The concepts of regret and repentance have been on my mind quite a bit lately. Perhaps this is because I have a bad habit of sinning, and a bad habit of hurting those I love. Perhaps it's because it is the season of Lent. Perhaps it's because I just preached a little on repentance a couple days ago. Regardless of the reason, these two words have been bouncing around in my head, and I feel a need to explain these two concepts as I see them, and as I believe we should all see them...
Regret vs Repentance (definitions according to me)Regret: When I think of regret, I think of actions (or inactions) that we wish we could change - Actions we would change if we were able to jump in a time machine and do so. Regret is filled with shame and guilt that eats away at us. It is a "worldly sorrow."
Repentance: Repentance is not just being sorry about something. It isn't a shame or guilt that eats away at us. It is a "Godly sorrow" that leads us to know we have screwed up, and leads us to want to change our hearts and minds.
Remorse: I have added this word simply because most of what I've been reading about this topic have the subject of "remorse vs repentance", or lump remorse in with repentance. To me, remorse is being sorry for your actions... it is feeling guilty. Both regret and repentance can have a degree a remorse attached, which makes this term related to both "worldly sorrow" and "Godly sorrow" depending on the reason attached and what affect it has on our lives.
For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly grief produces death. (2 Corinthians 7:10)
Worldly sorrow vs. Godly sorrowWorldly sorrow is that guilt and shame we feel - but it is often not a guilt or shame or remorse over our actions, but rather over getting caught or the fear that we could have gotten caught. It is when we beat ourselves up repeatedly for our actions. It is when we know we did something wrong, and so we try to hide it. This worldly sorrow doesn't cause change within us; and instead we find ourselves either standing still in our own misery or repeating the same mistakes over and over again - both of which compound the guilt and shame.
Godly sorrow on the other hand is feeling sorry for our actions, but moves us to change. It moves us to bring our sins to Christ... to the cross. It's knowing we sinned, but instead of hiding that sin, we confess it to God and ask forgiveness. It is changing our hearts and minds - asking God for help in changing our hearts and minds - and letting God forgive us and put us back on the correct path towards him.
Standing still in sin vs Moving forward in hopeAs I stated earlier, regret brings a desire with it to go back in time and erase the sin that happened. It makes us want to hide the sin, or pretend it didn't happen. We put all our focus on wishing it hadn't happened, or that we hadn't got caught; or on trying to make it so we don't get caught. We put all our focus on the guilt and shame we feel. We let it eat away at us.
A biblical example of regret and worldly sorrow is Judas Iscariot. While Matthew 27 does say that Judas repented, that repentance didn't come until he saw that Jesus was condemned. That points more towards a remorse born of regret rather than true repentance. And we see that he did feel this guilt and shame to the point he hanged himself. We see that his guilt and shame did not turn him to Christ, but rather away from him.
Instead of getting caught up in regret and wallowing in our guilt and shame, we need to be moving forward. We need to allow our sins to change our hearts and turn us back to Christ and the Cross. This cannot happen if we're trying to hide our sin, or if we're pretending it did not happen. This cannot happen if we were to go back in time and change that sin so that it never occurred. Besides the fact that we simply cannot change our actions, even just regretting a sin to the point of focusing on wishing it hadn't happened keeps us standing still. It keeps us from moving forward.
Instead, we should have a Godly sorrow for what happened. Yes, we will feel guilt and remorse for our actions, but this pain should not exist indefinitely. This pain should lead us to the Cross - to Christ. It should bring about a change within us.
A biblical example of this Godly sorrow can be seen in Peter. At the end of Matthew, Chapter 26, Peter realizes that he has indeed denied Jesus three times, and he runs off and weeps. This remorse is true and leads Peter back to Christ. It can be assumed that Peter's actions do bring about repentance from him, and forgiveness for him, as we see later after Jesus has risen, the young man in the tomb specifies to the two Marys that they are to tell the disciples and Peter that he is coming to see them. We see Peter teaching and preaching about Christ. We see him moving forward in Christ.
And this is what we need to do. We need to accept the sin happened, confess that sin to God, asking his forgiveness, and then move forward in hope and love. Move forward in Christ.