In the bible there is this fascinating series of events in the book of Exodus where the ruler of Egypt refuses to let the people of God, whom he is holding as slaves, free. Moses has been sent to lead them out to the Promised Land but Pharaoh will have none of it. What follows is a series of 10 plagues upon Egypt, displaying both the power of God and the hardness of the human heart.
I don’t know about you, but after the first plague of all the water in my country turning to blood, I think I’d give in. I think I’d say, “Okay, Moses, you win, I’m thirsty. Take your people and go.” Or at least I like to think I would. But then I look back over the decades I spent in active porn addiction and remember the first wave of plagues it caused. I remember the way my wife first reacted when she found out and the fear I felt that she would leave me. I remember promising to never do it again. I remember how after a few really bad weeks, things got a little bit better. A sense of calm was restored. The water was again drinkable.
And I, like Pharaoh, went back to my old ways. This cycle continued for 7 long years.
In Exodus 7-12 we are privy to not just an awesome story of God’s power over creation and desire to free his people, but to the universal condition of every human heart. Faced with consequence after consequence, some incredibly serious (imagine waking up to a huge bullfrog on your face, or breaking out in boils all over your body!), Pharaoh would play the game I’ve played countless times in the past:
God forgive me! Amy I’m sorry! I won’t do it again!
And then, once the pain went away, I would harden my heart and go back to what I wanted to do. Until the next time I got caught.
For Pharaoh, it took the death of his first born son before he finally hit bottom and gave up. I hope that isn’t what it takes for you. It doesn’t have to be.
Pharaoh, and many of us, understand the difference between godly sorrow over our sin and worldly sorrow. Worldly sorrow is being sorry that I’ve been caught, that my choices have caused so much pain in my life and in the lives of others, and that this situation is extremely inconvenient for all involved. Godly sorrow, on the other hand, includes all of that but has an additional, essential element. It’s sorrow that my actions have grieved God’s heart and have put separation between Him and I. It’s to realize that my sin has offended a holy God and, worse of all, I am making a mockery of the great sacrifice made on my behalf when Jesus shed his blood for me.
This distinction is critical because Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, said that godly sorrow will lead to salvation – freedom! – and leave no regret, whereas worldly sorrow will only lead to death (2 Cor. 7:10).
That is what Pharaoh experienced. Death. He had lots and lots of worldly sorrow with each passing plague, but never godly sorrow. And because of this, with each passing plague, after the storm subsided and things went back to normal, he went right back to being his old self. He relapsed.
I get to talk with many people fighting addiction to all sorts of things and we all have this in common: When things get really bad we want help. We show up to a meeting. We call a friend. We check into rehab. We do all the right things – necessary things- because the pain is great and we need to act. Thank God for this. But we have another thing in common, too. It’s that when the pain goes away and it looks like life is going to continue, we grow complacent and we think we can return to the things we did and just be smarter about it. Maybe hide it a bit better. Maybe we believe the lie and say we won’t go as far this time. But like Pharaoh, that never ends well. It always leads to death.
If this is a cycle you are on it may be because you haven’t yet come to real godly sorrow over your sin. You don’t have to be like Pharaoh (and me) and lose everything before you come to your senses. Ask God today to break your heart over your sin and help you to see it the way God sees it. Pray that God would give you a heart that breaks over sin and a desire to be holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:16). Ask God to help you see the cross of Jesus as though for the very first time, and that you would desire to know nothing apart from Jesus Christ crucified for your sins.
God knows you intimately and loves you dearly. He knows what the greatest enemy is to your soul, and what hinders you from having the abundant life for which he died so that you might taste. It’s the difference between worldly and godly sorrow. May you experience today a refreshing drink from the living waters of Jesus and never again return to the bloody waters of your old self.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.