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. 2 Corinthians 7:8-10
When I was a newlywed, I took a seasonal part-time job during the holidays at a store in the local mall. I barely had a minute of free time and that experience made me appreciate all the hard-working folks of the retail world. I cherished my breaks because it gave me an opportunity to grab a bite to eat, catch my breath, and engage in one of my favorite activities - people watching.
I would always end up on a bench near Santa's Wonderland. In between bites of my Aunt Annie's pretzel, I watched kid after kid grow antsy at the thought of approaching the jolly old man in the red suit. The parents would nudge their child forward, but their little ones often refused to budge. Almost like clockwork, the child began to scream, kick and cry the moment they were placed on Santa's lap. I'm convinced Santa-phobia is a legitimate fear for the majority of toddlers.
Part of me can't blame them for their reaction. After listening to the Santa Manifesto, better known as Santa Claus is Coming to Town, you'd be a little uneasy coming face to face with him as well. Consider a moment the lyrics to this classic holiday jingle: "He's making a list, and checking it twice; gonna find out who's naughty and nice. Santa Claus is coming to town. He sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake, he knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!"
The old man doesn't come across as jovial, friendly and inviting from these verses. Nothing is hidden from the man in the red suit's sight. Act out of line and you find yourself in danger of getting coal in your stocking. If you don't live up to his expectations, he might withhold gifts altogether. A kid could drive themselves insane wondering on which side of the scales they fall: naughty or nice.
Whenever there is a pending judgment, love is incapable of springing up because fear and love are polar opposites. Scripture confirms this truth. 1 John 4:17-19 says, "This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the Day of Judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us."
Take a moment and compare the freedom these words express to your normal approach to God. Without realizing it, do you view God similar to Santa Claus? What defines your relationship with Him: fear or love? When you find yourself struggling with sin, how do you react? Do you create distance, hide and avoid approaching God? Or do you perform "religious" duties in hopes of turning the scales from judged to right standing with God? Have you found yourself guilty of justifying and rationalizing your behavior by comparing yourself to others hoping God will define righteousness by your terms?
Until one understands perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, they will never experience true freedom. Instead, they will remain in darkness wrestling with guilt and fear. Freedom is effortless trust, but freedom can only be found through walking into the light where forgiveness is found.
It's realizing that sin is not about a broken rule, but rather a broken relationship. Repentance restores what sin divided. By agreeing that something is broken and needs to be restored, we are more willing to come into the light and trust God with what is exposed.
At first glance, this seems like a scary proposition. In our minds, it leaves us vulnerable. But, the reality is this is not true. There is a feeling of godly sorrow that carries with it a hope for change. Knowing we are loved, we refuse to justify our sin and resist our tendency to feel guilty. Instead, we are able to receive His forgiveness with joy. We can trust that grace and mercy meets us when we approach the light. God's response is guaranteed to be the same.
Even though we might face repercussions for our bad choices, we will always be greeted with forgiveness of our sins. Through God's action on the cross, He has restored our relationship with Him. This allows us to live fully and freely. Why? Because repentance leaves no regrets.
When dealing with your sin, which one do you wrestle with the most: (1) Justifying your sin (2) Feeling guilty (3) Doubting His forgiveness and grace? What makes you answer in the way that you do?
God, rather than hide, may I run to You with open arms. I will trust that it is Your kindness and love that leads me to repentance. Only You can deal with my regrets and sin. You've restored what is broken. In Your name, Jesus. Amen.