Do we experience grief over sin

Eight Biblical Examples of Grief Over Sin

Do we experience grief over our sin? Scripture contains many individuals who experienced grief over sin, whether their own sin, or the sin around them. Their examples can challenge us!

1. Manasseh Experienced Grief Over Sin

Manasseh was one of the evilest men who ever lived. Nobody in the Bible approached, Jew or Gentile, approached the wickedness he engaged in throughout his lifetime. Yet when he was disciplined:

When [Manasseh] was in distress, he entreated the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.

2 Chronicles 33:12-13

Manasseh’s life was disturbing and grotesque. But as unbelievable as Manasseh’s actions are, God’s actions are even more unbelievable. We marvel at Manasseh’s wickedness, but we should marvel even more at God’s grace: “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20). To learn more about Manasseh’s repentance, watch this sermon I preached:

2. David Experienced Grief Over Sin

Few titles in Scripture – if any – can rival what God called David: “a man after My Own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22). Considering the terrible sins David committed, we might wonder why God would refer to him this way. Part of it had to do with David’s repentant heart, but the bigger reason is David had a deep love for God and this was shown through the grief he felt over other’s sins.

Rivers of water run down from my eyes, because men do not keep Your law

Psalm 119:136, see also verses 53 and 158

3. Some of the Men of Jerusalem Experienced Grief Over Sin

Before Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and took the Jews into exile, God chose to spare some men by putting marks on their foreheads. I believe this took place in the spiritual realm, but was played out in the physical realm:

The Lord said to [the angels], “Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and cry over all the abominations that are done within it.”

Ezekiel 9:4

4. Ezra Experienced Grief Over Sin

The Jews were taken into Babylon, because they failed to remain a holy people. When Ezra lead them back into the Promised Land, almost unimaginably they started intermarrying with the people around them.

He rose up from before the house of God…and when he came there, he ate no bread and drank no water, for he mourned because of the guilt of those from the captivity.

Ezra 10:6

5. Nehemiah Experienced Grief Over Sin

Around fifteen years after Ezra’s day, Nehemiah led the third and final return of Jews back into the land. Once again they started intermarrying with the surrounding people.

So I contended with them and cursed them, struck some of them and pulled out their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, “You shall not give your daughters as wives to their sons, nor take their daughters for your sons or yourselves.”

Nehemiah 13:25

This isn’t instructive for us. No, you can’t pull out someone’s hair if their sin angers you enough; however, the frustration Nehemiah felt should challenge us.

6. King Ahab Experienced Grief Over Sin

This example might surprise you. It surprised me the first time I read it. Ahab was one of the wickedest men in the Old Testament. When he learned he was going to be judged by God:

“He tore his clothes…and fasted and lay in sackcloth, and went about mourning. [God said], ‘Because he has humbled himself before Me, I will not bring the calamity in his days.’”

1 Kings 21:27-29

7. The Ninevites Experienced Grief Over Sin

This example deals with one of the wickedest groups of people in the Old Testament. When the Ninevites learned they were going to be judged:

[They] believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them. Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.

Jonah 3:5, 10

8. The Tax Collector Experienced Grief Over Sin

This example comes from the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. Jesus contrasts them both, saying:

The tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’

Luke 18:13

There is only one other place in Scripture that people beat their breasts like this, and that is at the cross after Jesus died (Luke 23:48). We want Scripture to interpret Scripture, which means the tax collector demonstrated similar anguish over his sin that people experienced over Jesus’s death.

What About Fasting?

In the above two situations with Ahab and the Ninevites, their actions clearly pleased God. But it wasn’t their fasting that moved God:

  • In Ahab’s case it was his humility that delayed judgment.
  • With the Ninevites it was their mourning and repentance that brought God’s forgiveness.

Is fasting an appropriate response to sin for us? The answer is…maybe.

While it seemed to please God in the Old Testament, we don’t see it commanded, encouraged, or even modeled in the New Testament as an appropriate response to sin.

The closest verse would be Jesus’ words about fasting when mourning:

“The days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them; then they will fast in those days.”

Luke 5:35

If mourning is an appropriate time to fast, and you happen to be mourning over your sin, then it could be appropriate to fast too. For many people if they’re really upset about what they did, they probably don’t feel like eating anyway.

This Isn’t Penance!

You don’t fast or grieve over sin to be forgiven. Forgiveness only comes from what Jesus has done, and not from anything we could do.

