I’ve been thinking about repentance lately, both personally and as a nation. I listened to Dr. Sala’s commentary on my way to work yesterday, and wanted to share.
…my letter hurt you, but only for a little while–yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. (2 Corinthians 7:8-9)
In Russia and Slovak countries, when someone is converted, he doesn’t speak of being saved or even born again. He says, “I repented!” And that act of repentance has both a public and a private side. Publicly the individual has to acknowledge his sin and wrongdoing, and privately, the act is a humbling experience, a realization that what he has done is wrong accompanied by a sincere sorrow for wrongdoing.
In the West today have we lost sight of what repentance really means? Is simply saying, “I’m sorry!” and then getting on with life, assuming that everything is forgiven and should be forgotten, really sufficient? What is repentance, at least the kind that is genuine and acceptable in the sight of God?
The issue isn’t a new one. It’s the same one that Paul had to face in the Corinthian culture of the first century. But to recognize the parallels you need to understand something of the background of Corinth, which was a beautiful Roman city on an isthmus between the Aegean and Ionian seas. To call someone a Corinthian was not a compliment in Paul’s day because it bore the connotation of moral looseness and shoddy character.
As the result of his 18 months of ministry there, a church was born, and the moral problems of the converts were carried into their newly established lives as Christians. One man maintained a sexual relationship with his stepmother, and others seemed never to quite throw off their former lifestyles.
In his second letter, Paul confronts this issue of being genuinely repentant. He says that there are two kinds of repentance: the kind that makes you sorry because you got caught, and the kind that God honors, the kind that bears a deep sorrow for wrongdoing. You can read about this in 2 Corinthians 7:7-9.
The word that Paul used when he wrote of repentance is metanoia. It literally means a “change of mind.” Genuine repentance has four elements in it, and these are benchmarks by which you can discern the true from the false.
Element #1: A genuine sorrow for wrongdoing. This doesn’t mean an embarrassment because you got caught, but a sincere sorrow because of what you did. Wrongdoing always bears consequences to others—family, friends, business associates, as well as with God.
Element #2: Overt confession for wrongdoing. Public sins need to be confessed publicly; private sins, privately. The Bible says that whoever confesses and forsakes his sin shall prosper but the one who hides it faces the consequences. It is this element which usually reflects whether or not repentance is true or false.
Element #3: Accountability. The mark of a genuinely repentant individual is that he or she becomes willing to answer the tough questions and to allow someone to ask them without saying, “This is none of your business.”
Element #4: The acceptance of the consequences for wrongdoing. When Jesus confronted individuals who were wrong, He taught that part of the price of forgiveness is the willingness of the wrongdoer to assume the responsibility for what he has done wrong. That’s still true today. Forgiveness is one issue. Accepting responsibility for wrongdoing is entirely another issue—one that has been all but ignored in our generation.
When Paul confronted this issue, he concluded that there is a godly sorrow which leads to repentance and a “sorry-I-got- caught” kind which leads to death. Make sure you know the difference.
Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. (2 Corinthians 7:10)