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 Corinthians 7:8-10).
If Jesus Himself were to tell you that you have to build a house in order to be saved, what would you do? If you did not already know how to perform such a task, you would probably get busy learning carpentry and practicing the skills of the trade until you could do what was expected of you. Since Jesus says that we will perish if we do not repent (Luke 13:3), should we not learn what it means to repent? Repentance is not merely feeling regret for sins we have committed. It is not the act of confessing our sins or even asking forgiveness. When can you say that you have truly repented?
Although regret itself is not repentance, repentance is the effect of godly sorrow. The word most often translated “repent” in the New Testament is one that literally means to change one’s mind. This change begins in the honest heart that is filled with remorse over sin. Repentance is changing our mindset, our decision-making paradigm, and it is one of the most difficult things you will ever choose to do. If genuine repentance is the effect of godly sorrow, then the effect of worldly sorrow is death. Just look at Peter and Judas as an example of the difference: Judas’ remorse led him to a self-made gallows, but Peter’s led him back to his Lord. Regret will drive you to despair of past failures, but repentance brings the blessed assurance that your past failures will not destroy your future.
The fruit of repentance becomes evident to all who know our faults. Like the wind (John 3:8), repentance is not something that you can see, but you can see its effects. When many of the Pharisees and Sadducees came to his baptism, John told them to “bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Matthew 3:8). When we change the way we think, the way we act is certain to follow suit. We no longer participate in sinful behavior as we did before (1 Peter 4:1-4). The man who once stole for his living now earns his wages by honest means, and he even gives to those in need (Ephesians 4:28). Our manner of speech changes (Ephesians 4:25,29), and so does the company that we keep (2 Corinthians 6:14). Are the fruits of repentance visible in your life?
We will always come to regret the sins that we commit (see Genesis 42:21; Numbers 21:7; Judges 2:4), but as Paul told the Corinthians, genuine repentance is never regretted (2 Corinthians 7:10). If we know that this is so, why is it so difficult to bring ourselves to repent? Why did Paul himself kick against the goads for so long (Acts 26:14)? Perhaps he was afraid he would fail, and at least he was successful as a persecutor. After he finally took that step, however, do you think he ever regretted becoming a Christian (Philippians 3:4-11)? Repentance is a choice you will never regret, from now until eternity.
Copyright © 2016 by Roby Ellis, in The Elizabethton Edifier, July 10.