True or False Repentance (Hosea 7:13-14)

Hosea 7:13-14 – Woe to them, for they have strayed from me! Destruction to them, for they have rebelled against me! I would redeem them, but they speak lies against me. They do not cry to me from the heart, but they wail upon their beds; for grain and wine they gash themselves; they rebel against me.

What does it look like when a sinner repents of his or her sin? What does it mean to repent? Strangely, though the call to repentance is such a common call throughout the scriptures, few people have a grasp on its true meaning. There is such a thing as false repentance, and there is genuine repentance.

In this pair of verses in Hosea, we see false repentance at work. The people of Israel are crying out to God. Externally, we might assume that they are genuinely distraught over their sinfulness with hearts of true repentance. But God, who knows the hearts of all, declares to them that he can see right through them. These people weep, but not over their sin. They are weeping and crying out to God because they are upset at the loss of things they love. They do not love God. They instead love the things he makes. They are returning to God, not for restoration with God, but for restoration of their goods. James warns us against such a self serving attitude in the New Testament when he writes, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” (James 4:3-4).

Genuine repentance involves three things that must not be pretended. The first is a true recognition of sin as sin. The mind of the sinful person must change about what he is doing. There is no longer any self-justification or excuse-making. The person sees the sin for what it truly is, ugly rebellion against a perfect, loving, and holy God. This new thinking about the sin leads to the emotion of sorrow over the sin. This is not sorrow because the sinner is embarrassed that he or she is caught; nor is the sorrow the sorrow for the loss of goods as we see in Hosea 7:13-14. Instead, the sorrow that the sinner feels is a genuine grief over the fact that they have sinned against God. Then, the changed thinking and sorrow must lead the person to a change in behavior, a 180 degree turn to walk away from the sin and toward God.

False repentance will counterfeit or misplace one or more of the three factors in repentance. In the case of Hosea 7, the people display sorrow, but it is a worldly sorrow, a sorrow over their loss of things instead of over their broken relationship with God, that comes from the flesh and leads to death (2 Corinthians 7:9-11). In the case of a legalist, someone might change their outer behavior without any change of heart about the sin (legalistically doing good deeds or depriving yourself of something you want in order to make up for your sin is known as penance, and is an unbiblical concept). Still others might change how they think about a sin, feel genuine sorrow over it, but for some reason refuse to change their behavior. Falsehood in any of the three areas of repentances makes the repentance false. And, as we see in Hosea 7, false repentance does not bring God’s favor.

So, what do you do when you are in sin. You need to have the three parts of repentance in place in order not to dishonor God. You must allow your whole heart and attitude to be changed toward that sin. Allow the word of God and the Spirit of God to show you how ugly, repulsive, and purely evil is your sin. Do not shrink back from the dark feelings of guilt, as such feelings are justified for any person in sin. Then, your heart will feel true and godly sorrow for your sin; not because you lost an earthly treasure, but because you sinned before a holy God. Finally, let that new thinking and sorrow lead you to a new style of living that turns from your sin and turns to God. God is faithful and will forgive anyone who is in Christ and who turns to him in genuine repentance.

Dear Lord, I pray that you will help me never to attempt to counterfeit repentance as did the people described in the verses above. I recognize that it is the tendency of the human heart to try to pull a fast one on you, but I also know that such a thing can not be done. You see deep into my heart. You know when my repentance is genuine and when it is not. Please give me a new mind toward sin, a mind guided by your revealed word. Help me to feel the sorrow I should feel when I dishonor you. May I never simply mourn over the loss of a privilege or a reputation, but may I truly grieve over the fact that my sin is against you. Then, guide my steps to right living, aiding me in the process of turning from sin and to you. Thank you, Lord, for sending your Son to die as the payment for my sin. Help me to honor you by living a genuine walk of repentance in the grace of Christ.