I used to have a professor who was fond of reminding his classes that Christ died to make us perfect! But I have a problem: I’m not perfect; at least, not yet.

In fact, I am far from it. Perhaps because I am so aware of God’s desire that I forsake sin and follow him perfectly, it breaks my heart to find myself still choosing sin over him. I am still bitter and resentful. I choose lies, hurtful jokes, jealousy, and curses so often. Where is the love, truth, honoring speech, and praise that would bring me life and bring glory to God?

There must be something terribly wrong for me to know my own sinful nature and yet be so little affected by it.

In 2 Corinthians 7:10, Paul says, For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death.

True repentance doesn’t lead to regret; it leads to change.

The repentance Paul talks about has three components:

1. Sorrow for Sin Sorrow for sin is a private but necessary part of reconciliation with God. It’s the difference between a heartfelt return to God’s rule and a perfunctory apology given to acquire forgiveness because “I know I’m supposed to be sorry.”

2. Desire to Turn From Sin The reason we give up bad habits or distractions during Lent, for example, is to avoid temptation and the occasion of sin. The outward appearance, the action, means very little without the inward reverence of a person who desires to become holy through God’s strength.

3. Trust in God’s Grace By trusting in the forgiveness Jesus died to offer us and the work of the Holy Spirit within us, we can come to a real knowledge of our sins and repent in a healthy way. Lent can lead us to a greater sense of the grace which makes us aware of our sin, gives us strength to turn from our old ways, and ultimately saves us.

However, many Christians, myself included, often fail to understand the meaning of true repentance and suffer from the regret that Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians. That regret, an overwhelming and sometimes crippling guilt, is something God sent Christ to free us from.

That said, I never want to forget that my sin breaks the heart of my Father in Heaven and that my sin is what held his Son on the cross.

There’s this attitude that if you’re really a Christian, if you’re really saved, you shouldn’t grieve over your sin or dwell on it. I don’t think that attitude is a helpful one. The way we try to hide brokenness and sin and sorrow in the name of being Christians — who are not, apparently, supposed to have anything to complain about — is astounding to me. It seems like, on the surface, there is no room for pain and sorrow in our lives because ours is supposed to be a joyful faith. But I believe that it is in knowing real sorrow that we can also know real joy.

Christ’s passion reminds me of the suffering he underwent for me so that I could be forgiven and could enter into eternal life with him. I grieve for my sin and the death that a perfect God endured for my sake. The very nature of the Cross is a paradox. In the cross, grief and joy, sin and grace, and death and life are all present in the fullest sense. I don’t think it’s wrong if we experience that paradox as well.

Augustine said, A Christian should be an “alleluia” from head to foot. But being an alleluia from head to foot means remembering why we can celebrate the resurrection and ascension of Jesus into Heaven. Before those joyful events, he experienced sorrow and pain; and it is in sharing in the sorrow of his death that we can truly share in the triumph of his Resurrection.

updated September 2019

Photo Credit: William Sun