Q: Are there difference types of repentance? What I mean is, when King Saul was confronted by Samuel for disobeying God, he said he obeyed God. When Samuel confronted him again, he said he had transgressed the commandments, and to pardon his sin, and let him worship as he didn’t want to be rejected as the king over Israel.
A: The answer to your question is a big yes! The Apostle Paul made this statement in 2 Corinthians 7:10, “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.”
Godly sorrow leads to real repentance. This means that a person is sorrowful because he or she affronted God with disobedience and betrayed Him by dishonoring Him. In such times a reproach is brought to God’s very character. King David, who understood godly sorrow put it best, “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest and be clear when thou judgest (Psalm 51:4).
There are more than a few examples in Scriptures that show the other repentance: that of worldly sorrow. When you consider Saul, he was not sorrowful over displeasing God because of his disobedience; rather, he feared paying the consequences for his actions—that of being rejected as king. His show of repentance did not have anything to do with righting his relationship with His Creator, but keeping God off his back in order to maintain his position as king. The main purpose for godly repentance is to get on the same page with God about a matter to ensure reconciliation with Him and restoration of relationship.
Another good example of worldly sorrow is Esau. He did not value his birthright; therefore, he sold it. Since blessings walk hand in hand in maintaining the birthright, Esau lost the blessing as well. He was sorrowful over losing the blessing, but not over his casual or disinterested attitude towards his birthright. When he was bemoaning his loss, he lied by implying his brother stole both from him (Genesis 27:36). However, God had a different take on it.
It says that God hated Esau, but loved Jacob (Romans 9:13). There is a debate as to what this Scripture implies, but the one thing that is clearly brought out is that Esau was considered a fornicator, a profane person (Hebrews 12:16-17). Even though he showed sorrow, it was a fleshly sorrow, tied to self-pity of the old man and the world’s way of avoiding the consequences. Since his sorrow came from that which was not of God, it tells us he could find no place of repentance.
True repentance comes from a state of brokenness, not over the personal cost of sin, but over what it does to God and one’s relationship with Him. To those who have true sorrow, they will be more concerned over their broken relationship with God than paying some worldly consequence. They will fear displeasing God more than losing something that has no real eternal value to it.
Another man who showed worldly repentance was Judas Iscariot (Matthew 27:3). It says that he repented, but he never really owed up to the fact that he betrayed the Son of God. He acknowledged he betrayed an innocent man, but he never repented for the selfish motive and ruthless attitude that opened him up to become an instrument of Satan. Instead of humbling himself before God, confessing his real sin and seeking forgiveness and restoration, he went out and hung himself.
Real repentance will always result in reconciliation with God. The real tragedy of sin is that it breaks relationship with God. Godly repentance will first seek to have this relationship restored.