I just got off a really hard phone call. Bu-dump. Bu-dump. My heart hadn’t stopped racing. Trembling, my fingers slowly wiped off the trails of sweat on my face. The nerves did get to me, but I knew I did the right thing. I had just gotten off a call with a friend of mine who had wrongfully accused me of something I did not do. What this person did deeply hurt me, and after consulting with my parents, I confronted this person with love and the truth. Ding! I just got a message from this friend. It read, “I’m so sorry. I feel so so bad. I love you…” At that moment, something strange about that message struck me. I couldn’t place my finger on it, but after a few weeks of interacting with that friend, it was clear to me: that message and that person’s feelings were not genuine and did not change that person’s attitude or actions whatsoever.
“Feelings, nothing more than feelings . . .
Feelings, for all my life, I’ll feel it. . .
Feelings, wo oh oh feelings.” – “Feelings,” Andy Williams
Who would have known? Feelings play a really significant role in repentance. Most of the time, repentance is portrayed as a cut-and-dry sort of practice. You recognize your sin, you say sorry, and you never do it again… end of story, and everything’s great! If you believe that, like how I used to a few months ago, you haven’t experienced true repentance yet! It is a lot messier and harder, and you will feel hurt and pain because everything—every single aspect of, motive in, and step toward true repentance contradicts the very core of your sinful nature. Your spirit will clamber for repentance but your flesh will fight back and pull on your heartstrings. In my first article where I introduced this series, I defined repentance as “a change of heart.” That is as simple as it gets, right? Well, guess what? Anything that involves the heart involves feelings. It is pretty self-explanatory that realizing you did something wrong will make you feel sad, but here is where the potential problem lies: why do you feel sad? Is the motive behind your feelings pure or self-focused? Basically, what distinguishes godly remorse from ungodly remorse?
In this article, we will look at the second step toward true repentance: Remorse. If you haven’t read my introductory article to this series and my last article which was on the 1st step to true repentance, “Realization,” you may read them in the catalog of earlier articles! There is a ton of eye-opening truth to talk about concerning godly vs. ungodly remorse, so I will be splitting this step into two articles. There are a total of 5 characteristics of godly remorse, and we will cover the first two here.
#1 Godly remorse is INTERNAL.
Godly remorse is not superficial or self-imposed, nor is it a theatrical act and outburst to prove a certain point to people around you, but it is agony rooted in the inner realization of your sin. The remorse of hypocrites exists solely on their faces, as it says in Matthew 6:16, where “they disfigure their faces to show others” (ESV). Godly remorse goes beyond dramatic displays of emotion. A person undergoing the process of repentance must ask himself: Am I “disfiguring my face” and acting in a way to draw others’ attention to my sorrow? If so, why? Whether remorse is godly or ungodly ultimately comes down to the motive and conscience of the person. True remorse of sin flows out of a pure conscience with right motives and a heart with the desire to change. It comes from deep within, like how the people listening to Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 were “cut to the heart” (ESV).
#2 Godly remorse mourns over the ROOT OF SIN, not punishments/consequences that come with getting caught.
When we experience godly remorse, we will mourn over the undeniable depravity of our soul. In his repentance before God after committing adultery with Bathsheba, King David cried out in Psalm 51:3, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me” (ESV). He continues in verse 5, declaring, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (ESV). Wailing with great sorrow before God, King David does not simply mourn over his specific act of adultery but the root of his sin: his wicked heart. Upon recognizing his original sin and his need for God’s mercy, King David experiences a feeling of brokenness, which in essence is godly remorse. He describes this as a “broken and contrite heart” in verse 17 of Psalm 51. Ask yourself: Am I grieved by the sin in my heart that angers a righteous God? Or do I simply feel sorry for myself and the consequences I have to face as a result of this sin?
So much is still to be said about godly remorse, but for now, remember this: you can very well feel sorry and cry for hours on end and not be repentant. I know I have certainly bawled my eyes out without having a change of heart at all. I am still figuring this out, but I know this: Even if we are uncertain of how pure our motives are, we can ask God to cleanse our hearts and purify our consciences. When feeling mournful about our sin, many of us tend to fall into a cycle of self-loathing and dwelling on our mistakes rather than focusing on redeeming our relationship with God. To have a “broken and contrite heart” does not mean hating yourself or beating yourself up. Rather, it is having an attitude of humility and a heart focused on growing closer to God by committing our sins to Him. We don’t need to hate ourselves for the wrong things we’ve done because Jesus has already washed us clean. We should rejoice because of God’s lavish grace! And if you are afraid and don’t know where to start, just know that we do not need to be “there” or of a certain “spiritual level” to talk to Him. What matters is that you reach out to Him and want to change.
“Change my heart oh God.
Make it ever true.
Change my heart oh God.
May I be like you.” – “Change My Heart Oh God,” Various artists
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