He sat in my office and was remorseful. He acknowledged struggling with a sexual addiction that cost him his marriage. He was sorry for the pain his problem caused everyone. But, he wasn’t repentant.
What’s the difference?
Paul makes the distinction between worldly sorrow (remorse) and godly sorrow (repentance). 2 Corinthians 7:9-11 provides insight.
Remorse is the beginning step on the road to repentance. Remorse has to do with getting caught, with wrong doing, and the consequences of actions. The words of remorse deal with our guilt — a guilt we would like to have removed.
Words like, “I am sorry for hurting you” or “I let you down, please forgive me” are statements of remorse. But, they don’t acknowledge what the person has actually done. They aren’t true repentance.
Paul says in Corinthians that when we have godly regret (repentance), we go first to God and acknowledge our sin. We acknowledge our wrong doing first rather than only focusing on the consequences of our actions. My client was sorry for the pain he caused his family, but there was no acknowledgement for his sin and personal problem.
He was hoping his family would accept his remorse and take away his guilt. He had regret and wanted it removed. But, his family noticed that he never took responsibility for his behavior. He didn’t confess his sin to them. Only God can take our regret and remove it completely.
Remorse is managing consequences, but repentance is a turning away from our behavior or sin and changing. Repentance involves grief towards God because of our sin. Once we take that grief to Him, we can leave it at the Cross, and allow His grace and love to change us.
Repentance leads to change. So while remorse is important, it is true repentance that’s needed.