Recently my high school graduating class celebrated twenty years since graduation. And while I still can’t believe it’s been that long ago since I was a teenager, the deep regrets that go back all those years are still able to attack my heart, even at such a distance.
I wonder if you can relate.
Regret is such a harsh word for us. It can bring up emotions in us that can seem hard to understand and accept. Pastor John Piper wrote a sermon about godly regret versus worldly regret, and it helps when I think back on my life before Jesus. He said that there is a regret that leads to shame and humiliation and embarrassment, and one that leads to repentance and salvation. I’m certain you can see which one is the godly regret. Second Corinthians 7:10 says:
“For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.”
That’s the kind of regret available to us if we trust it to be true — godly regret. This can and should be part of each of our stories of becoming free.
When I look back on my high school and college years, I just want to hang my head in shame for the way I represented Jesus and His Good News. I trampled on it! I proclaimed it with my mouth, judged those around me who didn’t believe, and then lived for myself with no regard for the God of the universe. I was like the Pharisees in the Bible—so much knowledge and no life-change. Loving the Lord my God with all my heart, mind, and soul wasn’t even on my radar.
I was on the leadership team for our school’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes, for example, and the whole time, I was drinking heavily and sleeping with my boyfriend. I mean, how fake is that! It’s not like I was the only one, but it still wasn’t okay. I was in leadership. I was part of an organization with the purpose of championing the gospel, and yet I hadn’t been changed by the gospel myself! My life was no different from anyone who didn’t claim to know Jesus at all...except that I’d grown up in church, and still went to church every Sunday whether I was hung over or not. That’s what I built my safety net with—the misconception that since I’d “prayed the prayer,”
Only I wasn’t fine. I was enslaved to my sin.
This Jesus I spoke about and sang about was, in reality, a stranger to me. I could tell you stuff about Him, but not about how He’d changed my life. Because He hadn’t. Even my life as a churchgoer was a denial of Jesus.
Our family was recently reading one of the passages in the Gospels where Peter denied Jesus three times on the eve of His crucifixion. As we were reading, I couldn’t help but think back to how my own life had once been such a denial of Him. On the outside, I acted like I knew Him, and loved Him, but on the inside, I was purely living for my own self—definitely not following Jesus.
But it brought to mind another story—one that followed a few weeks later in Peter’s life, after Jesus had been resurrected from the dead, before ascending into heaven to be with God the Father. Peter and some of the others had been up before dawn, out on their fishing boat, catching nothing but the wind in their sails. Yet at daybreak, Jesus had called to them from the shoreline, telling them to try casting their nets again, that they might just catch some fish this time. And, boy, did they ever.
At the sight of this miracle, Peter dived right into the water and swam directly to Jesus, who was waiting for them around a charcoal fire, with fish and bread roasting for breakfast in the early- morning light. Does it sound like Jesus was there to berate him? To shame him? To fuel his sense of regret?
No, Jesus had already paid Peter’s debt—and your debt, and my debt—days earlier when He died on the cross, and then rose from the dead. He’d forgiven Peter for denying Him, same as He’s forgiven me for denying Him too.
I don’t know where I’m catching you today. I don’t know if you started following Jesus as a kid and sort of wandered away from Him. I don’t know if you’re even now still trying to straddle the two boats of a double life. Perhaps you’re lashed with regret with no real idea for how to get past it.
All I really know is that He started pursuing us long before we were interested in running after Him. And only through receiving Christ’s righteousness and being given a new heart by God’s grace could anything good ever come out of me and out of you.
That’s what makes our stories worth telling.
Excerpted with permission from If You Only Knew: My Unlikely, Unavoidable Story of Becoming Free by Jamie Ivey. Copyright 2018, B&H Publishing Group.