Every honest person must admit to experiencing regret. Maybe you bought a car, a pet, or a meal that you regretted purchasing soon after. Maybe you said something you immediately wished could be taken back, or maybe you did something that caused you to fantasize about Superman’s ability to rewind time. Probably on more than one occasion, you have experienced regret.
Regret is common to the human experience after Genesis 3, but repentance is not. Regret is universal, but repentance is a special gift of God only to those who truly trust Him as Savior and Master (Acts 11:18). Jesus included “repentance” with “belief in the Gospel” when He urged His message of saving grace (Mk. 1:15). Jesus said that “repentance” should be proclaimed in His name to all people (Lk. 24:47). The first Gospel presentations we see in the book of Acts each include the call to “repent” (Acts 2:38, 3:19, 5:31, and 8:22). The Apostle Paul said that God commands “all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).
Since Repentance is a key aspect of right relationship to God and genuine trust in Christ, it is exceptionally important that we assess ourselves to discover if what we are experiencing is actually true repentance. Repentance is different from Regret in several ways, but the following distinctions may be helpful for understanding the differences better.
Here are five marks or signs of regret that falls short of true repentance:
1) Denial of Responsibility
“I didn’t do it!” or “She made me do it!” Both of these are examples of denial. Anyone who looks for others to blame or tries to make others join in the blame is still not fully admitting to their responsibility in the violation. Adam’s blame of Eve and Eve’s blame of the serpent is a great example of this feature of temporary regret without true repentance (Gen. 3:12-13).
2) Concern for Punishment, but not for Violation/Sin
When a person is caught in a violation, and their punishment becomes the focus of greatest interest to them, it might be evidence of false repentance. When Cain had just murdered his brother (Abel), the only worry he ever mentioned to God was care for his own life and peace (Gen. 4:13).
3) Self-centered Perspective
This is demonstrated by #2, but it may also manifest itself in numerous other ways. If a person emphasizes their own needs, wants, and desires to such a degree that it detracts from the heinousness of their violation or minimizes their punishment, then this is evidence of a self-centered perspective and false repentance. David’s initial actions concerning his sinful relationship with Bathsheba is an example of a treacherous self-centered perspective (2 Sam. 11).
4) Disinterest in Avoiding Future Violations/Sins
It is usually fairly easy to get someone to admit that what they are doing is wrong or displeasing to God, but it is quite another thing to see a person change course because of the fact. If a person admits he or she is in error, this is only part of it. True repentance will include a desire and a plan to avoid future or continued error. The “rich, young ruler” who “went away sorrowful” from Jesus had no intentions of avoiding the sins of greed, pride, and idolatry (Matt. 19:22).
5) Vow of Avoidance is Superficial
On some occasions, it is possible that a person may promise some retribution or future avoidance. However, this can be only superficial, and disingenuous. False repentance will be demonstrated when the person promises, “I’ll never do that again!” or “I’ll give it back, and everything will be fine...” Neither of these takes into account the underlying motivation for the violation or the real future struggle that lies ahead for anyone who hopes to avoid satisfying sinful desires.
True repentance, then, will simply be demonstrated by the opposite of these five above. The truly repentant person will be willing to take full responsibility for their thoughts, words, and deeds. Genuinely contrition will be evidenced by a deep sorrow for what was said and/or done, and the sting upon others will be of greater care than the sting of punishment. Real penitence will focus less upon self, except in the area of honest confession. There will be a heartfelt desire to avoid sin and a humble approach to actually changing course in order to avoid sin.
How do you measure up? Do you generally see a pattern of mere regret and false repentance in your life? If so, here are three things you should do right now.
1) Pray. Confess your sinful pattern to God, and ask Him to give you true repentance and a broken heart over your sin.
2) Plan. Think about how you may cultivate godliness in your own heart and mind, and make a plan to do it.
3) Partner. Join with other Christians in a Gospel-centered local church family, and go to war against personal sin together.
If you are in East Texas, I recommend FBC Diana 🙂 www.fbcdiana.org