What we say can mean a lot of things. “I'll be there at five!” probably does not mean five on the dot. “Sure, you look fine!” might be said just to make someone feel better. “I'm sorry.” Now there's a tough one. If you're, say, seven years old, there's a good chance you're saying it just to get out of trouble.
It's really what's behind them that matters, of course. Psalm 51 : 17 says, “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” You can apologize till you're blue in the face, but it's not until the gravity of your sin weighs you down and breaks you that true contrition from the Holy Spirit can take root and healing can begin.
There's a difference between repentance and contrition. Repenting of your sins is just being sorry for them, and being sorry for something quite often just means you regret it, you didn't like the consequence, and you recognized you were wrong. Being contrite takes it a level further—it is sorrow, regret, repentance, penitence, and remorse all rolled up into one, with a good dose of “It will never happen again!” thrown in.
“It will never happen again.” How many times have we said that? And how many times we have failed? What sorry, sorrowful beings we are! How sinful we can't help but be!
But we need more than sorrow. We need hope!
It is when we are broken that God can really do something with us. It is the law convicts us of our sin, when we recognize the depth and seriousness of it, that we can have an awesome and holy hope that there is an end to this imperfect life here on earth!
We recently talked in our Bible class at church about how it is nearly impossible to talk about the law without the gospel and vice versa. Just because we are condemned under the law doesn't mean we're doomed hopelessly to hell. And just because we have a promise of eternal life and freedom from sin doesn't mean we have a free pass to do whatever sin we please and that life is all happiness and rainbows.
A balance of sorrow and hope is essential. There cannot be life without death: “We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our bodies.” (2 Corinthians 4 : 10)
It can be surprisingly tough to keep at the front of our minds and hearts the full blessing God has given us. As Ashley wrote, “[A]lthough my sinful heart pulls the other way, I will follow David’s example. I will 'preach the Gospel' to my heart. I will remind myself of God’s grace and remember that His ways are not my own (Isaiah 55 : 8).”
I pray that the God of hope “who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy” (Jude 24) will continue to work in your hearts and turn your sorrow from sin into a holy hope!