True & False Repentance

Just as there is a saving faith and a spurious faith (see Day 15), there is also a true and false repentance. True repentance or “repentance to salvation,” as the Apostle Paul calls it in 2 Corinthians 7:10, is the product of “godly sorrow.” It results in a repentance “not to be repented of.” On the other hand, false repentance, which is produced by “the sorrow of the world,” results in “death.”

Esau is a good example of false repentance. Of him the Bible curiously says, “He found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears” (Hebrews 12:17). Although Esau was sorry for his sin to the point of tears, he never found the place of true repentance. How was this possible?

What appears inexplicable is explained by the Bible’s description of Esau as a “profane person…who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright” (Hebrews 12:16). Esau cared nothing about Christ, which is proven by the fact that he swapped his place in the lineage of Christ for a bowl of lentils (beans). Afterward, Esau’s brother, Jacob, tricked their father, Isaac, into giving him Esau’s blessing and accompanying inheritance.

It was the loss of his blessing and inheritance that broke Esau’s heart. Esau wasn’t sorry for his sin because it broke the heart of God or would one day bloody the body of Christ on the cross of Calvary. He was only sorry for the consequences of his sin. He couldn’t have cared less about what his sin would cost Christ; he only cared about what his sin had cost him.

Worldly sorrow leads to false repentance, never to salvation. It is found in the hearts of the profane, those who couldn’t care less that their sin nailed Christ to the tree. All they care about is avoiding or annulling the consequences of their sin. They’re never sorry for the sins they commit, just for the consequences they suffer.

This explains why the falsely repentant never truly turn from sin. Like Lot’s wife, they always look back to their own destruction (Genesis 19:29). There is no turning from sin because there is no transformation of character. The sinner always returns to his sin, just as the dog does to his own vomit and the washed pig to wallowing in the mire, because it is the sinner’s nature to do so (2 Peter 2:22). No wonder Jesus warned us to “remember Lot’s wife,” as well as taught us that no one putting their “hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 17:32; 9:62).

It is only those who have been divinely given “godly sorrow” who can offer to God the acceptable sacrifice of “a broken and contrite heart” (Psalm 51:17); that is, a heart broken and crushed over its sin against God. It is only those who have been divinely given “godly sorrow” who possess a repentance “not to be repented of”; that is, a miraculous transformation of character resulting in sin losing its luster and becoming appalling. It is only those who have been divinely given “godly sorrow” who will persevere unto the end and be saved (Matthew 24:13); that is, set their hands to the plow and never look back, proving themselves truly repentant and fit for the kingdom of God.

Sample Prayer:

I pray O God that the lost for whom I am burdened to pray will be given godly sorrow, which will enable them to offer to you the acceptable sacrifice—a heart broken over its trespasses and sins. May they each find the place of true repentance where the sinful nature is transformed into the divine nature and profane sinners are made fit for the kingdom of God by being transformed into persevering saints. Amen.