Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Sorry or Repentant? Is There A Difference?

                Our women’s study is currently going through the book of Exodus. We are about halfway into the plagues, and last week in Exodus 9 we stumbled across the word “repentance” in one of our reference verses. In Chapter 9, God strikes the Egyptians with a plague that kills their livestock and then He sends a plague of hail upon the people and the land. These plagues cause Pharaoh to call for Moses and to tell him that he is sorry and that the Lord is in the right.

                “Then Pharaoh sent and called Moses and Aaron and said to them, ‘This time I have sinned; the Lord is in the right and I and my people are in the wrong.”
Exodus 9:27 ESV
                One would think from this statement that Pharaoh has learned his lesson. He is now repenting of his hardened heart and is going to finally let the people go. But, Moses seems to know something that we don’t know. Moses says to Pharaoh in verse 30 that he knows that Pharaoh does not yet fear the Lord. Now, to most of us it would look like Pharaoh has repented, but in fact, Moses was right. Pharaoh was sorry, but he was not repentant. To use the words of Rhett Butler from Gone With The Wind, Pharaoh was like the “thief who was sorry he got caught, not sorry he stole.”  I think it is important for us as Christians to know the difference between being sorry and being repentant. The two are not the same. One is sorry with no heart change, while the other not only produces change it also produces fruit to testify of that change.
                I also want to point out that we should not confuse conscience with conviction. Our conscience, according to Paul in Romans 2:14-15 has the knowledge of right and wrong from birth. “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law unto themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them,”
                You tell a baby no and they know what that means. I have raised two children of my own and been involved in children’s ministries long enough to see the truth of the statement that our consciences are born with the knowledge of right and wrong. We may all be born with a conscience, but it is only those of us who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit that experience conviction. Pharaoh, in his conscience, knew that he was in the wrong and that he needed to do what was right by letting the people go. He knew it was the right thing to do. A person who is sorry is not sorry because they are convicted. They are sorry because they are now suffering the consequences of their choices to do what their conscience told them not to do.
                Pharaoh was suffering the consequences of his choices through the plagues. His livestock and his land were being destroyed. He was suffering. His confession of being sorry was not repentance for his actions, but sorry for the suffering. Sorry is sorry because of the consequences they are suffering, not because they were convicted. Repentance is life changing; it means to turn around in the opposite direction. Sorry is just sorry and has no action whatsoever.  
                For example, a couple of years ago my daughter and I took a trip to Iowa. We drove instead of flying so that we could take our time and just spend some time together. On our way back we stopped not too far from the Illinois- Indiana border to get some lunch and stretch our legs. After we ate, she took over driving for a little while so I could get some rest. As we were getting ready to get back on the Interstate she asked me which way- East or West. Without thinking I told her west. About forty miles down the Interstate I looked up and saw a sign that said Peoria, Illinois was only a few miles ahead of us- we were going in the wrong direction. As soon as I realized it I told her we needed to turn around, we were going the wrong way. This mistake cost us about an hour of our time, but thankfully we were able to correct our mistake and head back in the right direction (which was east!). But, this is what repentance looks like. Repentance is when we realize that we are going the wrong way and we make a U-Turn to correct the error.
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        Repentance is also clearly seen in the life of a believer. Anyone following us would have known right away that we were heading in the wrong direction and they would have visibly seen us make the U-turn to correct ourselves. Repentance produces visible change in the life of the believer. But sorry, just produces sorry. Conscience and conviction are different, don’t confuse the two. Conscience knows right from wrong and is only sorry when the consequences become too much to bear. But conviction, conviction leads us to realize that we have gone in the wrong direction and we need to turn around and go the right way. Conviction causes us to make a U-turn and go in the opposite direction, the right direction.

                As Christians we must understand these differences. God knows our hearts; just like He knew Pharaoh’s heart. He knew that even though Pharaoh made a confession much like repentance, He knew that deep down he was only sorry. Let us too recognize the difference in our hearts and come to that place where conviction leads us to repent and make that U-turn we need to make. We may be sorry for what we have done, but are we truly repentant before God? There is a difference. Amen?