“For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am: and His grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”
I Corinthians 15:9-10
The line of deadly regret to godly contrition isn’t easy to detect. Yet, it is a line that needs to be drawn and understood. The consequence is a death or a life. In general, regret is a response that results from something done or not done. Regret is pain of mind or conscience. Moreover, regret becomes debilitating when we dwell upon the cause of regret. Grief, uneasiness, and sorrow intensify weighed in a mental, emotional, and spiritual heaviness. For those that trust in the One that inhabiteth eternity, regret is devastating to our life in Christ.
Now, there are numerous conditions and reasons that cause regret. And many others reasons for yielding to regret that result in agony and despair. Therefore, the reader should understand we are examining spiritual depression or Christian regret. Regret that Christians uniquely face.
Although regret culminates from a spread of situations, few are prominent. A missed opportunity is one. Whether from forgetfulness, slothfulness, or pride on one hand or from uncontrollable circumstances on the other, by nature we ask this simple question to ourselves, “if only?”
If only I would have been there? If only I would have said this? If only I did this or that? If only I had more time? If?…if?……if?…….if?….. Regret presents itself in many forms and words, “if” being one of them. In this sense, regretful “ifs” are echoes of death. “If” can present potential, possibility, and change; however, with regret “if” indicates loss and that which cannot be changed. Regret, therefore, is a response to something that at the present cannot be changed.
The reality of being unable to control, affect, or influence the past reveals our nature, weakness, and finiteness. Hence, regret itself can be a death when we dwell upon the past. Emotional contemplation of the past as an attempt to, in the corridor of your memory, change that which cannot be presently changed is a waste of time. The fruit of these vain attempts is dejection, despondency, and misery. Depression can result from yielding to that which cannot be changed.
Once again, the circumstances that breed “if only” are innumerable. Thus, as Christians, we are as susceptible to regret as the common man. Yet, unlike our fellow man, we have something to remedy regret with its devastating effects of stress, depression, and never-ending inward pain. Grace is the remedy – abounding, rich, sufficient grace. The grace of God we are in, He bestows and is with us swallows up regret in victory. God dispenses His grace unreservedly because of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection and the forgiveness it extends upon the believing recipient grants them that even their “regret” be made new.
Paul From Persecutor to Laborer
“For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”
1 Corinthians 15:9
Consider, briefly, the apostle Paul as a case study. Paul identified himself as “the least of the apostles”, one that is not meet to even be called an apostle. The reason he states this is clear in the text. He persecuted the church of God. Paul’s persecution of those “in Christ before him” is graphically stated in scripture in Paul’s own description of himself. Paul says of himself, “who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious” (1 Tim. 1:13), “concerning zeal, persecuting the church” (Php. 3:6), and “that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it” (Gal. 1:13). Luke, a companion to the converted Paul and beloved physician, would have personal first-hand knowledge of Paul’s injurious persecution that wasted the church before him. Luke narrates of Paul, “And Saul (Paul) was consenting unto his (Stephen’s) death” (Acts 8:1). Paul did not rush to stop the stone-throwers but granted authoritative justification for their murder of Stephen. Paul was at least guilty by association. Moreover, he was complicit in giving the go-ahead for this heinous crime. Luke also accounts, “As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison” (Acts 8:3). Paul didn’t stop with Stephen. Stephen was only the first victim of Paul’s zealous havock of those that were in “the way”. Paul did not show mercy to women, the main caretakers of children; therefore, leaving children without their parents. The persecution was so “great” that if men and women were not thrown into prison, they left their homes to escape the persecution. Nevertheless, Paul, like Pharaoh, wouldn’t allow their fleeing to hinder the satisfaction of his lust. His vehemency against and hatred of the church manifest itself as an angry bull’s boiling blood being “breathed out” (Acts 9:1) into the cool air. Prison would not content Paul and received letters of authority for the “slaughter” (Acts 9:1-2) of the churches. He personally testified to king Agrippa, “…many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities.” (Acts. 26:10-11) Undoubtedly, without the grace of God by Christ’s personal revelation to him on the road to Damascus, there would have been a “slaughter” of ungodly proportions. Then everything changed. What he had done along with what he would have done is enough to depress the soul when the epic Light revealed the darkness of his soul. His once adamant and unrelenting heart fulfilled by the wasting of those that believed in Christ is enough for nightmares for a lifetime. His zeal would become his shame. His profit now his poverty. His havock now his humility. Paul committed unthinkable iniquity all in the name of the LORD. Thus, to Paul’s chagrin he became an ignorant blasphemer – not a very noble fight. Therefore, we garner the sense of Paul’s regret from the undertones in his writings.
