The Bible tells us there are two sorts of repentance. One leads to life; the other leads to death. So if we're going to repent, we'd better make sure it's the right kind of repentance.

In a sermon on Judas (who is 'Exhibit A' of the wrong sort of repentance), Charles Spurgeon said:

The man who repents of consequences does not repent

Sadly this kind of repentance is all to common, especially in cases where the person repents after he gets caught and realizes the price he has to pay for his actions.

To give a modern equivalent of the illustration Spurgeon used in his sermon, imagine a man who has repeatedly been driving recklessly and in violation of the law, and always without any sense of wrongdoing. One day his aggression behind the wheel results in a tragic accident. People are hurt. Suddenly he is filled with remorse. Tears are shed. He's a broken man. It looks for all the world like repentance.

But it's not. Time and again he had committed the sins that now led to such disastrous results. Repeatedly he had done wrong, and God, in his providence, had patiently and graciously prevented the natural results of that wrongdoing. But our friend was as guilty before God in all the countless times when he had got away with it as he was on the day that his sins found him out and the consequences of his sin became apparent in all their horror. People got hurt on the day of the accident, but God had been sinned against on a regular basis.

Spurgeon insightfully points out that the remorse that is deadly in such circumstances is remorse that focuses on consequences, and being sorry for consequences is without hope because the nature of consequences is that they are unalterable. Having done what he had done, and seeing that its consequences could not be undone, Judas looked for a tree, adjusted the rope and hanged himself. There was nothing else he could do.

True repentance does not focus on unalterable consequences but on alterable behaviour. Those driving habits can be changed while God, in his gracious patience, allows us time to repent by protecting us from the consequences of our actions. As with Peter, the Lord often gives us cock-crowing warnings of where we are headed before it is too late. Three strikes and you're not out; but the cock crows. Repentance and restoration were possible for Peter. But Judas had gone too far - despite numerous gracious opportunities to see the error of his ways in the foot-washings and bread-dippings in which Jesus clothed his warnings to him. All that was left for Judas was deadly remorse for consequences rather than life-giving repentance for bad decisions.

That last speeding ticket you got might just be the cock crowing. That sermon you heard where you know the Holy Spirit was stirring your conscience over the addiction to pornography or the unforgiveness toward that person who offended you might be the cock crowing. True repentance has a limited shelf life. If it's left until later it may be toxic. True repentance is for now, not later. 

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