Do You Want to Change?
Peter and Judas were two men who had very similar beginnings in their spiritual journeys but very different endings. They were both disciples of Jesus. They followed him, listened to him teach, and watched him heal the sick and crippled, and saw him calm the storm. They also both made big mistakes. When Jesus was arrested, Peter denied three times that he knew who Jesus was. Judas accepted money from the religious leaders to betray Jesus and turn him over to them to be arrested and tried as a criminal.
After Peter denied Christ, he wept bitterly. Then, in John 21, the resurrected Jesus restored Peter to fellowship. Peter then preached the Holy Spirit-filled sermon in Acts 2 that led to 3,000 people being baptized and the birth of the church.
Judas, on the other hand, after he threw the money he had received back into the temple, killed himself.
What is the difference between Peter and Judas? Why does one become the Rock of the church and one of the greatest men of church history, while the other kills himself, forever associated with the pure evil of the betrayal of Jesus? The difference is that remorse is not repentance. Judas showed remorse but Peter engaged repentance. When we look at our own lives, it is important that remorse never be confused with repentance.
In Matthew 27:3, it says that Judas was seized with remorse. Not with repentance. In the Greek language, the words for ‘remorse’ and ‘repentance’ are close but not exactly the same. Remorse and repentance start in the same place but eventually divide into two different journeys. Remorse is a torturing sense of guilt for one’s actions. Judas experienced remorse. He knew that what he had done was wrong, that it was sin. It tortured him so much that he eventually took his own life.
All of us have done things in our life that we are remorseful over. We feel really bad that we got drunk – again. We are so sorry that we allowed our anger to swell up and wreck another relationship. We are weeping, broken because we got our fourth speeding ticket and we will now lose our driver’s license. Remorse, left alone to fester, ends in self-hatred and a clear absence of change. When you stay remorseful over something you have done it always leads to mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual self-abuse. In the state of remorse, we never recognize the forgiveness that Jesus has offered each and every one of us on the cross. Remorse keeps you focused on your own sin, your own junk, your own mistakes, your own addictions, and never moves out from self and sin to Christ and forgiveness.
Peter, like Judas, experienced remorse. He wept bitterly, but his remorse led to repentance, to real change. The word used for repent in the New Testament is “metaneo,” the same word Peter used in Acts 2:38 when he preached about Jesus at the birth of the church. It’s the word John the Baptist used when he prepared the way for Jesus, and it is the word Jesus used in his ministry. That word literally means to rethink, to change your mind about something. Repentance is thinking about someone in such a way that your allegiance jumps from one team to another. When a new Roman leader would come to power the soldiers needed to “metaneo” their allegiance to a new leader, a new way, a new path.
One of the missteps we make regarding repentance is thinking that it is about focusing on a sin in your life and recognizing that it is wrong. But that is not repentance; that is just remorse. Remorse focuses on the sin and makes you feel genuinely broken. Remorse moves to repentance when our thinking changes about whose team we are on. And, like in biblical culture, when our thinking genuinely changes our allegiance, our actions change. We never experience sustained change in our lives by focusing on what needs to be changed, but by what we need to be changed into. Repentance recognizes the sin in our life that needs to be changed, but then moves our focus to the Christ whom we need to be changed into.
Repentance needs to start at the same place that Peter and Judas started. We need to recognize our sin. Peter recognized that he had not stood by his master Rabbi in his greatest time of need, and it made him weep. Judas realized that Jesus was innocent and he was deeply remorseful. When we begin to engage repentance, we speak with clarity about what we have done. We have not truly engaged repentance until we are clear about our junk and no longer play the rationalization game. This clarity must birth a time of confession (agreement) to God and also to others, as charged in James 5. Repentance dictates that, if possible, some form of recompense should occur. This path leads to a true change of allegiance.
When we repent, we change teams. We are no longer loyal to our sinful nature. We are no longer loyal to the sin in our life, but we are now submitted to Christ and our allegiance resides in Him. Peter had been more interested in protecting his own skin than standing with Jesus. But that changed. Peter went on to boldly proclaim and stand with Jesus. Church history tells us that Peter died for Christ, crucified upside down. That is an example of authentic repentance. An attitude, an action, a perspective was changed. It’s not that Peter never struggled again. He did. On one occasion the Apostle Paul had to put him back in line (Galatians 2). Peter still struggled. When we truly repent and change our allegiance to Christ, we will still struggle. We will still sin. But in authentic repentance, the rhythm of our life begins to change. We begin to celebrate more victories, and the path of our lives truly turns from our issues to the person of Jesus, our Leader and Lord. In authentic repentance, we are changed. We no longer see ourselves as the leader of our lives but now recognize Jesus as our leader, becoming more like him.
 N.T. Wright. Jesus and the Victory of God. (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), 245-254.