“Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:9,10).
IF YOU’VE READ FIRST CORINTHIANS, YOU CAN IMAGINE PAUL’S AGONY AS HE WAITED TO HEAR HOW IT WAS RECEIVED. He had called upon the Corinthians to repent of their sins, but how would they think about these things? Would they be defensive? Resentful? Angry? In Second Corinthians we find him overjoyed: they had responded with a “godly sorrow” that had resulted in repentance.
We are no different than the Corinthians in that we have things in our past that should never have taken place. Looking back, we see many things we’d like to change. Even after we’ve repented and received the Lord’s forgiveness, we still feel a regret that is extremely unpleasant and embarrassing. Oh, how we wish we could once again be people who had never done such things! But we can’t change the past. The bell can never be unrung.
Sorrow is a natural response to our misdeeds, but we need to make sure that it is godly sorrow. That is always the right response to sinful aspects of our past; it moves us back toward God. And what makes godly sorrow different from worldly sorrow is that it is focused on God rather than ourselves. It grieves for what our sins have cost Him and His people — and not what they’ve cost us.
Although we can’t change the past, there is a sense in which our memories are always changing us. But are they changing us for the better? Are they making us more humble and penitent? Are we becoming more reverent and grateful? As we reflect on what has happened in our lives, are those reflections turning us into more obedient people? The answer to all of these questions can be yes, but only if we choose to think about the past with a godly attitude.
Our thinking is one thing we are always capable of changing. No matter what has happened, the alternative of better thinking is never closed, and it’s a pity that we don’t avail ourselves of this opportunity more often. When we’ve erred, why would we miss the benefit of thinking about that fact more constructively?
“The past cannot be changed, but our response to it can be” (Erwin W. Lutzer).