one might think that all repentance is a good thing, but on the contrary the bible describes two different types of repentance, only one of which is honorable to God and acceptable in His sight. under God's inspiration, paul wrote:
"for godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death [ie divine judgment]." 2 corinthians 7:10
first a few marks of worldly grief, and then i will expound more on God-centered repentance.
worldly grief is characterized by regret for sin because of the consequences of sin (ie getting caught) and what other people think. self-pity is another mark of repentance that is in opposition to God and the gospel.
worldly grief ignores the truth and beauty of the gospel, and pushes God away by saying "i will feel bad enough about my sin that i deserve to be forgiven."
furthermore, worldly grief often focuses on outward sin (ie getting drunk, stealing) rather than the seat of sin in the heart (pride, lack of joy). paul says that this focus on outward goodness that is not motivated by God's grace is "having the appearance of godliness but denying its power" (2 timothy 3:5a) and goes on to say that true followers of jesus should avoid such people (v. 5b).
it is good to be aware of worldly grief so that we can identify and run from it, but our real focus should be on godly grief, what it is characterized by and how to cultivate it.
true repentance is motivated by the love of God (romans 2:4). it agrees with God's word that says "none is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one... there is no fear of God before their eyes." (romans 3:10-12, 18) but also "in this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him." (1 john 4:9).
in light of this, tim keller writes that "the gospel creates the only kind of grief over sin that is clean and does not crush" because the recognition of the depth of sin is accompanied by a deeper understanding of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross and God's love that motivated such a sacrifice. furthermore, as Christians grow in their faith, they will experience deeper conviction of sin that is always accompanied by a deeper amazement and enjoyment of the depth and riches of God's grace and love.
in 2 corinthians 7, paul writes extensively about the results of true repentance. he rejoices that the corinthian's godly sorrow for their sin has resulted in eagerness to clear themselves, fear, zeal, longing and joy.
thomas watson identified six characteristics of true repentance, based on psalm 51. tim keller summarizes the six this way (and suggests using it as a template for prayer):
"1. sight. "my sin is always before you" (v. 3). no one can truly repent without the Holy Spirit enabling us to see the reality of our sin.
2. sorrow. "against you, you only have i sinned, and done what is evil in your sight" (v. 4a). repentance involves genuine sorrow over sin, the way it has grieved God, and what it cost him. false repentance is sorrow over the consequences of sin, the way it has grieved you, and what it has cost you. self-pity may appear to be repentance, but it is not.
3. responsibility. "You are proved right when you speak, and justified when you judge" (v. 4b). real repentance makes no excuses, shifts no blame, takes full responsibility, and readily accepts any consequences without complaint. this is true confession- agreeing with the judge.
4. humility. "surely i was sinful at birth..." (v. 5). in real repentance, there is a change in one's whole attitude toward oneself. you become dependent on God and others. the myth of self-sufficiency is shattered.
5. hatred. "what is evil in your sight" (v. 4). if there has been real sorrow for sin, (and not just its consequences) you will come to hate the sin itself. watson says it is so unmask our sin and to see it as the "most misshapen monster" that it is.
6. change. "grant me a willing spirit" (v. 12). if the other five elements are present, you will forsake the sin. its power over you will be weakened and you will at least make progress out of it. "
how has the gospel shaped your ability to repent? what verses bring you the most refreshing enjoyment of God's grace during your sorrow over your sin?