“Repentance vs. Remorse at Ground Zero”
As previewed last week, under the pale and process of Bible-based discipleship, knowing well (the truth) and being wise (lived out) about the differences between repentance and remorse is vital to “running the good race” (2 Timothy 4:7).
“Knowing well and being wise” includes the facts of the Bible AND the faith and foibles of our own hearts: There’s no comparison between being able to recite the penetential Psalm 51… and carrying it out in our daily lives, right? But The Spirit is so good to help us persevere!
This is why the “Bible math” computes: Knowing well + living it out = wisdom and compassion (James 1:2-5; Philippians 2).
Before we chew on some comparisons between repentance and remorse, allow me to highlight a few things:
First, like anything in this originally-perfect (Genesis 1,2), now-redeemed, and-yet-still-mighty-broken-world (John 17), matters of the heart, the woundedness of the spirit, and the challenges of living out our lives… are extremely complicated.
The dangers and examples involved in being overly simplistic or reductionistic (reducing problems to one or two “duck tape and baling wire” solutions) are all around us every day. What’s the “solution for the day” for our many woes? Education? The economy? Diet? New math? The debt? The war on terror? Diversity? Skin tightening? Sex, drugs, rock ‘n roll? Housing? Fairness? Going green? Friending? Equal opportunity? “Got Milk?”
The only panacea for dealing with problems must begin with The Prince of Peace—and then get unraveled and further redeemed and reconciled from there!
Second, please remember that ever since God created all things in the beginning (Genesis 1,2) “the law of the farm” has been in place: Life is organic; we reap what we sow; things in-kind live or die from other things in-kind.
Life’s a journey—to heaven on earth and heaven thereafter, or to hell on earth and hell thereafter. The choice is an important one… the most important one… to consider, “Today…” (Psalm 95:7-8).
Ergo, a life of repentance grows and grows into an ever-deepening and flourishing life in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and a great benefit to one’s heart and all humankind.
A life of remorse grows and grows into an ever-deepening and flourishing life in the Father of Lies, God’s opposite and opposition—and a great detriment to one’s heart and all mankind.
Martin Luther said, “Sin boldly, but repent more boldly still!” This apparently contradictory and wonderfully paradoxical statement not only represents a cornel truth of the entire Reformation, but is the most realisitic assessment of our blessed state as “Imperfect Sinners Saved by Grace and Sent to Serve”!
The choice WE make between repentance and remorse will determine our influence as “reformers” as well.
Third, as I speak to in my book, since my personal background includes being brought up in a shame-based home AND a merit-based church, I have a deeply personal experience in trying to dig out of a very, very deep hole of family-of-origin AND theological remorse. My story is far from unique. It’s personal, but it has universal application.
The entirety of my identity was based upon my unworthiness. Hiding, hardening, striving, and being a consummate chameleon to people and my circumstances was a way of life for me. The content I’m humbly, boldly, and highly imperfectly offering is motivated by having been redeemed by a mighty and merciful God—so that—I might help others be redeemed and encouraged as well (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
Lastly, much of the content below is based upon Psalm 51, the most important and marvelous “penitential Psalm” ever inspired and recorded by God’s mercy and for the benefit of all humankind.
Please understand and do all you can do to internalize, it was written by David, a shepherd boy, a King of amazing stature and influence, “a man after God’s own heart”, an ancestor of Jesus Christ… and an adulterer-murderer… who MODELED REPENTANCE.
There is no one who stands outside the reach of being capable of repenting and receiving God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ except the one who does not avail him or herself to it (Mark 3:28-29)!
1) Repentance is inside-out and begins in the heart of the heart—going deep into the deepest, most secret place—by acknowledging that even the slightest chance of our approaching the throne of God is a mercy of mercies beyond our wildest dreams.
It acknowledges the pandemic of sin, the “spiritual DNA of sin”, that began in Eden, resides in all humankind, and continues in our moment-by-moment misthougths and misdeeds. As St. Paul says, “I was born into sin, and I sin” (Romans 5:12-19).
It accepts as the motivation, the root cause, for all sin is, first and foremost, the enmity and our sins of against God Himself.
It sees sin as always being some form of idolatry that needs to be traced back, seen in the light of God’s perspective, judgment, and love—and then addressed.
It understands that the God-trespass emanates from the heart of our heart to others who we trespass against—because this is commensurate to breaking the two most important of the Ten Commandments (Matthew 22:34-40), AND reminds us of the shape of the cross: God’s doorway to justification and sanctification (ALL: Psalm 51:1-6).
1) Remorse is outside-in and begins with an “existential hatred” and ripples outward in an everyday disregard for God and a consequential fear of man, the world, and the devil by holding fast to real and imagined shame and guilt—and the axiomatic fear of being caught, found out, and seen by all… sans the fig leaf.
It flows from loving man more than God—the flip-flop that fuels a cycle of God-loathing, self-hatred, and man being the constant measurement of self and a threat to our frail and law- and works-based identity.
It propagates a myriad of heart hiding and hardening strategies that place us further and further into a corner living a life devoid of reality, unaware of self, and an existence of a poser.
It flows outward from the heart to it’s emotional reflection in a myriad of competing ambivalences, warring emotions, and “a life of the everlasting Munch Scream”.
It must replace the pleasures of intimacy with the will to power—and risking everything for more and more power—while avoiding intimacy on ANY level.
2) Repentance moves forward by seeing in the most detail possible the dirt, or sin… and embracing “The Only Worthy and Capable Heart Cleansing Agent”: Each of the person’s of the Trinity, and their marvelous, overlapping, and yet distinct roles in God’s redemptive plan.
It embraces and praises God in the truth of repentance not only as a restoration of relationships (God and man) but the infusion of joy and a recommitment to our worship, our witness, and our redeeming works in word and deed.
