The 3 Rs: Regret, Remorse, Repent

Matthew 27:3–4, Luke 17:1–4, Acts 8:9–25, Acts 16:22–34 (read online ⧉)

According to Merriam-Webster…

regret means (1)(a) to mourn the loss or death of, (b) to miss very much; (2) to be very sorry for

remorse means (1) a gnawing distress arising from a sense of for past wrongs, self-reproach

means (1) to turn from and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one’s ; (2)(a) to feel regret or contrition, (b) to one’s mind

The words we use mean something. We often use regret and repent interchangeably when we talk about sin and forgiveness. How we use these two words really matter. The key to this is ‘ words. If the brother repents, then forgive them (and we won’t talk about the counting piece, as that is merely a distraction for today). We, understandably, question how we can tell that someone has repented. If we were to take Jesus’ words literally, we would especially question it if the person came back 7 times in a day repenting. If we use the understanding of feeling sorrow and changing one’s mind, it seems that the person really didn’t change their mind.

Yet, if something has been ingrained and habituated, 1 day of repentance isn’t going to make a -, mind-, and behavior-deep change. If that were so effective, the percentage of people “breaking” their New Year’s resolutions wouldn’t be increasing day-by-day. Repentance (sorrow along with change of mind/heart) may not be a short road to walk for many issues. Sometimes the repentance for an may be jeopardized by other behaviors and habits that resulted in the behavior repented for. For example, one doesn’t just have an adulterous affair one day (with certain psychological issues being the exception). It builds up. Staring at the other sex. Flirting with them. Placing them above your spouse. It all builds on one another. While a person may repent (whole-heartedly) of their adultery, the other behaviors that lead to it still need to be addressed.

Regret, on the other hand, is something different. People will often regret their bad actions, but only because they were caught. Or they might regret their actions because they perceive they lost out on something they wanted. Another way to think of it can be found in the current cultural phenomenon called FOMO, which is an acronym of Of Missing Out. FOMO is a fear of the potential regret one might feel for not doing something. The reality is that we all have regrets.

The difference between regret and repent is different than a similarity in the potential grief of both, which is often where we confuse them. Regret, by and large, is selfish. This is not always the case, granted. However, if one thinks about when feelings of regret (or conveyed) it usually is not about harm inflicted upon another (that is remorse), it is about how the bad thing affected the person feeling regret. Remorse lies between regret and repent. At least remorse is about another (i.e., less selfish), but there is still selfishness involved.

Many Christians, probably most of us, the word repent until they need to repent. We don’t mind regretting, too much. We’re okay with remorse. The reason why regret and remorse are tolerable is they don’t really require anything of us. Repentance, on the other, requires all of us.

1) What have you regretted in life? Why?

2) What have you felt remorse for in life? Why? Did you make amends, or what happened?

3) Skipping the often ingenuine “I repented of all my sins”, what have you repented of? If you committed the action that you repented of, did you really repent, or was it really regret and/or remorse?