We are all familiar with the old saying, “A guilty conscience needs no accuser.” That maxim was proven true according to a store owner in Nashville, TN. Nearly twelve years after a man robbed the InterAsian Market and Deli at gunpoint and took $300 from the cash register, the anonymous bandit wrote a letter of apology and asked for forgiveness.
The thief, who claimed to be a former drug addict, mailed a letter containing $400 to the store owner, Mr. Wu. The letter said, “I must make amends to the people I have hurt in the past.” The penitent outlaw added, "I hope you will accept this money and find forgiveness.”
Mr. Wu was floored and amazed by the thief’s attempt to pay restitution. The humble clerk posted the apology letter on Instagram and Twitter with the following statement, “To the anonymous person, we want to tell you all is forgiven and thank for your note. We don't care about the money. We are more inspired and touched by your act. We hope you find peace in life and prosperity.” Mr. Wu told one reporter, “Even though it's hard sometimes, we need to give people a second chance.”1 (click here for full story)
A story like that rarely makes the news, but when it does we are reminded of our need for forgiveness and repentance in the aftermath of sin. In fact, we read such a story in Luke 19:1-10 when Jesus went to the house of a nefarious tax collector named Zacchaeus. Apparently, the presence of Jesus caused ole’ Zack to be truly humbled and repentant over his sins. Like most IRS agents of his day, Zacchaeus was guilty of defrauding people, charging them more on their taxes and keeping the extra dough for himself. His guilty conscience condemned him as Jesus sat in his living room. He fessed up to his crimes and purposed in his heart to make things right, “Behold, Lord, half of my good I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold” (Luke 19:8).
When God has convicted us of our sins, it’s not enough just to confess it with a trite prayer. True repentance follows through with godly sorrow that leads to restitution. It’s not an attempt to pay for our sins, which is impossible, but a desire to show that our heart has truly changed.
Repentance is an essential part of salvation. In fact, there is no true salvation apart from repentance. Our most modern evangelistic outlines have removed repentance from them, which dangerously leads to false conversions. However, the Bible is clear on the necessity of repentance.
"No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3)
"Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out" (Acts 13:3)
"The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent," (Acts 17:30)
"As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death." (2 Cor. 7:9-10)
Too many people think they're saved because they've prayed a prayer for salvation, yet they've never truly repented, but have continued living their same old sinful lives. How do you think Jesus would have responded if Zacchaeus had said, “Jesus, I accept you as my Lord and Savior. However, I'm going to continue ripping people off?”
The most common Greek word in the New Testament translated “repent” is metanoeo, which is based on the word for thoughts or intentions,nous and it literally means to “change one’s mind.” Penitent people take a deep look inside and face the truth about themselves—how they’ve been excusing their sins and hurting others. They come to a decision point, or what Paul called, “the point of repentance” (2 Cor. 7:9), in which they change their mind from pleasing the flesh to pleasing God, from trusting in self to trusting in a Savior.
Thus, there is a definite distinction between remorse and repentance. Repentance is a change of mind that leads to a change of direction. Remorse is temporary promise to "turn over a new leaf." Repentance is a verb that leads to transformation. Remorse is an emotion that leads to behavior modification. Repentance is driven by a godly sorrow over sin. Remorse is driven by a selfish sorrow over being caught. Repentance is a heart-transplant performed by Jesus, while remorse is putting a Band-aid on a diseased heart.
So the question is, have you truly repented?