It encourages the new nature of a person with the Gospel.
It deeply understands (by God’s promise and “the accumulated affections of the heart of the sin-repentance-justifying-sanctifying cycle”) that repentance is our part of the heart-softening process that compels us to bear witness to the truth and love of God in the every day (Ezekiel 11:17-21)!
It establishes and regularly and joyfully renews our relationships within the Trinitarian community so that our earthly communities are established and regularly and joyfully renewed as well. (ALL: Psalm 51:7-19)
2) Remorse moves forward by furthering the process of compartmentalizing our heart so that the hiding from God and hardening to His (perceived) shaming of us will feel less painful and more “normal”, in the worst and sickest sort of way—as Smeagol, the kindly hobbit portrayed by being transformed over time into Gollum—and sequestering his “precious” (the power of sin) further and further, deeper and deeper, into The Misty Mountains.
It must create a more and more complex and intertwined super-structure of deception and “multiple personalities” around our heart (what we value most), our spirit (the emotions that flow from the heart), and our daily lives lived out. In time, this is an untenable life.
It’s organic: suppressed spirituality and emotions can cause chemical changes in the brain that can cause mental disorders that can get misdiagnosed and treated inappropriately that can enlarge into bigger and out-of-control problems: The over-encumbered heart and spirit will implode; the house of cards will eventually collapse. And few will have the vaguest idea why…
It will gradually be seen in the flip-flop of the sweet fruits of the spirit transformed into “the bitter fruits of the spirit”: Love embitters into fear and legalism; joy embitters into despair; peace embitters into worry and anxiety; patience into bitterness and resentment; kindness embitters into being unable to rejoice in anything; goodness embitters into insincerity and hypocrisy; faithfulness embitters into opportunism and convenience; gentleness embitters into superiority, self-absorption and self-promotion; self-control embitters into envy and impulsive living (Galatians 5:5-24).
It encourages us to try and force behavioral change—while paving the road to the continuance of sin and a deeper sense of condemnation.
It establishes and regularly pollutes our relationships within the Trinitarian community so that our earthly communities are ego-based, seen as competitors, and, at the very best, are mainlined on a very superficial and mercenary level. (ALL: Psalm 51:7-19)
It cannot accept God’s or man’s forgiveness—and a life of cruel bondage to “the would-a, could-a, should-a’s” results—and no deep joy or lasting contentment can ever be attained.
Repentance simplifies; remorse complicates. Repentance strengths our fellowship with Holy Spirit; remorse distances and destroys it.
It cannot be truly and deeply thankful or gracious to God or to man.
Being the Beloved Son or Daughter God: Entered In… and Grown Up… by Repentance
Because Biblical repentance involves a true change of heart and purpose, it will inevitably result in a change of behavior.
A One, Two Three, Holistic Punch… as Berkhof describes, 1) The intellectual (or heart) element of repentance as “a change of view, a recognition of sin as involving personal guilt, defilement, and helplessness.” 2) The emotional (or spirit) element is “a change of feeling, manifesting itself in sorrow for sin committed against a holy God.” 3) The volitional (or life lived out) element is “a change of purpose, an inward turning away from sin, and a disposition to seek pardon and cleansing.” (Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 486)
The Westminster shorter catechism states, “Repentance onto life is a saving grace whereby a sinner out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, does with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it onto God with full purpose of and endeavor after new obedience.”
Another principal theological dictionary defines repentance as, “Turn, Turn, Turn!” (The Byrds, 1959, based on Ecclesiastes)
“Turn, Turn, Turn!” “A radical conversion, a transformation of nature, a definitive turning from evil, a resolute turning to God in total obedience (Mark 1:15; Mt. 4:17; 18:3).
“Turn, Turn, Turn!” This conversion is once-for-all. There can be no going back, only advance in responsible movement along the way now taken. It affects the whole man, first and basically the centre or heart of a personal life, then logically outflows into his conduct at all times and in all situations, his thoughts, words and acts ( Matthew 12:33; 23:26 ; Mark 7:15).
“Turn, Turn, Turn!” The whole proclamation of Jesus is a proclamation of unconditional turning to God, of unconditional turning from all that is against God, not merely that which is downright evil, but that which in a given case makes total turning to God impossible.
“Turn, Turn, Turn!” It is addressed to all without distinction and presented with unmitigated severity in order to indicate the only way of salvation and sanctification there is.
“Turn, Turn, Turn!” It calls for total surrender, total commitment to the will of God. It embraces the whole walk of the new man who is claimed by the divine lordship. It carries with it the founding of a new personal relation of man to God.
“Turn, Turn, Turn!” It awakens joyous obedience for a life according to God’s will.” (Kittel, TDNT, 4:1002-3)
As Isaiah 55:1-13 says so mercifully and marvelously, “Come to the waters … buy wine and milk without money and without cost” (v. 1). “Eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance” (v. 2). “Listen, that you may live” (v. 3). “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near” (v. 6). But the passage also embraces repentance: “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; And let him return to the Lord” (v. 7).
Please, Beloved of God, WITHIN A COMMUNITY OF FAITH take all the time required to uproot any rotting untruths, assumptions, or self-protecting biases, repent of it in the forms offered above, and then deeply re-plant, re-root, re-new… these and other resources about the differences between repentance and remorse.
Thank you very much for your forbearance.
PLEASE, never forget,
“Repentance is an about face movement from denial and rebellion to truth and surrender…
It involves the response of humble hunger, bold movement, and wild celebration when faced with the reality of our fallen state and the grace of God…
It is a shift in perspective as to where life is found…
It is melting into the warm arms of God, received when it would be so understandable to be spurned.
Repentance is not a decision of the will to do right instead of wrong. It’s an internal shift in our perceived source of life.” (Dan Allender)