“Repentance always brings a person to the point of saying, ‘I have sinned.’ The surest sign that God is at work in his life is when he says that and means it. Anything less is simply sorrow for having made foolish mistakes—a reflex action caused by self-disgust.”
Oswald Chambers’ statement on the fruit of true repentance highlights the supernatural involvement of the Holy Spirit in the natural reaction of self-loathing. When a child is disciplined for what they have done wrong, they frequently begin a chorus of “I’m sorry!” in an attempt to forestall any punishment that may be due. This is, more often than not, a sorrow of fear, not a sorrow of repentance. Would they have been sorry had they not been caught? Possibly, but not to the extent that “repentance” carries with it.
One of the Hebrew words that we translate “repent” is nacham, which carries the implication of sighing or breathing strongly out of an emotional reaction to personal sorrow–Job used this to describe his own sorrow at questioning God in Job 42:6. When the prophet Jeremiah instructs the people to repent of their evil way and evil doing (Jeremiah 25:5), the Hebrew word used is the stronger shub, which means to turn away or retreat from. This is the most common word used in the Hebrew to carry the connotation of repentance as “turning” in the Old Testament.
In the New Testament, the Greek metanoeo is used by John the Baptist in his call for sinners to turn from their sinfulness and turn to God (Matthew 3:2). Jesus Himself also used the word to convey the concept of turning from sin (Matthew 4:17; Luke 13:3, 5; 17:4). Throughout the New Testament, the call is the same–to metanoeo, if you will, to turn away from our sin, and bid a hasty retreat from it into the loving arms of a merciful God.
Many people think they can prove their sorrow through acts of penance, either brought upon themselves or forced upon them by others. The sad fact is that this simply doesn’t cut it–how many people are there in “penitentiaries” around the world who are genuinely sorry for the crimes they committed and won’t repeat them when they are released? We are all guilty–Paul points this out in Romans 3:23. The Bible tells us that there will come a day when “every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phillipians 2:10-11), but even that will not lead to true, repentant sorrow. The only true repentance is that which comes from a humble, broken heart that realizes through the Holy Spirit’s guidance their need for a Savior, and results in a heart that is turned and forever changed by the forgiveness, mercy and love of the One who paid it all at the Cross.