved the discipline he received. He did not repent and become a God-follower. Abel passed his test and Cain flunked. Rather than rejoicing with Abel’s success, he chose bitterness. Instead of dealing with his problem and changing his ways, he murdered his brother. Wow! Resentment is dangerous. Get a grip on yours!

God had shown mercy to Cain by saying, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?… If you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it” (6,7). God gave him counsel on what he needed to do: 1) Improve his sacrificial giving, and 2) Take the upper hand rather than giving in to sin. Cain chose to ignore the voice of God and killed his brother, the epitome of irresponsibility. Cain was saying, “You are my problem, Abel. I need you out of the picture.” He should have dealt with his own misplaced anger, but he held back from giving an honorable sacrifice, and he took out his anger on a godly brother.

The story of Cain is a warning to all of us. Anger not attended to escalates. Jesus said that unrighteous anger unaddressed is step one toward murder (Matthew 5:21,22). An innocent man was slain. And Adam and Eve lost two sons–one to death and the other to life as a fugitive. What grief entered the human race so early. The heart of humanity is wicked and capable of murder. When God asked Cain where his brother was, he gave a snide response, attempting to cover up his wicked deed: “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9). How bold and brazen can you get?!

Cain was cursed by God to be a wanderer. He would no longer be able to work the ground and have it produce. And he was selfish enough to say, “My punishment is greater than I can bear?” He feared for his own life, but he wasn’t afraid to take his brother’s. Cain was not happy with the consequences of his behavior. He didn’t like God enough to give him the best, and he didn’t like the judgment imposed upon him. What did he expect? He had just murdered his brother in an act of sinful defiance. Should God give him a one-year time-out?

Lamech was a descendant of Cain, four generations down. His verse after a vengeful murder includes a strange sentence: “If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold.” Cain must have spread the word that his punishment was unjust and that he had a right to seek revenge. Anger does funny things to people. I suggest you and I pay attention to ours and not justify it when we are wrong. The option is not a good one.

WHAT BRINGS REVIVAL?

Two invalids, Peggy 84 and blind, and Christine, 82 and crippled with arthritis, prayed for revival in 1949 on the Hebrides Islands west of Scotland. The post-war atmosphere was at a low ebb, and they urgently asked God to change the climate. He revealed to them that He would send revival, so they prayed with greater persistence. The proper response to the conviction that revival is coming is not to say, “Cool, bring it on.” It is to ask God to do what He has promised. 

For revival to happen, we do two primary activities: 1) talk to God about people, and 2) talk to people about God. Most have a stronger focus on one than the other. Daniel Nash was a powerful intercessor for Charles Finney. Daniel arrived two weeks early and plowed up the ground through prayer to prepare it to receive rain. Finney’s preaching brought revival during the Second Great Awakening (1825-35). The preacher relied so much on Daniel that when he died, Finney left revival preaching and went back to pastoring.

Peggy and Christine didn’t talk much to people about God, but they spent long hours talking to God about people. They seldom left their little cabin home. They were convinced through prayer that God was bringing revival to the Islands. They urged their pastor to send for Duncan Campbell. He came for two weeks–and stayed for two years. It poured down rain from 1949 to ‘53. The name “Duncan Campbell” is consistently connected with the Hebrides revival. Heaven credits two elderly invalids with calling faithfully on God and cooperating with Him through prayer. 

“Lord, I have heard of your fame, I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known [in 2019]; in wrath remember mercy” (Habakkuk 3:2). Be like the prophet who wrote, “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent; for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet…” (Isaiah 62:1). For the sake of the Twin Cities I will not keep silent; for the sake of (insert your state or country here) I will not remain quiet. “You showed favor to your land, O Lord; you restored the fortunes of Jacob…Restore us again, O God our Savior, and put away your displeasure toward us. Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger through all generations? Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? Show us your unfailing love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation” (Psalm 85:1,4-6).

“God, you did it in the late 18th century, again in the middle of the 19th. You wonderfully poured out your Spirit at Azusa Street in 1906 and it went all over the world. A half century later you powerfully sent the Spirit on all varieties of churches that had rejected Your Spirit earlier. Now over 500 million say, “Thank You!” You moved upon young people in the 70s, taking them off drugs and into the life of the Spirit. Do it again. Move upon our universities, our junior high schools and high schools. Wake up sleeping churches. Arouse indifferent Christians. Bring a spirit of conviction upon neighbors, so they come to us for help. And what you do in North America do in Scandinavia, Eastern and Western Europe, Asia, Africa, South and Central America. Send us the spirit of Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. Heal families and congregations. Revive us again!”

