Q/A Friday: What is the Difference Between Remorse and Repentance?

Genuine repentance includes the absence of evil deeds and presence of good works. It includes genuine confession of sin to God and others, seeking forgiveness for that sin, leaving that sin, and living opposite to that sin. But the real emphasis with repentance is in the “turning.” Repentance is not turning from something to something but rather turning to something from something.

Repentance must include a changed life. It doesn’t stop with remorse over one’s sin or just some outward action of a good deed. It includes both leaving sin and pursuing righteousness. Genuine repentance does not include a continual practice of sin.

RepentanceThe Bible is clear about the role of remorse in repentance. Consider the example of David. David committed a hideous sin with Bathsheba (II Sam. 11) by committing adultery with her. When her husband returned from the war, David sent him back to the front lines in order that he might be killed and not discover what David and Bathsheba had done, thus making David guilty of murder. After being confronted of these wicked deeds by Nathan (II Sam. 12), David penned very remorseful words. He said, “I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD’; and you forgave the guilt of my sin” (Ps. 32:5).

The other psalm that he wrote in response to these sins – Ps. 51 – is filled with remorseful words.

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. … For I know my transgressions. … Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in your sight. … Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquities. … Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation. … The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise” (Ps. 51:2-3a, 4a, 9, 14a, 17).

David felt deep remorse over his sin.

Repentance is not just emotion. Just because someone weeps over a sin does not mean they have genuinely repented. We know Judas felt remorseful over his betrayal of Christ, so much so that he hanged himself. Yet, we no Judas never truly repented from sin: he was called the son of perdition and Christ said it would have been good if he had never been born. Unless there is action accompanied by the remorse, it is not genuine repentance. Remorse should accompany repentance but never qualifies it as being genuine. Sorrow is a part of confession but not the whole of it

Remorse usually accompanies repentance, but remember, it is expressed differently with different people. Some may weep as a result of their sin; others may pray for endless hours confessing their iniquities. Whatever the practice of demonstrating remorse may be, it is necessary for genuine repentance. One cannot repent from their sins is they do not feel sorrow for disobeying and dishonoring God. If one doesn’t grieve over their sin, then they may not be genuinely saved. Repentance begins with this response to sin: remorse and sorrow.

Remorse may be fueled from knowing there are ensuing consequences ahead or for fear of the response of other people. Feeling remorseful will lead someone to say something like “I’m sorry,” but it never guarantees someone will truly repent. Usually someone who is remorseful may try to do some unrelated good things in order to cancel out the bad. Sometimes a remorseful person who lacks repentance might look for reasons they sinned or even make justification for it.

Genuine repentance takes all this step further. Genuine repentance understands sin offends a holy God. Genuine repentance admits full responsibility for sin. Genuine repentance is crushed from the weight of guilt. Genuine repentance seeks the forgiveness from God and others who are involved because they hate their sin and want to avoid it completely. Genuine repentance makes a plan to make changes – by putting away the sin and putting on righteousness (Luke 3:8-18; Jas 1:22-27­).



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