REPENTANCE AND REMORSE
As Used in the New Testament
The two terms contrasted: similarities and differences.
REPENTANCE involves a change in the way we think and act. It results
in a change in lifestyle. The normal New Testament use of this word
involves a change from a sinful way of life to a way of life that
honors God. [See also the definition at the beginning of the "Repentance
- REMORSE may accompany the admission of wrongdoing, but it can
also be present when nothing wrong has been done. It focuses
on the consequences or effects of one's actions on others, but does
not necessarily imply that those consequences were caused by
wrongdoing. In 2 Corinthians 7:8-9, remorse is contrasted with
gladness or joy.
- A change in one's actions can be associated with remorse
- though this does not always occur. When it does, the biggest
difference between the words "remorse" and
"repentance" might be the emphasis. (The one would
emphasize the sadness, while the other would emphasize the changes in conduct.)
- Repentance is the more permanent of the two. Remorse can be
temporary. The absence of remorse can be quite permanent.
- [For those who may be interested in the original New Testament
Greek: The word group related to "metanoeo" is normally
translated as repentance, or repent. The word group
related to "metamelomai" is normally translated as remorse.
(In the KJV, this second group is also translated as repent.)]
God and Remorse: When God makes a promise or commitment, he
doesn't regret it at a later time.
This focuses on the absence of remorse. God never regrets
promises or commitments he makes, nor does he ever have a reason
to do so. He will never change his mind or regret what
he has done. What he says is "irrevocable."
- In the Old Testament, there is a sense in which God does have
regret over the consequences of actions he must take. When he has to
leave people to the consequences of their sins, he does not take
delight in their suffering. We must remember that remorse, in this
O.T. sense, does not suggest that God himself has done
anything wrong. (See the article, "What
About Repentance in the Old Testament?")
- God does not regret his commitment of love for the nation Israel
(a commitment he made to their forefathers) - Romans 11:29. (Many
translations use the word "irrevocable.")
- God will never regret (change his mind about) making Jesus the
high priest of our salvation - Hebrews 7:21. [Note: Since Jesus can
no longer die, he is a permanent high priest. This is
contrasted with the Old Testament high priests, who would remain in
that position only for a few years - that is, until death took them
out of that position.]
The Often-Temporary Nature of Remorse - 2 Corinthians 7:8.
The apostle Paul had regrets (remorse) over what he said to the
Corinthians, because it made them sorrowful. However, because their
sorrow led to something good, his regret was only temporary - 2
- In this passage, remorse is contrasted with joy. When the
Corinthians' sorrow led to the proper response, Paul's remorse
changed to joy and happiness.
- NOTE: This passage illustrates the focus of remorse, on the consequences
of an action. The remorse was present because of the Corinthians'
sadness, not because Paul had said something wrong. Paul needed to
say the things he did, and he was not wrong for doing so.
The absence of remorse does
not indicate that there is no need for it - Matthew 21:28-32.
The religious leaders of Jesus' day claimed they had no need for
remorse (or repentance). Yet the need was actually there. They should
have had sorrow for their sins, and then changed their ways. [Some of
their sins are listed in Matthew 23.]
- Jesus described these leaders in the parable of the two sons -
Matthew 21:28-32. The one son claimed that he was willing to do what
was right, but he didn't do it. This son illustrates the religious
leaders, who thought they had no need for John's teaching about
righteousness. They thought they were "good enough" without
it. [The word "remorse" is used only in connection with the other
son. See Section 6.]
The presence of remorse does not always indicate that
there is a need for change in conduct.
Remorse may occur because of something bad that a person has
done. A person may do something sinful and regret doing it -
especially after seeing the consequences of that action. In this
instance, the remorse ought to lead to a change in conduct.
(Whether or not the person is willing to make that change is
a separate issue. See Section 6.) Example:
Judas betrayed Jesus, and later regretted his sin - Matthew 27:3.
- Remorse may occur because of something good that a
person has done. A person may have to do something that causes pain
or sorrow to others, and he may regret that the pain must be
experienced by them. (For example, a parent may have to punish a
disobedient child, even though he regrets that the child has to
experience the pain.) In this instance, remorse does not
indicate any need for a change in conduct. Example: When Paul had to
reprimand the Corinthians, his conduct was godly. Yet he still had
regret that they were filled with sorrow - 2 Corinthians 7:8.
Remorse can lead a person toward
change in conduct, but it does not always do so.
Remorse without change: Judas - Matthew 27:3. (If he had been
repentant, he would have turned back to Jesus.)
- Remorse associated with change: From the parable of the two sons
- Matthew 21:28-32. The one son chose to do what was wrong, but later
had remorse and changed his ways (repented). This son illustrates
many of the "sinners" of Jesus' day, who believed John's
teaching about righteousness. They had remorse and changed their
ways. [This is in contrast to the other son. See
Dennis Hinks © 2001
Back to the REPENTANCE title page