 

THE JESUS PEOPLE MOVEMENT

It came on the heels of a terrible decade that included a presidential assassination, a war many Americans didn’t want, and students high on drugs dropping out to “make love, not war.” The revival was fueled by a hundred thousand parents crying out to God for children in protest.

Pastor Chuck Smith’s wife, Kay, encouraged him to open the door to bare-foot, long-haired, pot-smoking, guitar-toting hippies. Lots of distrust from adults to a drugged-up youth culture. Chuck agreed. The “little country church on the edge of town” grew from 65 to 25,000, the epicenter of the Jesus’ People revival that featured simple living, praise music, and the imminent return of Jesus. Two books were widely read, Rich Christians In An Age of Hunger and The Late Great Planet Earth. Extended worship slowly made its way into the life of the church, led not by an organ or piano but by a guitar. Radical, painfully so for long-time mainliners. Churches braced themselves for a major makeover. 

Baptisms at Newport Beach took place a hundred at a time. Lonnie Frisbie came out of the drug culture and helped bring thousands to Jesus.  “Kumbaya” and “It Only Takes a Spark” were replaced by praise music. My friend Kenn Gulliksen, led to the Lord by my dad, was one of the pastors at Calvary Chapel with Chuck, until he launched the Vineyard Movement, then turned it over to John Wimber.  About 100,000 showed up for a summer of love at Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco in 1967, but now the same number and more were getting turned on to the love of Jesus.

Meanwhile, students at Asbury College in Wilmore, Kentucky were crying out to God for their campus. On February 2, 1970, seventeen were meeting in the dorm. At 2 AM as they were in a circle praying, one of the student leaders said, “We can stop praying. He is coming tomorrow.”

The dean stood up at chapel the next morning at 10 am. Instead of the usual talk, he gave his testimony. Then he sat down and said there would be an open mic. Students one by one began coming. That night the dean called the president who was away in Calgary and left a message, “Urgent.” The president thought of the turbulence at many colleges, including administrators and presidents being locked in–or out. He called back and asked, “What’s the problem?”  The dean responded, “It’s about chapel. It is still going on.” It went on past midnight. God’s Spirit was being powerfully poured out. Students were confessing their sins, and God was filling them with His Spirit. The administration shut down school–for three weeks. Teams went out on weekends, and where they went, revival broke out. 

One team showed up at a church in the south, which made the pastor noticeably nervous. They said, “We don’t have to share.” He relented: “You can each have three minutes.” They gave mini-testimonies–and sat down, much to the relief of the pastor. The quartet got up to sing. Before they started, the bass pointed at one of the students and said, “I want what he’s got.” That was all it took, and revival broke out.

Extraordinary need calls for extraordinary prayer, which brings extraordinary results. The prayers of desperate parents and grandparents changed a whole decade and more. The prayers of students changed a campus, then impacted a country. We do two things: we talk to God about people, and we talk to people about God. Then He does one thing–He pours down revival. Revive us again, God!

THE CHARISMATIC MOVEMENT

The 1960s–perhaps the most difficult decade in recent American history. It started with the Kennedy assassination in November 22, 1963, at 12:30 P.M. in Dallas. If you were fifteen or older, you can remember where you were when you heard the news. The Vietnam War took twenty years and 58,000 of our soldiers. It is estimated that the same number took their lives when they came home to anti-war protests. They weren’t heroes like WWII veterans; they were killers to many. 817,000 of the opposition died. At the same time, Timothy Leary, Harvard psychologist, urged students to “turn on, tune in, drop out,” and they responded by the truckloads. Up to 100,000 met at Haight Ashbury in San Francisco the summer of 1967 to celebrate free love and drugs.

Meanwhile, God was powerfully at work in the same decade, filling people with His Spirit, often one at a time. Prayer groups sprang up around the county, inviting people to say “yes” to God the Holy Spirit, a half-century after mainliners had rejected the Holy Rollers of the Azusa Street revival. In August 1961, Larry Christenson had a free Thursday night and Bethany Foursquare Church was holding special services. Former Lutherans were speaking on the Holy Spirit, and he went up for prayer before returning home. At midnight he sat up and spoke in tongues for ten seconds. What Larry didn’t know was that God was touching people across the country and around the world in similar ways during a deeply disturbing decade. He called Trinity members in one at a time after his encounter and invited them to say “yes” to the Holy Spirit. By the next spring he had prayed with the majority of the church, so he preached at Easter on Resurrection and Renewal and prayed for people to be filled with the Spirit. No split, only ongoing unity.

