Repentance is not optional in the life of a true Christian, it is required. The Lord Jesus began His earthly ministry with the call to repent (Matt. 4:17) and the apostles were charged to preach repentance as well (Luke 24:47).
Sorrow is an important part of repentance. Paul discusses two kinds of sorrow in his second letter to the Corinthians.
For though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it—for I see that that letter caused you sorrow, though only for a while— I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter. 2 Corinthians 7:8-11 (NASB)
First let's deal with the sorrow of the world. Worldly sorrow is sorrow that is centered on self. It is the sorrow one experiences when they are caught or exposed for their sin. It is the sorrow of getting caught with your hand in the cookie jar. A child is always sorry when this happens, but their sorrow is not repentant, it is punitive. The child knows they will be punished and that is what their sorrow is about. If the child had not been caught the behavior would have continued. Worldly sorrow is really remorse and has no redemptive quality and will produce no good fruit in the life of a person. Typically when caught pride is bruised (because we think we are too smart for that to happen) the person is then denied what they wanted, and their lust goes unfulfilled.
Worldly sorrow is not redemptive and because it is not redemptive it leads to guilt and shame, despair and self-pity, depression and hopelessness.
When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away Through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer. Psalm 32:3-4 (NASB)
On the other hand, godly sorrow is redemptive and is first of all evidence of a person being united with Christ. Godly repentance proves a person's salvation is real. Repentance is the result of conviction at the heart level that what they have been doing is wrong and sinful. They are cut to the heart and grieved at what they have done, and how their sin has offended a Holy God. Very often, a repentant person knows that confessing their sin will expose their activities and that other people will become aware of what they have done. While they regret the pain this causes people who may be hurt by their confession, they understand and accept this as a natural consequence of sinful actions.
I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I did not hide; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”; And You forgave the guilt of my sin. Psalm 32:5 (NASB)
When there is true repentance for sin there is evidence of that decision in the form of visible fruit or new results of that decision to change. This means the behavior does not continue. There is no return to the sinner's former way of life. The motive is to bring God glory by how life is lived. True repentance is visible as a person now is pursuing righteousness in all aspects of their life. Their conversations are different, their actions are different, their goals are different, all because their heart has been changed.
Sin is no longer acceptable to them, especially the sin that led to the repentance in the first place. There is shame and anger at their previous behavior, a true disgust for all they were involved in. They may become crusaders for righteousness in the area of previous sin. Many wonderful ministries have been born as a result of repentance! I can think of several who out of their repentance began ministries to combat sexual immorality, drunkenness, pornography, rebellion...these are all fruit of repentance!
We will continue our discussion on repentance next time!