What Is Your Biggest Regret?

Mankind has always been fascinated with time travel. The popularity of movies and shows like the Back to the Future franchise and Doctor Who are evidence of a genuine interest. Don’t believe me? Bring it up around your friends sometime. We typically gravitate to a favorite era in history or particular events in time that intrigue us. But if we really could go back in time, would we really choose to visit an era or event?

In 1997, a small magazine found themselves in a bind. They were about to send their next edition to their publisher when they realized they still had space in the magazine that needed to be filled. A friend of the editor decided to take out a few ads to fill the extra space. One of the ads he took out read:

Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. P.O. Box 322 Oakview, CA 93022. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I’ve only done this once before.

Of course, it was a joke, but he ended up receiving tons of mail. Some of the people who replied got the joke and responded accordingly. But others took him seriously and really thought he could take them back in time.

Everyone Has Regrets

The interesting thing about these replies is that the ones who took him seriously wanted him to undo the worst mistakes they had ever made. Few, if any, desired to go to a specific era or witness major turning points in history, nor did people want to revisit a happy moment in their past. Most had made mistakes that they wanted to change, and they thought this ad, as silly as it might seem, could actually offer them an opportunity to undo what they’d done.

We can relate. We all have things we’ve said or done that we wish we could do over. What would you go back and change? Would you say no to that first cigarette? Would you be a better parent to your children? Would you refuse to click on porn or choose not to engage in premarital sex? One of the responders to the ad wanted to go back in time and stop the hitman she hired to kill her husband.

The reality is that we all have to live with the mistakes we’ve made. We don’t have the power to undo our mistakes. Time machines don’t exist, and they never will. So where do we find hope and rest in our regrets?

Hope for the Past

If our faith is in Jesus, we don’t need a time machine or an undo button. The gospel of Christ grants us freedom from the condemnation that still hunts us daily (Romans 8:1). The gospel is so powerful that it doesn’t have to undo our past sins. Instead, it redeems them and turns them around for our good and for God’s glory.

Paul is a great example of how the good news affects our past mistakes and sins. He was a persecutor of Christians and participated in the stoning of Stephen. Yet God worked powerfully in his life. Paul puts it this way:

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:15–16)

God used Paul’s status as a murdering persecutor to display his perfect patience. Did Paul regret his former actions as a persecutor, murdering innocent Christians? Absolutely! Yet he recognizes that the gospel is so powerful, and God’s grace so deep, that the actions of the worst sinners can be redeemed for good.

Freedom from Sin

What about traveling forward? Should we continue in sin in light of this mercy? Paul responds, “By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:2). If we have truly believed the gospel, we are dead to sin and now alive in Christ. If we continue in sin, we show that we haven’t truly embraced the good news of Jesus, and that we are still dead in our trespasses and sins.

We are no longer slaves to sin, but we have become slaves to righteousness (Romans 6:18). Sin no longer has the power it once had. When we’re tempted by the sins that enticed and trapped us in the past, we can run to the one who is able to deliver us.

Thanks be to God that we do not need a time machine (Romans 7:25). As Christians, Jesus died for our past, present, and future sins. We can shed tears over how we’ve sinned against God, and still have daily peace. We know that we serve a God who is able to use the worst things that we’ve done to bring glory to his name, and to teach us more about his gracious and patient character. We come to a deeper understanding of what Paul meant when he said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”

(@PhillipMHolmes) served as a content strategist at desiringGod.org. He and his wife, Jasmine, have a son, and they are members of Redeemer Church in Jackson, Mississippi.