That summer of 1962 Herb Mjorud, a lawyer turned evangelist, was speaking at Camp Seely in the mountains above San Bernardino, California. He had been with the American Lutheran Church, then dismissed for his emphasis on healing and the Holy Spirit. I was a teenager thirsty for more, and I asked Pastor Allan Hansen, camp director, if he would pray for some of the young people. That night seventeen had their own version of Pentecost. 

In 1967 at Duquesne University in Pittsburg, God poured out His Spirit upon Catholics. God was showing mercy to every major church body and began to visit them.  Churches had scorned the Azusa Street Revival, but God didn’t–and the movement of the Spirit was taking hold in every denomination.

The response of the American Lutheran Church leadership to what was happening with many Lutherans was cautious, as might be expected. Psychiatrist Paul Qualben was sent to Trinity Lutheran in 1972 to interview some of those who had been filled with the Spirit, because Trinity was one of the key churches in Lutheran renewal. There were two assumptions: that the people were unstable emotionally and that this would pass. They found the people Larry mentored well-adjusted, happy, feet-on-the-ground Christians–just like Larry. The movement only grew in exponential ways, so that the same year of the interviews the first Lutheran Conference on the Holy Spirit was held at the Minneapolis Auditorium–and 9000 showed up! It wasn’t going away, as over 500 million people worldwide could testify. Come, Holy Spirit!

A TRIBUTE TO KAREN ON YOUR 70TH BIRTHDAY!

I thought it was cool to hit 75 last month. Not sure you enjoy your landmark as much. Do guys think differently about age?

I am grateful that you stayed at Trinity Lutheran when you came to California in 1972. You wondered if you had made a mistake. You went to the Communion Service still in limbo about returning to Minnesota or becoming a missionary in Japan. A prophetic word from Bud Hahn gave you peace. He said, knowing nothing of your situation, “You are in the right place.” You felt that God had spoken. I am grateful, because I married you three years later. I continue to discover rich things about you.

YOU ARE VERSATILE.

You believe in the power of prayer–and always have. So thankful that as a pastor and leader I don’t have to drag along a reluctant wife. Sometimes you are pushing me, because…

YOU ARE GIFTED IN THE SPIRIT.

You encourage me to sing in the Spirit. I may be known by a few as the “Holy Spirit guy,” with seventeen years at Lutheran Renewal. Yet you often lead the charge when it comes to the gifts. 

YOU ARE EVEN MORE JAPANESE THAN I THOUGHT.

You are not a American. You identify strongly with people from other countries, especially Asian, and particularly Japanese. You imbibed the culture, living in Japan from age three to seventeen, formative years. It shows often. And yet you have embraced a kind of community life very different from your cultural preference. God honors you for that.

YOU ARE ESPECIALLY KIND TO THE ELDERLY. 

You have done a great job of honoring your parents, and I see it reflected in the way you treat other elderly people. You are especially comfortable with them.  You are great with the little ones but just as effective with the older ones. You make them feel important, like they have value. You listen well to them.

YOU ARE NOT STUCK.  

I was amazed when I spoke to you three weeks ago the evening after you had your suitcase stolen at the very beginning of your family cruise. You were upbeat, having fun with your siblings. I said, “You let it go, didn’t you?” You said, “Yes.” Most women would have been absolutely crushed. You handled this major setback with maturity. We have our disagreements. So glad that we can always work stuff through to a good resolution, because you let things go.  

YOU HAVE HELPED TO MAKE OUR MARRIAGE STRONG.  

We balance each other off. Your strengths are my weaknesses, and vice versa. When I am going too fast, you slow me down. When you are moving too slow, I speed you up (sometimes). We do a good job of making each other laugh.

YOU ARE BUILDING AN INCREDIBLE LEGACY.

I don’t know if you have ever turned down your children when they asked for childcare, which is almost daily. You are a master at grandmothering. You define the word. Your children know that you will drop anything for their kids. You far outshine me in the grandparent arena.

So, Mrs. Anderson, my invisible hat goes off to you. I suspect that we may only have about thirty good years left, so let’s make the most of them. Much love and affection,

Paul

REGRET–A KILLER EMOTION (part 2)

When a boy living at our home ran in a relay race at his high school, he passed the baton too late.  Though I was one hundred yards away, I could see the outburst of anger. When I talked with him later in the morning, he was deeply disappointed in his performance, as is understandable, and I shared his pain.  But that emotion never converted to working harder. Instead, he got more lazy and even cynical regarding track.

