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Set Free from the Prison of Regret

King David sat alone in the dark and grieved the events of the past year. The unthinkable mess all started when he slept with another man’s wife. And it wasn’t just any man – it was the wife of one of his soldiers. A warrior king, David was filled with shame for committing such a selfish and dishonorable act.

On top of that, the woman had become pregnant with David’s child. To cover his reckless behavior, David lied to the soldier and tried to manipulate him into a cover-up. The scheme didn’t work. The soldier was a deeply noble man, heaping even further shame onto David’s soul.

Then, with unabashed conceit and arrogance, David arranged for the soldier to be killed. It was a magnificent display of pure evil. David could not believe he had committed such a heinous crime. The pit of self-loathing into which he was falling appeared to be bottomless. King David, the man after God’s own heart, was an adulterer, manipulator, liar and murderer.

And now, as a direct consequence of his sin, his new-born son was dead. David’s pit of self-loathing had a bottom – and he hit it hard . . .

Paul the Apostle was writing a letter to his spiritual son, Timothy. As he instructs Timothy about the grace of God, he suddenly remembers a very dark season from his past.

Paul’s roots were Jewish and he grew up in the town of Tarsus. Before his encounter with Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus, his name was Saul of Tarsus. A faithful man of Judaism, Saul was outraged by the Galilean named Jesus who claimed to be the Messiah. His anger was further fueled by the followers of the imposter who claimed He was risen from the dead. Saul could not stomach such blasphemy. He was determined to stamp out the people of the Way.

He locked them up and had them beaten. He spread murderous threats against them, but nothing seemed to slow the growth of the movement. He needed to do something significant to crush this heresy.

His opportunity came after a young man named Stephen preached a powerful message in which he accused the Jewish leaders of murdering Jesus Christ. Saul and the members of the Sanhedrin were incensed. They dragged Stephen outside of the city and stoned him to death. Saul gave his approval to the execution and hoped it would teach the followers of Jesus a lesson they would not soon forget.

Later, writing of God’s grace to Timothy, Stephen’s death came back to Paul in full and vivid color. The shame and regret begin to rise from deep within him. He writes these words, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst.”

I am the worst. I am certain that King David felt the same way . . . and so have I . . . and maybe you have too. Our own sins, regardless of their shape and size, are always terribly hard to forgive.

When we choose to not forgive ourselves, regret becomes a prison of bitterness that locks us in the past. The past is a cruel master. As badly as we would want to turn the clock backward and have a chance to fix it, we cannot. For those falling into the pit of regret, there is no hope.

If that is you, then I have good news: God is the Redeemer – and for that reason, you are free to forgive yourself! As the Redeemer, God buys back everything, even our most egregious mistakes. He buys them back and then He sets us free – free to love and serve and fulfill our holy potential. In fact, God redeems the very sins that could have destroyed us – and then uses them to launch us forward in His mission. Yes, His redemptive grace is that powerful!

Listen to King David as he leans hard into God’s redemptive grace in Psalm 51:

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place. Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you.”

That last sentence reveals David’s understanding of the redemptive nature of our God. David knew God could redeem even the worst of his sins. Every time someone reads Psalm 51 and finds encouragement and hope, God buys back the worst of David’s sins – and He is still redeeming them today!

And listen to Paul as he forgives himself and moves forward in the grace of Jesus Christ:

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Forgetting what lies behind . . . and straining toward what is ahead. That is forgiveness, redemption, and freedom.

My friends, God is ready to redeem your past and set you free from regret. Are you ready to forgive yourself? If not, then you are locked in a prison of regret that is stealing away your present potential and your future dreams. That captivity can end today. Receive his mercy and forgiveness and then watch as He redeems your past. He will do it!

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