There is a big difference between sorrow and repentance. Perhaps know one understands this better than a parent. There were many times when I witnessed my children treating sinfully a sibling. Sometimes their sin required corporal punishment. Oftentimes it required their standing before their brother or sister and saying the words, “I’m sorry.” Oh, there is no doubt they were sorry. They were sorry they were caught. They were sorry they were grounded. They were sorry they were spanked and their posterior was hurting. They were sorry they were being forced to humble themselves before their fellow family member. Like many, they were sorry to have received the consequences of their actions, but were they sorry and grieved over their offense of God and neighbor? Frankly, I think this was somewhat rare.
However, confusing sorrow and repentance is not an elementary issue. It is something men and women struggle with as well. Paul addresses the difference in 2 Corinthians 7:10. Hosea expresses this difference as well:
Hosea 7:14 They do not cry to me from the heart, but they wail upon their beds; for grain and wine they gash themselves; they rebel against me.
The Israelites were being severely chastened by God. Their spiritual harlotry had roused the anger of their long-suffering God, and he was violent in his discipline. As a result, the Israelites wailed. Greatly troubled were they over their missing grain and wine. Incredibly sorrowful were they over the consequences of their sin. However, they were not yet truly repentant, for still they did not cry to God from the depths of their heart. They did not long for a renewed and righteous relationship with him. No, they were rebels; they were sincerely grieving and sorrowing rebels.
It is right and reasonable for one to grieve over lost blessings. When God disciplines his child, it is acceptable to cry. One ought to mourn over monies squandered, relationships ruined, unwed pregnancies, jobs lost, fines levied, sentences pronounced, health harmed, lives lost and children scarred. The consequences of sin are horrific. So bad are they that even the ungodly should moan and wail when reaping that which they have sown, and they do. However, much more is required of the worshiper of Jesus Christ. He should be internally devastated over disappointing the Father and Son and quenching of the Holy Spirit. He should be greatly troubled that, once again, he gave honor to Satan above Jesus Christ. The Christian should violently hate sin and not just the consequences of sin. Such a reaction is the work of the Holy Spirit. Such a reaction requires much time spent in prayer.
The Puritans understood man’s tendency to grieve over the consequences of sin more than sin itself. One of their prayers has been recorded and passed down through the ages. I first came across this prayer in The Valley of Vision. Perhaps this adapted prayer might be a guide for us today as we confess our sins, repent over our transgressions, and sorrow over the consequences of our foolish rebellion.
O God of Grace, You have imputed my sin to my substitute, and have imputed his righteousness to my soul. You have clothed me with a bridegroom’s robe. You have decked me with jewels of holiness.
But in my Christian walk, my best prayers are still stained with sin. My penitential tears contain so much impurity. My confessions of wrong are so filled with sin. My pursuit of the Holy Spirit is tainted with selfishness.
O God of Grace, I need to repent of my repentance. I need my tears to be washed …
O God of Grace, grant me to never lose sight of the exceeding sinfulness of sin, the exceeding righteousness of salvation, the exceeding glory of Christ, the exceed beauty of holiness, and the exceeding wonder of grace.