Physical Consequences of Sin

[Obedience brings] health to your body and nourishment to your bones.

Proverbs 3:8

We don’t normally think of the physical benefits of obedience. Usually we just think of obeying God affecting us spiritually, and perhaps mentally or emotionally. If we do think of the physical consequences of sin our minds immediately go to struggles with drugs or alcohol. But sin takes a physical toll on us.

The Physical Consequences of David’s Sins

Listen to these words from David following his sin:

  • “My bones wasted and I groaned all day long…my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer” (Psalm 32:3-4).
  • “My strength fails because of my iniquity, and my body wastes away” (Psalm 31:10).
  • “There is no health in my bones because of my sin” (Psalm 38:3).

This past week I was watching a health lecture on YouTube. The doctor was talking about ways to avoid disease. He went through the normal recommendations, such as keeping a strong immune system, eating well, , getting enough sleep. Then he started talking about avoiding things like bitterness, anger, and even unforgiveness. He described what happens in our bodies when we get angry: capillaries restrict, the heart has to work much harder, hormone levels are negatively affected, we become less reasonable, and our bodies become slower to heal, and experience poorer pulmonary function. One study showed individuals with the highest levels of anger had twice the risk of coronary artery disease and three times the risk of heart attack.

It was pretty hard to believe, but some scientists claimed chronic anger may be more dangerous than smoking and obesity as factors contributing to early death. The bible also tells us not to worry, and there’s plenty of evidence to show the physical harm in worrying. God’s Word is filled with tremendous spiritual, mental, emotional and physical ways to be blessed. Instead of milk it should say, “Obeying God does a body good.”

When we disobey, grief over our sin, can prevent further sin in the future.

Discussion Questions for Comments Section

  1. These examples of grief over sin are far from the only ones in Scripture. Can you think of any others?
  2. Was there a time in your life you saw yourself as spiritually rich? Possibly before hearing the Gospel?
  3. Would you be open enough to share a time in your life when you were particularly grieved over the sin around you?
  4. What sins around us do you think should be particularly grievous to us?

9 Responses

  1. Great post Pastor! God has made it clear in his Word what a person needs to do to be healthy. The problem is that we don’t listen and are disobedient! Praise God for his goodness and providence in our lives!

  2. Blessed are the poor in spirit…

    Isaiah 57:15 For thus declares the high and exalted One who dwells forever, whose Name is set-apart, “I dwell in the high and set-apart place, with him who has a bruised and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of bruised ones.

    Isaiah 66:2 “And all these My hand have made, and all these that exist,” declares יהוה. “Yet to such a one I look: on him who is poor and bruised of spirit, and who trembles at My Word.

  3. Blessed are those who mourn…

    Isaiah 61:2 to proclaim the acceptable year of יהוה, and the day of vengeance of our Elohim, to comfort all who mourn,

    Isaiah 66:10 “Rejoice with Yerushalayim, and be glad with her, all you who love her; rejoice greatly with her, all you who mourn for her;
    Isaiah 66:13 “As one whom his mother comforts, so I comfort you. And in Yerushalayim you are comforted.”

  4. Grieving over my sin, makes me think of a time when I was coming back from a long drive and wanting to snack on something to pass the time. I stopped at a little convenience store and bought a bag of barbecued potato chips. As the miles went by, the bag (and not a small one) became empty. By the time I got home, up came the chips followed by a very uncomfortable acid reaction. For years I wanted nothing to do with barbecued potato chips and even the smell of them reminded me of my bad experience. If I am truly sorry for my sins, I should naturally lose my appetite for continuing in any specific sin. Our new nature in Christ feels sick about anything we do or say that is outside of God’s will, the way those chips made my body feel poorly. To be repentant, to me, means that our sin pretty much nauseates us. We can no longer stomach being out of God’s will. We are not happy until we find relief in confessing that sin and getting rid of it. Rebecca J. Shefchek

    1. Hi Rebecca,
      Grief definitely takes many forms, thanks for sharing your example.

      Great thoughts: yes, if we’re truly sorry (a godly sorrow versus worldly sorrow – 2 Cor 7:10), we should lose our appetite like you did for the chips.

      Your mention of nausea and sickness made me think of the dog returning to its vomit and the way that pictures our return to sin.

      I’ve been under that burden before that you mentioned, and yes, confession and repentance is the only relief.

      Thanks again. Great testimony!

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