Sometimes the world shouts at God, “Leave us alone!” yet down deep they experience a sense of guilt and shame they cannot assuage. Thinking about God may make people feel worse since they already know what they are doing is wrong. They may even feel a kind of sorrow about their behavior, but it does not bring about any lasting changes in behavior.
The apostle Paul called this “the sorrow of the world” (2 Corinthians 7:10). This sorrow may bring a sense of regret. It may make people feel sorrow because they got caught doing something wrong, but rather than bringing about repentance, such sorrow leads only to death. It may even cause them to redouble their efforts not to do it again, but they continue to fall into that action because they are relying on their own strength. “I can be good without God,” they reason.
On the other hand, Paul also spoke about the “godly sorrow” that “worketh repentance to salvation.” So, there are two types of sorrow, but each one brings different results. One person could feel sorrow over an act, and that sorrow causes the person truly to repent. Another person senses sorrow over an act, but for some reason does not repent. The outcome is different in each case. One truly repents and finds salvation. The other feels sorrow, but does not repent.
As we prepare for the Easter season, let’s see how this worked out in the Bible. On the night before Jesus was crucified, Judas led a mob to capture Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. With a kiss, he betrayed Christ to the authorities who ultimately had Christ crucified. That same night when Christ had been taken into custody, Peter followed as far as he could, even into the court area to warm himself near a fire built by the enemies of Christ. Three times people accused him of being a follower of Christ. Three times he denied it. Then the rooster crowed, and he realized that he had done exactly as Christ said he would do.
Now let’s look at the actions of these two men. Both of them sinned against Christ. Both of them sensed regret. Matthew 27:4 records Judas as saying, “I have sinned…for I have betrayed innocent blood.” Notice the guilt he felt. He even confessed his sin and admitted that he betrayed Christ. His reaction was that “he went away and hanged himself” (27:5) instead of seeking Christ’s pardon. Paul calls that “the sorrow of the world” that “worketh death” (2 Cor.7:10). Judas’ sorrow did not lead him to true repentance, salvation, and life, but rather to his end.
On the other hand, when the rooster crowed, Peter remembered Christ’s words regarding his betrayal, and he went out and wept bitterly (Matthew 26:75). He realized what he had done. He experienced the godly sorrow that Paul wrote about. That sorrow led Peter to genuine repentance, and he found salvation. That sorrow “work[ed]repentance to salvation” (2 Cor. 7:10). We can only speculate what must have gone through Peter’s mind between the time of the crucifixion and the resurrection. In John’s gospel, however, we find Peter being restored to fellowship with Christ. John 21:15-19 shows Christ tenderly bringing Peter back into the fold and commissioning him to tend Christ’s flock.
Several weeks after that restoration, Peter preached the first sermon of the Church at Pentecost, and three thousand came into the church that one day. Christ accomplished a great feat through Peter’s sorrow and repentance, but when people think of Judas, they only feel disgust. No one names their son Judas, but many have named their sons Peter.
When Paul gave his defense before King Agrippa, he told the king how he preached to the Gentiles that they should repent and do works which give evidence of repentance (Acts 26:20). Repentance should bring about change of actions. When you feel sorrow for your sin, which way will you run, to Christ, or away from Him?