"Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death" 2 Corinthians 7:10
Why do so many, who are still impenitent sinners, get the idea that they have repented? The only logical reason is that within the church in America there is a wholesale lack of instruction and discernment respecting true and false repentance. Thus I begin a short series on repentance, touching on four aspects of repentance
I. What is true repentance?
The short one paragraph definition of True Repentance would be that TRUE REPENTANCE involves a complete change of opinion on the nature of sin, and this change of opinion is followed by a corresponding change of feeling towards sin. Feeling is the result of thought, not emotion; and when this change of opinion produces a corresponding change of feeling, if the opinion is right (as defined by God) and the feeling corresponds, this is true repentance. The opinion now adopted, by the sinner would align with the opinion that God holds respecting sin. Godly sorrow, such as God requires, must spring from such views of sin as God holds, nothing less.
First. There must be a change of opinion in regard to sin.
To someone who truly repents, sin looks like a very different thing from what it does to someone who has not repented. Instead of looking like a thing that is desirable or fascinating, it looks the very opposite, it is repulsive and detestable, and she is astonished at herself that he ever could have desired such a thing. She looks at her own conduct as perfectly hateful; she looks back upon it and exclaims, "How hateful, how detestable, how worthy of hell, such and such a thing was in me."
Impenitent sinners might look at sin and see that it will destroy them, because God will punish them for it. However, it appears so desirable. They love it. They roll it under their tongue, savor it in their mouth. If it could end in happiness, they never would think of abandoning it.
Sinners do not see why God threatens sin with such terrible punishment. They
love it so much themselves, that they cannot see why God should look at it in such
a light as to think it worthy of everlasting punishment. When they are strongly
convicted, they see it differently, and as opinion is concerned, they see it in the same light as a true Christian does, then they only want a corresponding change of feeling to become Christians.
Many a sinner sees their relation to God to be such that they deserve eternal death, but her heart does not go with her opinions. This is the case with the devil and wicked in hell. Therefore; a change of opinion is indispensable to true repentance, and always precedes it. The heart never goes out to God in true repentance without a previous change of opinion. There may be a change of opinion without repentance, but no genuine repentance without a change of opinion.
The unrepentant sinner has almost no right ideas, even so far as this life is concerned, respecting the sin. Suppose she admits in theory that sin deserves eternal death, she does not believe it. If she believed it, it would be impossible for her to remain an unrepentant sinner. She is deceived, if she supposes that she honestly holds such an opinion that sin deserves the wrath of God forever. However the truly convicted sinner has no more doubt of this than she has of the existence of God. She sees clearly that as a simple matter of fact, sin must deserve everlasting punishment from God.
Secondly. In true repentance there must be a corresponding change of feeling.
The individual who truly repents, not only sees sin as detestable, vile and worthy of abhorrence, but she genuinely hates it in her heart. A person may see sin to be hurtful and abominable, yet her heart loves it, desires it and clings to it (you know the person who says adultery is a sin, yet keeps doing it). But when she truly repents, she reels backwards in repulsion of it and renounces it.
The individual who truly repents feels sin as it is. When she views sin in its tendencies, it awakens a vehement desire to stop it, and to save people from their sins, and roll back the tide of death. When the Christian sets her mind on this, just as if she saw all the people taking poison which she knew would destroy them; she lifts up her voice to warn them to BEWARE.
She has not only an intellectual conviction that sin deserves everlasting punishment, but she feels that it would be right, reasonable, and just for God to condemn her to eternal death, that so far from finding fault with the sentence of the law that condemns her, she thinks it the wonder of heaven, a wonder of wonders, if God would forgive her. Instead of thinking it hard, or severe, or unkind of God, that unrepentant sinners are allowed to sent themselves to hell, she is full of adoring wonder that she is not sent to hell herself. It is the last thing in the world she would think to complain of, that all sinners are not saved, but, it is a wonder of mercy that the entire world is not damned. And when she thinks of such a sinner's as herself being saved, she feels a sense of gratitude that she never knew anything until she was a Christian.