Remorse vs Repentance

We’ve read several social media posts and memes lately that refer to repentance.  Some of them are spot-on, and others are way off-base.  Many people have mistaken feeling remorse and asking for forgiveness for actual repentance.

For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. – 2 Corinthians 7:10


And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand – Matthew 3:2


Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: – Matthew 3:8


Some people feel sorry for their actions.  Sometimes I wonder if they are actually convicted, or if they are just sorry they got caught.  They may ask God and/or whomever they have wronged to forgive them.  Being sorry, feeling bad about something you did that was wrong is good, and asking for the person you wronged to forgive, are both steps in the right direction, but feeling guilty and asking for forgiveness is not repentance if you continue to repeat the same action.


What then is repentance?


The dictionary has several definitions of repentance, most of which mention sorrow and grief for one’s actions.  One particular definition given in Webster’s 1828 Dictionary gives the best meaning I have found in a dictionary.  It reads as follows:


“Real penitence; sorrow or deep contrition for sin, as an offense and dishonor to God, a violation of his holy law, and the basest ingratitude towards a Being of infinite benevolence.  This is called evangelical repentance, and is accompanied by amendment of life.


Repentance is a change of mind, or a conversion from sin to God.


Godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation. 2 Cor. 7. Matt. 3


Repentance is the relinquishment of any practice, from conviction that it has offended God.” (emphasis added)


To go from just remorse and feelings of guilt to true repentance, a change of life and actions must take place.  You ask God and the person you wronged to forgive you. (We’ll talk about what forgiveness is in a later post.)  Repentance doesn’t stop there.  You turn from the wrong action, from the sin, and you go in the opposite direction.  You stop heading south, and you go north.


In the commentary for Matthew 3, of my Life in the Spirit Study Bible, it has a note for the word “Repent.”  Here is a snippet of what it says,


“Repent, the basic meaning of repent (Gk metanoeite) is ‘to change your mind’ – not superficially, but changing your basic attitudes and lifestyle.  It involves a change of masters:  from sin and Satan being master to Jesus Christ and His Word being Master….Repentance is often connected with epistrephein, ‘to turn,’ as in repenting, turning to God and proving one’s repentance by the fruit of a changed life…. The saving faith that the grace of God makes possible in response to hearing the gospel includes repentance… To define saving faith in a way that does not involve a radical break with sin distorts the Biblical view of redemption.”


The commentary for Matthew 3:8, reads in part:


“Genuine repentance will be accompanied by the fruits of righteousness… True saving faith and conversion must become evident through lives that forsake sin and bear godly fruit… Those who say they believe in Christ and are the children of God, and yet do not live lives that produce good fruit, are like trees that will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”


This same study Bible has this commentary for 2 Corinthians 7:10:


“Paul identifies two kinds of sorrow here. (1) There is a genuine sorrow for sin that leads to repentance, i.e., a change of heart that causes us to turn from sin to God.  This type of repentance leads to salvation.  For Paul, repentance from sin and faith in Christ are human responsibilities in salvation… (2) In contrast, the unrepentant often become sorry only for the consequences of their sin; such sorrow results in eternal death and judgement…”


As you can see by these commentary statements, repentance involves action not just words and feelings.  You cannot continue in the same sinful deeds and truly be repentant.  There must be a change of heart, of mind, and actions for true repentance to happen.


I want to share one more quote with you.  I recently read the book Fight: Winning the Battles That Matter Most by Craig Groeschel.  This book is directed toward men and their daily walk with the Lord.  He draws wisdom principles from the life of Samson as told in the Book of Judges.  In section 5.4 Failing Forward, Groeschel makes the following statement:


“Remorse is a feeling based primarily on guilt (a selfish emotion), keeping our attention on the past.  Repentance is turning away from that wrong, turning away from the past, and turning our attention to changing the future. Remorse builds an emotional monument to our sin, then stands there gazing at it while we feel bad.  Repentance is turning one hundred and eighty degrees away from our sin and then walking away from it.  With each step, repentance moves farther away from that sin. And it doesn’t look back.”

In conclusion, whatever your wrong, your sin, your words, your deeds — pray and ask God for forgiveness, ask whomever you have sinned against to forgive you.  Don’t stop there.  Don’t wallow in guilt and shame looking back at what you did in the past.  Change the way you are thinking, and thus changing your actions.  With God’s help and perseverance, true repentance and change can come to your life.  You can begin anew, rebuilding your relationship with God and rebuilding your human relationships.

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