As you look back, you are filled with guilt and remorse over the sin you committed, either as an unbeliever or a backslidden or immature Christian. It’s important to remember that your sin and backsliding or immaturity isn’t unique. Israel as a nation was often unfaithful to her covenant relationship with Jehovah. Peter denied the Lord, wept bitterly, and later was publicly restored (Matthew 26:69-75; John 21). The Lord also reproached the believers in Ephesus because they had left their first love, and He urged them to “remember,” “repent,” and “return” (Revelation 2:1-7).
Even though the Bible tells us we receive a new life when we believe, we are still influenced by the “flesh,” the “law of sin” within us (Romans 7). The old nature is still part of us and continues to affect us (1 Corinthians 3:1-3; Ephesians 4:22).
I am a pastor’s son, but I never experienced genuine conversion until I was in my mid-20s. By that time I had already attended a year of seminary. I have many regrets that deeply trouble me. The more spiritual vision we gain, the more we sorrow over the wrongs we’ve done.
Accordingly, there are three facts I’d like you to consider:
First, I doubt that anything you did was worse than the things committed by two of the greatest men of faith, David and Paul. David not only committed adultery, but had a good man killed to conceal his sin. Paul persecuted and murdered Christians. Yet both Paul and David were forgiven, though their past sins caused them legitimate sorrow. Our salvation has nothing to do with the extent of our past sins. It is entirely based on the infinite suffering of the Son of God himself, who fully and willingly bore the consequences of all our evil.
Second, sorrow over past sins has an important function. It softens the heart and engenders humility and compassion, qualities essential to the work of the kingdom. Consider the words of the prophet Ezekiel:
A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26 KJV).
All of us need to realize the fools we were before we were willing to surrender our hearts to the Lord.
Third, don’t overlook the power of God’s grace. Even if we can’t repair the damage we have caused, God is able to bring healing and restoration in ways that would be impossible for us to anticipate. We can still pray for the healing and restoration of those we’ve injured.
Remember the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). God is always ready to welcome us as long as we are willing to humble ourselves and turn towards home.