“I’m so sorry for…”  If you are like me you struggle to assess when your employee, child, spouse, counselee, or church member is genuinely sorry for their sin.  Repentance is not just an abstract principle; it produces observable, verifiable fruit in the demeanor and posture of our followers.  How do we, who are spiritual leaders, differentiate between shallow remorse and sincere repentance?

What are the differences between remorse and repentance?  (Stuart Scott, The Exemplary Husband)

  1. Remorse
  • Sorrow over getting caught or being found out
  • Sorrow over the consequences of sin or getting caught
  • Sorrow over the responses of others
  • The offer of an apology saying “I’m sorry” without any mention of repentance or change and without asking for forgiveness
  • Trying to do penance by doing unrelated good things to make the consequences go away, to try to cancel out one’s wrong doing, or to appease God
  • Making at least some justification for the sin committed
  • Complaining about the expectation of real change
  1. Repentance
  • Godly sorrow over the sin that has been committed because it is an offense before a holy God (Ps. 51:4)
  • A full admission of sin and responsibility for the sin and brokenness with no excuses to God or others (Ps. 51:3)
  • An asking of forgiveness from God and others who are involved with the perspective that forgiveness is not deserved (Ps. 51:3)
  • A hatred for the sin and a desire to avoid it completely (II Co. 7:11)
  • A plan and an enthusiasm to make changes (both away from the sin and toward righteousness), whatever it takes (Lu. 3:8-18; Ja. 1:22-27)
  • A willingness to accept the consequences of the sin and to see justice done (Lk. 23:40-43)
  • A desire to be in God’s Word and with God’s people (I Pe. 2:1-3; He. 10:19-25)

The key biblical passage is I Corinthians 7:

Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing.

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

11 For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter.

Before you can help those under your influence with their sin, you MUST be able to identify true, biblical, God-honoring repentance.  It is so easy to have fleeting remorse, but true repentance is life-altering.  Every spiritual leader must instruct and expect godly repentance to see their people be not just superficially but spiritually reconciled to the God of heaven.  By the way, the best way to lead others toward godly repentance is by your own personal EXAMPLE.  Nothing less will do to be divinely appointed agents of change; it’s the difference between salvation and death!