Gilland: The heart of genuine repentance

Woman clasps hands in prayer

The year was about 1984, and I was a cast member in a church Christmas play in Henderson, Kentucky. My role was the town drunk – but that’s a story for another time.

In this play, there was an absolutely hilarious scene with a hard-nosed, wealthy businessman in the southside of Chicago – who was known to be gruff, demanding, and one who belittled his poor staff in his house – especially the butler, who seemingly was always apologizing.

During one of those conversations, the head of the house was railing out the butler, who repeatedly said, “I’m sorry.”

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Finally, the tycoon shouted, “Stop saying you’re sorry!”

With perfect timing and a stoic face, the butler replied, “I’m sorry for being sorry.”

The crowd roared in laughter, and the whole scene was incredibly memorable.

Sadly, our culture today really doesn’t understand the heart and meaning of the saying, “I’m sorry.” I have often heard someone attempt to be apologetic as they uttered the expression, “Well, if you feel that I’ve offended you, I’m sorry.”

Now, that is NOT the heart of either a sincere apology or of an admission to any guilt in their actions. That saying does not express anything of true contrition, or of the sorrow that is the root of the phrase, I’m sorry.”

It actually puts the responsibility on the offended party, with the insinuation that they “felt” offended – while the person who caused the offense in the beginning never admits to any wrongdoing.

The Bible is not vague at all when it comes to this subject. It teaches us that we are indeed guilty. Guilty of being sinful, something into which we are born, thanks to the fall of Adam and Eve in the garden.

Their sin was so great that it was imputed into every man and woman who ever lived afterwards – we were born in sin. And in our guilt, we should sense sorrow for our actions before God.

The good news of the Gospel was, and still is, the only thing that could reverse our direction, the only way we could ever see a change in our lives, both here and in eternity.

This state of separation from God that we were in, prior to our hearing and responding to the Gospel, is described in the Bible this way: “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Romans 5:10).

Jesus was and is our answer, and in the beginning of His public ministry, His first declaration to us began with “Repent…” (Matthew 4:17).

The Greek for this word is “metanoia” – it means a change of direction. Think of it like this: You were walking one direction, then you repent and turn 180 degrees to walk in a new direction. The opposite direction.

And it also carries the understanding of sorrow. Not just a fleeting moment of wishing we hadn’t done or said something that we now regret. Instead, repentance carries the understanding of “godly sorrow.”

It brings to us a deep contrition over our wrong actions. A state of unmistakable awareness that we were guilty. It gives us a clear call to make a turnaround in the way we live.

That call to repentance is not a one and done process. It is the tone in which He leaves our heart after salvation. A repentant heart is one that is acutely aware of not only past sin, but the fact that we still have the capacity to sin greatly.

Terry Virgo wisely taught us years ago that while we’ve been set free from “reigning sin” in our lives, we still deal with “remaining sin.”

That’s why we need each other, for encouragement and accountability. We have each other’s help. We have the Holy Spirit to guide us onward and to remember the words of Jesus. We have the truth of God’s Word to learn, and to carry it in our hearts each and every day.

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Just discovered this series somehow. Thank you to Mike Gilland and The MSDN for publishing these essays.