After all of this, in light of all this, and in spite of all this he writes,
“…but I laboured more abundantly than they all:”
1 Corinthians 15:10c
The natural response from one ashamed from past sins and wrong-doing does not seem to be reflected in what Paul states. His response seems more like a retort. His writing seems to communicate insincerity. On one hand he honestly and humbling proclaims he is “the least of the apostles”, yet on the other hand he almost is boastful in marking his labour. Simply put, this does not seem like a man that is dominated by his regrets.
The Grace of God
Paul is not insincere in what he says. If so, he wouldn’t have written, “For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” (1 Cor. 15:9) Rather, he is humbly acknowledging his past iniquity. Yet, Paul does not stay there. He doesn’t unfold the shame and despair it produced or still produces. He doesn’t discuss how it makes him feel or even maybe how others feel about him. Why? we should ask. Because of “the grace of God”. Take careful notice of what he does unfold,
“But by the grace of God I am what I am: and His grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I , but the grace of God which was with me.”
1 Corinthian 15:10
Paul exclaims the remedy for deadly regret by the threefold mention of “the grace of God”. His grace makes provision for sin, contains a manifold performance against sin, and grants fruit unto righteousness. The spiritual things of the new testament detail His gracious provision for sin, that is,
“…for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
Jeremiah 31:34; Hebrews 8:12, 10:17
Paul was not only a beneficiary of these spiritual things but also was an able minister of them (2 Cor. 3:6). Paul had received “the forgiveness of sins” (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14) and God’s disposition toward Paul, now in Christ, was to remember his sin no more.
The remedy for deadly regret is found in God’s forgiveness of our sins. God remembers our sins no more, therefore, God consciously chooses not to bring them up, not to recall them to mind. He doesn’t forget our sins but promises to not “remember” them. What a promise! Of course, He is faithful to this promise because iniquity has been forgiven on the basis of the propitiatory sacrifice of His Son on our behalf. He doesn’t sweep our sin under the rug, rather His perfect justice against it was met by the Lord Jesus Christ when Christ bore the wrath of God deserved and reserved for us. Therefore, in love toward His Son and toward us He will remember it no more. This provision for our sin justly and holily provides a righteous performance to those that believe for the forgiveness of iniquities and to remember our sin no more.
This grace, mercy, and love Paul knew. It was revealed to him on the road to Damascus and beyond. God’s grace was the foundation to address those things he would now be ashamed of. The cross of Christ is where that shame would begin and where it would end.
The grace of God would not only grant forgiveness but would be an influence, a power that would effectually work in Paul. The relationship between God’s grace to forgive and to work in us provides a holy communion with righteousness as its’ fruit. Paul professed that the true source of his abundant labor was because of the grace bestowed upon him. Therefore, Paul’s past was not a hindrance to God’s future with him. God’s grace provided for his shameful history and would be the author of his fruitful future.
Learning The Grace of God
“Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.”
One way we understand the grace of God is through the case study of Paul. Thus, the God of peace has bound Himself to the things He taught, gave, told, and displayed to Paul and have become the things we are to learn, receive, hear, and see. These things we are to do! Surely, this is true as it relates to our sin and the regrets it can produce with all its debilitating fruit. By God’s grace, we can acknowledge the past, wrap it up in His forgiveness, and not allow it to deter the future. Instead, His grace provides for a future that redounds to the glory of God.
May we learn from Paul. To dwell on the past causes failure in the present. Bemoaning the past cripples your present and prevents your future. If what was done in the past is regretful, recognize that there is nothing you can do to change the past, but labor to make up for it in the present. Don’t put energy in the past, but into the present. Take yourself in hand, stop being irrational, and wasting time, but redeem the time you have. As you consider what you once did, exact who you are in Christ upon it. Finally, stop occupying yourself with yourself and be occupied with Him – look at Him and you will soon forget yourself. Don’t receive the grace of God in vain, but labor together with Him!
Josh Strelecki, Pastor-Teacher