One of the most crucial aspects of genuine conversion is Godly repentance. Repentance is different from remorse but the two terms/concepts are often confused or used interchangeably. One leads to spiritual life. The other, to spiritual death.
Remorse connotes regret or sorrow. It is an emotional response to guilt. The most striking example of worldly remorse in the Bible is that of Judas Iscariot. Judas was one of the original twelve disciples who worked and lived along side Jesus in His earthly ministry. Judas was one in an extremely small minority who had the privilege of encountering first hand the revealed truth of God in His Son, Jesus Christ. He was exposed to more divine truth by example and precept, than most people in the history of humanity. He was an eyewitness to the miraculous. Yet he rejected this truth and betrayed Jesus by handing Him over to the Jewish leaders who wanted to put Jesus to death. When Judas realized that the Jewish leadership intended to put Jesus to death, he was consumed by guilt and remorse. He could not escape the sovereign design that rules every person ever born: that the law is written on the human heart (Romans 2:15) which results in the conscience either accusing or defending them. This remorse culminated in his suicide.
Proof that Judas’s sorrow was ungodly and selfish is seen in the fact that he made no effort to defend or rescue Jesus. He had no desire to vindicate or save Jesus but only to salve his own conscience, which he attempted to do by returning the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders. (source)
Let’s contrast this with Godly repentance. Repentance denotes a change of mind and a change of direction; to turn from. It is not simply admitting that we have done wrong and are guilty of sin, but recognizes that we have sinned against God. One of the best examples of true repentance in the Bible is King David. Often times, when David is used as a study or illustration, the emphasis is on his flagrant and extreme sinfulness and God’s amazing grace and forgiveness. People like to be reminded that no sin is too big for God. And I am certainly thankful that God is willing to forgive exorbitant sin in His people. But I do not believe that is the main reason the account of David is included in the Holy writ. I believe it is because David was great at repenting.
David committed adultery and then murdered the husband of the woman he sinned with in order to hide his sin. Yet when confronted by the prophet Nathan, David responded “I have sinned against the Lord.” (2 Samuel 12:13) Yes, David had sinned against the woman, her husband, his own family and his subjects. But he recognized that foremost he had sinned against God. And he not only felt sorrow from guilt but he was repentant because he turned to God for forgiveness. One of the most beautiful Psalms penned by King David is Psalm 51, a prayer of repentance:
Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness;
According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity
And cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
And my sin is ever before me.
Against You, You only, I have sinned
And done what is evil in Your sight,
So that You are justified when You speak
And blameless when You judge.
Read the whole thing here. You can see the difference. David’s Godly repentance rightly recognized that it was God he had sinned against. He admitted his sin and pleaded for forgiveness to the only one who could pardon him. Judas recognized his guilt and felt remorse, but he never turned in faith to the one who could cleanse him. He never acknowledged who he had sinned against. Instead, his self-focused pity worked itself out in his physical death by his own hand, and his eternal spiritual death in hell.
If the Lord has given you the gift of faith and Godly repentance, rejoice and thank Him today! As believers we will still sin until we are with the Lord. Be quick to confess and turn from your sin, knowing it is God alone whom you have sinned against. And thank Him for His unmerited grace and forgiveness! What a relief and joy, to know that there is a remedy for our sinfulness.
Soli Deo Gloria!