Summary: This message addressed a question asked by my Sermon Planning Group about how to understand and respond to memories of past sin once we come to live in the grip of grace
"BIG IDEA":Paul’s heartfelt words in 2 Corinthians 7 help us avoid the destruction of haunting regret (in ourselves and others) by suggesting three differences between worldly sorrow and Godly Sorrow.
NOTE: Also used in preparing this sermon is a chapel message delivered by Dr. Zach Eswine at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis.
Do you know what this is? [Display picture of a "neutralizer" from "Men in Black"]. I’ll give you a clue. At least in the movie where this is used if you don’t wear a special pair of sunglasses you will become forgetful?
If you said this was a neutralizer, or "that thing they use in the Men in Black movies to erase people’s memories—you’d be right. Sort of like having one of these [press Easy Button] to get rid of memories you don’t want hanging around any more.
Would you like to have an easy button to erase a memory or two (or more)?
Can you recall your most embarrassing moment? If you could would you erase that memory [EASY BUTTON].
Have ever bought something that you would just as soon forget you bought [PRESS EASY BUTTON]?
What if you had a limited number of times you could erase memories from the past. How would you use them? Based on my own inclination I would guess that most of use I would start with the most "haunting" memories. Memories don’t seem to lose their capacity to intrude regardless of how many years have passed.
You know them, don’t you? Maybe you said something or did something that hurt someone else. Maybe you betrayed a friend or loved one.
Perhaps there is a sin no one else (not even your husband or wife) knows about. You know that sin you hope never comes to light because you are afraid that it would forever alter how people see you.
We encounter this type of regret in the context of sin. And it is that context that is behind Paul’s words in today’s text [READ 2 Corinthians 7:5-16].
You will remember that last week I told mentioned this series on grace came about as a result of thoughts and questions share by a group people here at Southside. Specifically the question was raised, "How do we deal with guilt for past sins while at the same time believing that we are forgiven by God’s grace?" How do we forgive ourselves?
Like so many questions we take to Scripture when we do so Scripture answers them in a way differently than how we ask them. That is true in this case.
We don’t know what the circumstances are that prompted Paul to write words of correction. It’s probably best we don’t because its not the circumstance but the goal and response that is really important.
The part that is helpful for us is Paul’s comparison of Godly sorrow and earthly sorrow. His lesson not only to helps us with our memories but to help us make sure we don’t contribute to the same kind of haunting memories in others. You see, Paul’s heartfelt words in 2 Corinthians 7 help us avoid the destruction of haunting regret (in ourselves and others) by suggesting three differences between worldly sorrow and Godly Sorrow.
TRANSITION: Verse 10 is the lynchpin to this passage. We begin there because Paul directly compares Godly sorrow and worldly sorrow. Specifically he compares what each leads to. In that verse Paul tells us . . .
Godly Sorrow leads to Repentance
This passage reminds us that guilt is a powerful thing.
ILLUSTRATION: The story is told that Noel Coward, the well known playwright, as a prank, once sent an identical anonymous letter to 10 notable men in London. The note said, "We know what you have done. If you don?t want to be exposed, leave town." Within 6 months, all 10 men that received the letter, moved! A terrible prank--but what an example of the power of guilt (from "Washing of the Grime of Guilt" by Timothy Smith at SermonCentral)
QUOTATION: Dr. Karl Menninger, the famed psychiatrist, once said that if he "could convince the patients in psychiatric hospitals that their sins were forgiven, 75 percent of them could walk out the next day." (illustration contribution at sermoncentral.com by Larry Sarver)
Scripture weighs in as the consequences of unresolved guilt:
Depression accompanies unresolved guilt-(Psa 32:3-4) When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.
Fear accompanies unresolved guilt. (Gen 3:8-10)
Godly Sorrow leads to salvation because it leads us to see sin for what it truly is. To take responsibility for our sin and to accept and trust in God’s grace.
ILLUSTRATION: In 1980 New York City was in the middle of a huge financial crisis and Mayor Ed Koch appeared on a local news program. Koch had spent over a quarter of a million dollars to put up bike lanes in Manhattan, and they turned out to be a disaster. Cars were driving in the bike lanes, pedestrians were walking in the them, and bikers were getting crowded out. It was a mess and many people in New York were irate about it. Koch was coming up for re-election, so a handful of journalists cornered him on this show, planning to tear him to pieces for spending money foolishly when the city was nearly broke.