By: Gary L. Hutchens
The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian congregation, “For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it. For I perceive that the same epistle made you sorry, though only for a while. Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Cor. 7:8-10).
Many people confuse repentance with sorrow. They equate being sorry with repenting. As Paul pointed out in this text, sorrow is certainly part of repentance. It leads up to repentance, but sorrow alone is not repentance. Many people experience sorrow, sometimes great sorrow, without ever repenting of behavior for which they’re sorry.
Many people feel genuine sorrow over acts they have committed. They might feel sorry, recognizing that they’ve done wrong. They might be sorry for having caused others grief or pain. They might even beg for forgiveness. But if they do not change their actions, if they do not cease to take part in the wrong behavior that led to their sorrow, they’re just being sorry.
Sorrow involves an emotional response to an intellectual recognition of wrong behavior. But as long as the response remains on the emotional level, with no change taking place, it is nothing more than sorrow.
Repentance, on the other hand, involves a change of mind that results in a change of behavior. A person can be sorry without ever changing, but true repentance cannot take place without change. The very concept of repentance is to make up one’s mind to change the direction of one’s life, to turn around. Somebody put it pretty succinctly by saying that repentance means, “stop it!”
The first positive response to the gospel message is to believe. But true faith, saving faith, will necessarily lead a believer to repent. Jesus said, “I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” (Lk. 13:3). As a person believes that he is a sinner in need of forgiveness, and that forgiveness is only in Christ, he will make up his mind to change his life, turn away from sin and turn to Christ. Then he will follow through with that change by living a new lifestyle. That is repentance.
Does your life reflect true repentance, or have you just been sorry?…
Gary L. Hutchens