Every Thought Captive

Regret or Repentance?

And Samuel said,

"Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,as in obeying the voice of the Lord?Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,and to listen than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination,and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,he has also rejected you from being king."

1 Samuel 15: 22-23

It's easiest to spot the distinction in children. But that's only because they haven't yet learned to disguise their insincerity. It's also easy to spot the same distinction in the first two kings of Israel. But that's only because the Scripture shows us their hearts.

In the pediatric version, the conversation goes like this:

Me: "Did you push your little sister?"

The young transgressor: (eyes downcast) "Yes sir."

Me: "Did you say you're sorry?"

The transgressor again: (eyes rolling, and mumbling in her direction) "Sor-RY!"

There is genuine regret, but not a drop of genuine repentance.

And so it was with Saul. He regretted his disobedience of God's clear command. He regretted Samuel's sentence. He regretted his bruised ego, and his loss of status, and his public rebuke. But as Saul will demonstrate throughout the rest of his life, that regret often only postpones repetition.

It's exactly the same for you and me. When we disobey the Lord, we often regret it deeply. But if we're honest, it's not so much our broken relationship with God, but the crumbling of our self-made kingdom that stings us. We regret the shame and sadness and loss. But we find ourselves caught in the Saul-cycle of trying to shore ourselves up, only to spiral further and further from the Lord's loving embrace.

King David understood true repentance. He was a deeply sinful man. He was confronted by a prophet and suffered humiliation. But David ran toward God, owned his own sin, and turned in humility for the Lord's healing redemption. It was the cold loneliness of estrangement from God that wounded David most poignantly. He cried out to be re-made, to be restored, to be clean again. In what may have been his lowest moment, King David lamented and repented,

Have mercy on me, O God,  
    according to your steadfast love;  
according to your abundant mercy  
    blot out my transgressions.  
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,  
    and cleanse me from my sin!  
For I know my transgressions,  
    and my sin is ever before me.  
Against you, you only, have I sinned  
    and done what is evil in your sight,  
so that you may be justified in your words  
    and blameless in your judgment.  
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,  
    and in sin did my mother conceive me.  
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,  
    and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.  
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;  
    wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.  
Let me hear joy and gladness;  
    let the bones that you have broken rejoice.  
Hide your face from my sins,  
    and blot out all my iniquities.  
Create in me a clean heart, O God,  
    and renew a right spirit within me.  
Cast me not away from your presence,  
    and take not your Holy Spirit from me.  
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,  
    and uphold me with a willing spirit.  
—Psalm 51:1-12  

It's our story too. True repentance leads to redemption, because we hear the voice of our Savior calling us to confess, to turn from the sin-stained hiding we're so prone to, and to receive the Lord's kind forgiveness. We ache for a clean heart and a right spirit. We long to change, and to be changed.

And the Lord's breathtaking promise is that, like David, when we repent, he is faithful and just to cleanse us of all unrighteousness. He will change us. He will give us His joy. He will make us new.

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.

About the Author

Photograph of Mark Fulmer

Mark Fulmer


Park Cities Presbyterian Church

Mark Fulmer is an elder at Park Cities Presbyterian Church, and along with Steve Vanderhill, teaches the New Creations Sunday School class.