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. 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 lawPsalm 119:36, see also verses 53 and 158
2. 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
3. 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
4. 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.
5. 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
6. 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
To learn how grief over our sin produces repentance, listen to this sermon I delivered as a guest preacher…
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.
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
- These examples of grief over sin are far from the only ones in Scripture. Can you think of any others?
- Was there a time in your life you saw yourself as spiritually rich? Possibly before hearing the Gospel?
- Would you be open enough to share a time in your life when you were particularly grieved over the sin around you?
- What sins around us do you think should be particularly grievous to us?