I thank God for the gift of repentance. For the provision in the atonement, of forgiveness, cleansing, and restoration of relationship when I do.  What’s troubled me, though, is how often I seem to be “returning to the well”: asking forgiveness over and over again for the same things.

What about you?

Since “repentance” means to turn and walk the other way, why is it that we so often turn back?

Why do we repent of our repentance? 

I get that I’m fallen.  Human.  Frail.  All that.  And I get that Christ lives in me [Col 1:27].  That God has given me everything I need for life and godliness [2 Pt 1:3].

So, what of all this repenting and turning back and repenting again?

What does it take for repentance to stick?

Long ago, when I was a devoted “King James Christian”, 2 Corinthians 7:10 caught my attention. “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.”  Godly sorrow produces repentance we don’t repent of.  Repentance that sticks!

So, what kind of sorrow is “godly”?  How does God sorrow that is so different than the “sorrow of the world”?

When the “world” sorrows, it sorrows for itself.  It is sorry it got caught.  It is sorry for its loss.  It is sorry things didn’t turn out better. Sorry there are prices to be paid because of its poor choices.  Sad that it behaved the way it did.  Poor decisions produced outcomes it didn’t intend or choose.

That’s why worldly sorrow leads to death.

It is self-consumed.

Consider how differently God sorrows.  As mentioned last time, when God sorrows, it is for us.  Why did Jesus weep at the tomb?  He was impaled by the grief of Mary and those who loved her and Lazarus [Jn 11:35].

As Jesus approaches Jerusalem, he contemplates the difficulty that’s about to befall its residents, and he weeps for them [Lk19:41-44]God’s concern is not himself but others.

And, I think, that’s the key.

Repentance that sticks emerges from truly and deeply and honestly and gut-wrenchingly sorrowing for others.

In particular, for those our sinfulness has hurt.

This kind of repentance requires that we drink deeply from the cup of their suffering.  The suffering we have brought on, whether intended or not.

It is slow, awful work to honestly consider the impact of our selfishness on others.  To climb into their skin and feel the pain we’ve caused them.

Yes, it’s horrible.

And, life-giving.