Repentance: It's More Than Saying Sorry

Repentance is a common topic of discussion in counseling, and frequently a stumbling block for those who seek redemption and restoration.

In the movie “Just Friends,” a comedy that was released a number of years ago, the star female character sings a song she wrote where the chorus is, “Forgiveness—it’s more than sayin’ sorry.”

Aside from the ditsy personality of the character, the song was funny because of the obvious blunder she’d made in understanding the nature of forgiveness. Less comical, is the reality that within the church, we’ve misunderstood the nature of repentance, and this misunderstanding often has disastrous consequences.

We might consider singing our own song: Repentance—it’s more than sayin’ sorry.

In Judges 10:6-18, we find the nation of Israel once again caught up in the cycle of idolatry. Despite all that the Lord had done in and through them, they turned away from God to serve and worship the false gods of local nations. In response, God raises up neighboring people groups to fight with and oppress Israel.

Israel then begs God to forgive them, and to deliver them from the hand of their oppressors. The Israelites confess their great sin, and the Bible records that they even put away their false gods and served the Lord. But, apparently, God was unmoved by their confession and supposed acts of repentance.

Was the nation of Israel truly repentant, an essential element of biblical faith and restoration, or were they merely lamenting the fruit of their disobedience? The record seems to doubt their sincerity.

This is a biblical example of the places in which we are tempted to avoid repentance. In order to evidence true repentance, a genuine admission and acknowledgement of sin in total is required.

For the human heart, puffed up with pride, and self-serving motivations, this can be a repulsive experience.

Recognizing without caveat that our sin is always against God (Psalm 51:4), frequently against our neighbor, and always leading to some level of relational fracture, the essence of biblical repentance calls us to “turn away from” the originating sin, and back to the righteousness of God.

This is the Spirit-empowered birthplace of biblical redemption and restoration, made possible by the cross of Christ. This is where peace between God and man, and a man and his neighbor are found. Without it, the roots of the dilemma will only grow deeper, and hope for healing will continue to fade.

Fortunately for us sinners, the foundation of repentance isn’t found within us, but in God. The grace of God makes repentance possible for us, whereas unregenerate hearts would never choose the true and lasting path of peace in Christ (Genesis 6:5).

Cornelius Plantinga wrote in his book, “Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin”, that, “Human sin is stubborn, but not as stubborn as the grace of God and not half so persistent, not half so ready to suffer to win its way.”

These great truths provide us with hope in the midst of our struggle with sin, and its resulting effects.

They make clear for us that repentance is about much more than saying “sorry.”

In repentance, God gets the glory, and we get the joy.