Saw a post this morning that I just had to re-post: "There's a difference between remorse and repentance. Remorse is being sorry for being caught. Repentance is being sorry enough to stop." (Greg Laurie) I think this is so very true! There are probably a whole lot of us walking around out there with some warped idea of repentance - thinking it is what Greg said - being "sorry". The truth of the matter is that until we "stop", we are only "sorry". It isn't regret which brings a change of heart and mind, but truthful desire to do whatever it takes to change the way we have been thinking and acting! Regret may seem legit, but it is nothing more than a sense of thinking about what one has lost! I dropped my breakfast pastry on the floor the other morning - something I regretted. I thought about that warm pastry stuffed with strawberry filling for a little bit - eyeing it just lying there on the floor. I could have scooped it up - the five second rule, you know - but instead, the trash can became the resting spot for this "fallen pastry". I regretted my quick movement and slippery plate. I regretted my inability to enact the "five second rule". I regretted it all, but nothing changed the fact of the fallen pastry being just that - fallen!
Now this type of deep sorrow, godly sorrow, is not so much about regret; but it is about producing a change of mind and behavior that ultimately leads to salvation. But the other type of sorrow, worldly sorrow, often is fleeting and only brings death. Look at what is happening among you! Notice how authentic and diligent you have become because this godly sorrow has been at work in your community. But there’s more: your desire to clear your name, your righteous anger, your respect, your longing, your zeal, and your concern for justice. All these demonstrate how you have been made clean. (2 Corinthians 7:10-11 VOICE)
Paul had written to the church at Corinth to take action against some sinful actions within the church - things which were just being tolerated without ever being really addressed as sinful. He takes a pretty hard stand on what is "allowable" in the believer's life and what is not. Evidently the issue of a son taking his father's wife to bed was not really being addressed, so Paul takes a stand on the matter and his words are kind of interpreted by some as a little "harsh". His concern is because they have taken this sin "lightly" - not addressing it themselves. After a little time has passed, the second letter is written, and here we see the good news - the church leaders have addressed the sin, seen the man change his ways (repent), and now he is restored to fellowship among the believers in Corinth. At first, the letter to "take action" instead of sitting around with blinders on seems a little harsh, but if we aren't willing to be a little "harsh" on sin, then we will never see real change in our midst!
In this second letter, he commends them for not only taking the action to confront the sin, but the response of the one who has sinned - embracing the conviction by making a full change of mind and behavior. Herein is the crux of the matter - regret doesn't really change the behavior. The whole point of repentance is this change in action - we stop doing one thing and begin doing something completely different. If my sin was one of flying off the handle at the slightest thing which got on my nerves, then I would say the opposite of this was to become more even-tempered, less volatile, and kinder in my responses. The potential to sin still exists - people will do stuff around me which could "stimulate" my anger response - but I will choose a different response. Behavior is about choices. We choose something over something else. I could have picked up the warm pastry from the floor, brushed it off and consumed it - but that would have been putting myself at risk. We need to begin to see even the subtle compromises as "risky behavior" in our lives, for even though we think we can "justify" them (like we do with the five second rule), they still place an unwanted "risk" in our path.
Regret might open the door to repentance - it isn't all bad. If we stop at regret, we will always be looking back with longing at what we could have had, done, enjoyed. It is this "looking back" which Paul challenges us to deal with - no real change happens until we start looking ahead! Focus on the thing we think we will miss and we will never move away from it. We will just be drawn back to it over and over again! After that pastry landed in the trash can, I didn't pursue it again. It was a "goner" to me. Sin needs to be that way for us - put away, removed from our focus, and just a "goner" to us. Repentance points us in a new direction - through a change of mind and then a change of heart. We begin to think differently and then we act differently. Plain and simple, but oh so hard to do, right? We do ourselves an disservice to simply regret bad decisions. We do ourselves (and those around us) great service when we finally walk away from those things and make a new plan, allowing it to work in our lives, until it becomes the "new way" we live. This is what Paul commends in the Corinthian church - they acted upon what they knew to be true, taking tough steps to encounter sin, and then allowed God to do the rest. Maybe this is what separates regret from repentance - taking the tough steps to encounter what we know to be wrong and then allowing God to become our focus so we can allow him to do the work of renewing our behavior. Just sayin!