“I’ve wasted it! I’ve wasted it!” No doubt, the regret and remorse behind those anguished words from the old man at the revival meeting (p 12) ensured they were words young John Piper never forgot. I wonder about the old man, and find myself hoping that, in God’s kindness, he soon knew the hope and joy of salvation in Jesus. But given the depth of his sorrow over what might have been, and given John Piper’s emphasis on not wasting our lives, I think it’s worth asking some questions. If I am a Christian, what should I do with feelings of regret and remorse? If I am convinced I have wasted my life (maybe even for just a short time) how do I deal with that knowledge or memory?
Regret is something I feel when I am sorry about something, especially something that is lost or gone, or my fault. Remorse is even stronger because it involves a “deep and painful regret for wrong-doing”, an uneasy conscience and genuine penitence (The Macquarie Dictionary, p 1438). One of the best-known examples in the Bible is Psalm 51 – a striking and heartfelt expression of penitence by King David, after the prophet Nathan confronted him with his adultery with Bathsheba. David confesses his sin and guilt before God, and recognises his desperate need of God’s purifying forgiveness and restoration. And he describes his inner state with the words:
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:17)‘Contrite’ and ‘contrition’ are not words often heard today, even among Christians. But maybe they should be, because even my secular dictionary defines contrition as “a sorrow for and detestation of sin with a true purpose of amendment, arising from a love of God for His own perfections” (The Macquarie Dictionary, p 405).
The apostle Paul described himself as the foremost of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15), and he said this about contrition: “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10). Paul was directly responsible for the terrible persecution of the early church, and had more reason than most people to regret his past; if he had cried, “I’ve wasted it! I’ve wasted it!” it would be easy to understand. But because he knew true repentance, forgiveness and salvation in the Lord Jesus, his confidence was placed firmly in his Saviour’s righteousness and sacrificial death, enabling him to live without regret: free from regret, but ever conscious of his status as the foremost of sinners.
In God’s economy I don’t think anything is ever wasted for he can – and does – bring good out of evil. He has the power to do so, the willingness to do so and the plan to do so. Through Paul – the foremost of sinners – God brought good out of evil, growing the body of believers and spreading the good news of salvation throughout the nations of the ancient world. But overshadowing all of this is the cross on which Jesus was crucified – the ultimate evil which God turned to the ultimate good.
The more we grow in grace and the more we know of God, of Christ and of ourselves, the greater will be the depth of our mourning at how far we fall short of consistently living ‘in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ’ (Philippians 1:27). It is totally out of character for a true Christian to treat sin lightly, commit sin deliberately or remember sin cheerfully … Mourning for sin is not the same as hopeless confession of guilt. God calls us to mourn in the assurance that if we do he will graciously respond in blessing. Biblical mourning for sin is not self-centred. It does not wallow in despair, it looks for deliverance.(John Blanchard, The Beatitudes for Today, Day One Publications (Epsom,UK), 1996 (2nd printing 1999, pp 101-102.)