For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (II Corinthians 7:10, ESV)

There is a world of difference between sorrow and repentance.

When I was young and fought with my siblings, our mom used to make us hug each other and say, “I am sorry.” Being the ornery kid that I was, I would quickly say the words without truly meaning them – but the hug was another story. At times, I even opted for punishment rather than hug my recent antagonist! I could cover up my “I’m sorry” with my deceitful mind – or my crossed fingers behind my back! But there was just something about the required hugging that put meaningful action to my apology. They couldn’t see the deception inside my head, but the hug was unmistakable.

Sometimes even when we apologize or say we are sorry, we are merely sorry we were caught – we’re not expressing regret or repentance for our actions. Esau was very sorrowful for thoughtlessly relinquishing his birthright for a bowl of stew (Genesis 25:29-34). But he didn’t quite reach repentance, “though he sought it with tears” (Hebrews 12:16-17). He was sorry, but not repentant. The same with Judas. After he betrayed Jesus, he was remorseful, but not repentant (Matthew 27:3-5).

Repentance comes with the tears, regret, and remorse of sorrow…along with a reversal of direction or reformation of actions. Peter was very sorrowful after denying Christ (Matthew 26:75). The words used imply violent weeping and wailing – he was inconsolable. However, we know he was repentant based on his reconciliation with Jesus (John 21:7, 15-17) and his changed life (Acts and I & II Peter).

When we truly repent of our sins, we change our perspective and direction. We see our sin as abhorrently as God does – and we’ll want to leave it. We shouldn’t wait for a spiritual miracle of transformation where our desires for a specific sin are completely removed. Paul says to “train yourself for godliness” (I Timothy 4:7) and to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). True repentance requires our meaningful action.

We can’t cross our fingers behind our backs with God. He knows the thoughts and intents of our hearts (Hebrews 4:12). He knows the difference between “I’m sorry” and sincere repentance.

Discussion Questions

  1. What sin are you struggling with today?
  2. When you take it to God in prayer, do you repent of it or do you merely say you’re sorry?
  3. What is holding you back from truly repenting and forsaking your sin?
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