…your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.2 Corinthians 7:9-10
When we sin, we often feel bad for sinning. We feel regret and conviction. Paul calls this “Godly sorrow.” Sometimes it’s worse and we feel guilt and shame. Paul calls this “worldly sorrow.” We might even ask for forgiveness for our sin, our mistake, our wrong words or actions. But none of this is repentance.
The word in the Greek translated as “repentance” is the word metanoia. It means “a change of mind.” But even if we feel bad about our sin, we still haven’t had a change of mind yet. We likely knew what we did was wrong before we did it. The changing of the mind, or repentance, is not about the wrong words or actions we did. Repentance, or “a changing of the mind” isn’t directed toward the action, but, instead, is directed toward the lie that we believed that led to the wrong action.
At the root of sin is a lie we are believing. The fruit of sin then is the wrong action or wrong words. We may feel worldly sorrow (guilt, shame) about the action. We may even feel Godly sorrow (regret, conviction) about the action. But all of that is at the surface level of the fruit. Real repentance gets to the root, to the lie.
So even if you’ve asked for forgiveness and felt terrible about your sin, it is possible that you still haven’t repented! Yes, you read that correctly. Even if you feel bad about your sin, it doesn’t mean you’ve repented! Paul instructs Timothy about leading people to repentance and not just sorrow for their sin.
Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.2 Timothy 2:25-26
Notice that repentance isn’t about feeling bad. Repentance is about spotting the lie, rejecting it, uprooting it, and replacing it with the “knowledge of the truth.” Repentance is about people “coming to their senses.” If you haven’t discovered the lie about God, the lie about yourself, or the lie about others that you believed that was at the root of your sin, then you haven’t repented yet.
Only after we have discovered the lie and replaced it with truth have we “changed our mind.” And only after repentance do we experience the transformation that we seek. This is what Paul was getting at when he wrote, “be transformed by the renewing of your mind“(Romans 12:2).
Jesus always paired “repent” with “believe.” The message was “Repent and believe..” In other words, change your thinking, reject the lies, and believe the truth. This is the heart of repentance.
Worldly sorrow (guilt, shame) is just a tool of the enemy. It leads to more death. Godly sorrow (regret, conviction) is useful insomuch as it leads us to repentance. Repentance is a discovery of our faulty thinking, an examination of the lies we are believing, and a rejection of those lies in favor of believing the truth about God, ourselves, and others.
Repentance is what begins to set us free from bondage of sin. Repentance leads to life! (Acts 11:18).
So, next time you’re dealing with your own sin, don’t stop at the level of the fruit. First, don’t ever buy into the lies of guilt and shame. But also, don’t stop at the level of conviction and Godly sorrow. Dig down to the “why” of your sin. What lies were you believing? Uproot those lies and replace them with truth. You may need the help of a trusted, mature follower of Jesus to help you with this. Repentance is what leads us to full life, and that can only happen when we’ve experience a change in our mind about the lies we have believed.