What is the difference between true and false repentance? 

Author: BibleAsk Team

True Repentance  

True repentance is the kind of sorrow over sin that is acceptable to God. It is not sorrow at being exposed or fearing to be punished. It is true sorrow for sin, separation from it, and decision to resist, by the grace of Christ, the temptation that led to it (Matthew 5:3; 1 John 1:9).

Shame, hurt, pride, or even great regret over wrong deeds—none of this is “godly sorrow.” In “godly sorrow,” there is realization and admission that one has hurt God and man, there is effort to make things right, and a change of life in order not to repeat the same sins. This change of mind and life imply a change for the better and produces good results (Matthew 12:41; Mark 1:15; Luke 11:32; Acts 3:19; 26:20; Hebrews 12:17; Revelation 2:5; etc.). 

A reformation of the life is an infinitely more conclusive test of repentance than mere sorrow. This was the focal point of the preaching of Jesus, of John the Baptist, and of the apostles (Matthew 3:2, 8, 11; 17; Mark 2:17; Acts 5:31; Romans 2:4; 2 Timothy 2:25). True repentance makes the angels sing with joy (Luke 15:7). This whole experience is possible only by the grace of God through the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:31; 11:18; Romans 2:4).  

False Repentance 

False repentance is a shallow sad feeling or remorse where a person regrets his actions but without any real change of attitude. The Bible tells us that after Esau despised his birth right blessing and sold it, he regretted his act: “he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears” (Hebrews 12:17).  

Although Esau “cried with a great and exceeding bitter cry” (Genesis 27:34), his sorrow didn’t include a desire to repent of his worldly ways, but simply that he repented of having sold his birthright. He wished he had it back again, but realized that his decision was irreversible. God did not keep Esau from receiving the inheritance but his own evil acts disqualified him from its privileges and responsibilities. https://bibleask.org/what-is-the-story-of-esau-and-jacob/

In a similar way, King Saul exhibited false sorrow for his sins of pride and disobedience and asked Samuel for forgiveness (1 Samuel 15:25). But his sorrow was not sincere, he simply didn’t wish to lose his kingly position and God’s protection and blessings. His life revealed that he didn’t love nor honor the Lord. 


A clear illustration of the difference between true and false sorrow for sin is found in the contrast between Peter and Judas during their betrayal to Jesus during His trial. Both felt bitter remorse for their sins, but with Peter, there was true sorrow for sin (Luke 22:62), which led to a new life in Christ (John 21:15-19). However, with Judas, there was only sorrow for the results, which led him to hopelessness and suicide (Matthew 27:3-5)

In His service,
BibleAsk Team 

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