One day a man returned home exhausted and famished from a hunting trip. As he neared the camp he caught the smell of a meal that his younger brother was preparing. Convinced he was about to die, he pleaded with his brother for some food. His brother was an enterprising sort, so he offered to exchange the food for the birthright, the blessing which belonged to the first born. Driven by hunger, the older brother greedily accepted the offer. It was a decision he lived to regret.
Esau, the older brother was filled with regret, but there was no hint of repentance. He regretted losing his inheritance in exchange for filling his empty stomach. We are told he wept bitter tears over his misfortune. But this is as far as it went. There was no brokenness before God, no repentance, only regret.
You can easily produce regret in your children for their wrong behavior. You can make them sorry for their sins, you can force unpleasant consequences. You can withhold your love and affection for a time. Yes, you can make them regret, but only the work God can bring about true repentance.
How can you tell the difference between repentance and regret? Esau points out the difference. He was sad because of what he lost. But repentance is more than that. Repentance is turning away from what was wrong and moving on towards a completely new direction. The sinful actions are left behind as a new path is taken that leads towards the righteousness of Christ. In Ephesians 4 and Colossians 3, repentance means taking off the soiled clothing of the flesh and replacing it with the clothing of Christ’s righteousness.
Regret is a response to the consequences of things not going as we wanted. Regret has no cure and can smolder for a lifetime. Repentance not only sees the wrongness of what was done, but it also embraces Christ as the only way to be clean and clear of our selfish, ugly pride. As Paul says:
“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” (2 Corinthians 7:10)
The only way for your children to be free from regret that leads to death is to embrace a lifestyle of repentance. Parent, this is where you come in. You can’t produce repentance in your children but you can show them what it looks like!
The Christian life is a life of repentance. Not only to do you repent when you received Christ, but you continue to live in repentance for the rest of your life (Colossians 2:6). Repentance is about hope. Regret is about despair. Repentance heals regret. Repentance finds the joy of trusting Christ as our lives conform more and more to who he made us to be. You are not just sorry for your sins, but you replace your frustration at your kids disobedience with pleasant words of instruction.
Regret or repentance. Death or life. Choose life.