By sharp contrast, godly sorrow (literally “sorrow toward God”) produces abundant fruit.  Let’s look closer at 2 Corinthians 7:8-11:

EARNESTNESS.  It is just the opposite of laziness. It is the picture of intensity, action, quick response.  Paul uses it of Christians who must exert themselves to maintain unity (Ephesians 4:3). Rather than leading to passivity, closer to fatalism than faith, godly sorrow brings an exertion of energy, appropriate for the gracious offer of God. 

EAGERNESS.  The NIV says “what eagerness to clear yourselves” (2 Corinthians 7:11). Godly sorrow produced in them communication with Paul rather than withdrawal, a typical response to regret.  They had been distant, and it had broken Paul’s heart, but now the letter he risked writing produced words and actions.

INDIGNATION, anger resulting from injustice.  It is possible to be so passive that we are incapable of appropriate anger.  Some things are worth getting angry about, and the immorality and disunity in the Corinthian church were two of them.

FEAR.  The NIV says “alarm.”  The word is phobos, from which we get phobia.  Fear in meeting a bear in a forest leads to necessary action, a change in direction.  The Christian community in Corinth needed a jolt, and Paul’s letter gave it to them. Fear, especially a fear of God, needs to be present lest we take a complacent outlook regarding iniquity and fall into the trap ourselves. 

LONGING.  Desire that goes to seed produces a longing that can lead to action.  Longing is a cousin of passion, a necessary ingredient to pursue one’s destiny.  Regret puts us to sleep, while godly sorrow lights a fire.

ZEAL.  The NIV uses the word “concern” to translate “zalos.”  That seems too weak for the context. The Greek lexicon says it means “zeal, ardor.”  The Corinthians were shaken out of lethargy and became zealous to connect again with Paul and to deal with the problems in their church.   

PUNISHMENT.  The KJV uses the word “revenge.”  The NIV says “readiness to see justice done.”  It is used of the widow who receives justice after many requests (Luke 18:7).  Justice goes two ways: the release of the innocent and the punishment of the guilty.  Parents and leaders need to know the difference between mercy and indulgence.

The inaction of the leaders in Corinth to gross immorality was creating an unhealthy climate–toleration of evil.  But now godly sorrow was producing good fruit, taking them from regret to repentance, from inactivity to Spirit-led response.  One look at this list can tell us how desperately godly sorrow is needed in the body of Christ, especially where grace has lulled people into sleep rather than action, where mercy means permission rather than forgiveness.

My final exhortation: stay away from regret and live in repentance!

REGRET–A KILLER EMOTION (part 1)

The word “regret” comes from an old English word “greet,” which means “to weep.”  The “re,” meaning “again,” suggests ongoing weeping. Webster defines regret as “sorrow or remorse over something that has happened, especially over something that one has done or left undone” (Webster’s New World Dictionary). At first glance, regret seems hardly dangerous and certainly not deadly. But on closer examination, we can see the folly of regret and the potential to feel its crippling impact. Regret sentences us to live in the past.  It can bury us in remorse and keep us from investing in the future. The ‘re’ of regret tells us that it often hangs around longer than it should. Regret often includes the words “if only:”

“If only I had passed my test.”

“If only we had not broken up.”

“If only they had not forgotten to pay the bill.”

“If only I had taken that position instead of moving.”

Why is regret dangerous?

  1. Unlike repentance, regret doesn’t have a terminal point. Repentance leads to forgiveness, and forgiveness deals with the past effectively.  Forgiveness brings release and usually a lifting of the sorrow. Regret hangs on like a cloud, darkening the atmosphere with an ambiguous gloom.
  2. Regret can lead to repentance, but often it doesn’t.  It is a poor substitute for repentance because it doesn’t bring the same relief.  

It is possible to regret something appropriately.  When we are unable to attend a friend’s graduation, we can say politely, “I regret that I cannot attend.” Not something to repent over. And that kind of regret doesn’t camp out in our soul.  But it can, and sometimes it does, putting a haze over the present and shielding us from the future.

Paul wrote, “Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it.  Though I did regret it–I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while–yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance.  For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.  See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done” (2 Corinthians 7:8-11).  

Paul examined the fruit of two kinds of sorrow: regret and repentance. Regret leads to death, while repentance brings a wealth of potential fruit.  He calls the two sorrows worldly or godly. Worldly regret includes such emotions as anger, self-condemnation, discouragement, depression, and blame, and those emotions do not convert to positive change. (Part 2 will show us what godly sorrow produces).