What is real repentance? Why do some people who sin and repent, fall right back into the sin over over again, whereas others seem to be able to break the habit? Paul says…

For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.

2 Corinthians 7:10

So what is genuine repentance? Paul says that it comes about as a result of godly sorrow. But what is godly sorrow? It is the kind of sorrow that God feels as a result of a sin. Obviously God doesn’t sin, but His children do, and when God’s children sin, God feels sorrow. What God wants is for His children to feel the same kind of sorrow that He feels. When that happens, that kind of sorrow motivates a real change in action.

When someone does wrong and gets caught, invariably that person will feel twinges of regret. Too often, however, that feeling of regret is only superficial; they will regret that they got caught or they will regret how bad their punishment is going to be. But if you don’t regret your actual action, then you will do it again the next time you have opportunity.

The only way to truly repent, and to have a repentance that leads to salvation, is to change your perception of the action. You have to tell yourself “this was wrong. It was hurtful. It was pointless. It should not have been done.” Once you say that, then you’ve truly changed your mind and you won’t do it again (or at least not so easily!). When a person repents the way God wants they will change their actions and never regret that they changed their actions. That’s what Paul means when he says it will be “not to be repented of.” The change and rejection of that sin in the future will not be regretted.

On the other hand is the sorrow of the world. This is the superficial “I got caught so I’ll say I’m sorry” kind of apology-making that goes nowhere and accomplishing nothing. This is why it is wrong for a person to say “I really want to commit this sin so I’ll just do it and then repent afterwards.”

That kind of attitude misunderstands the nature of repentance. The only way repenting in that situation will work is if the one who commits it genuinely regrets doing the sin in the first place. The way that person tells it though, he’s not going to regret it; he looks forward to it! He just wants to toss out a vain “I’m sorry” afterward just to cover his bases with the Lord, as though God is fine with you sinning so long as you flatter him with words. Words means squat! Actions are what matter to God.

We have to start looking at sin like it is a plague to stay away from, not as a goodie bag our mean old Dad doesn’t let us get into so we have to sneak around Him. Repentance means regretting that we contaminated our souls with the vile plague of sin. If that’s our attitude we’ll be far more resistant to sinning the next time we’re tempted. But if our attitude is “it’s fun to sin but God says not to…” then we will give in to temptation time and again.

We need more godly sorrow.