Question of the Week: I’ve been told that if you don’t shed tears then your repentance isn’t genuine. The people who claim this use Peter and Mary Magdalene as examples of this. Is this claim biblical?
The short answer is no. Repentance isn’t an emotional reaction nor is the genuineness of this act every determined by how they personally express themselves in the process. Emotions are expressed in a variety of ways largely depending on personality types rather than being a metric for something being real. When it comes to the proof texts used to support this claim; every example actually had nothing to do with repentance, the individual they mentioned, and there are examples of tears being present with someone who had no desire to repent.
The Apostle Peter:
And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said to him, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” So Peter went out and wept bitterly.
Luke 22:61-62 (NKJV)
If someone were to use this as a proof text for genuine repentance, you’d at least need to ask them to show you where repentance was demonstrated in this passage. The context was Peter denying he ever knew Jesus. After a man, a woman, and a little girl challenged him about being his follower over the span of a few hours, he saw Jesus being brought to another one of His fake trials and realized that he had done the thing he denied would ever happen that same night. He certainly wept. In fact the text describes the severity of the weeping. However, no mention of the word or act of repentance is in the text. If you were to infer repentance with the fact he was sorry for what he did, you would be guilty of misrepresenting the text and the definition of repentance. Repentance isn’t crying or being sorry. The Apostle Paul described the kind of sorrow that leads into repentance not as producing tears, but producing good works.
Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter.
2 Corinthians 7:9-11 (NKJV)
Notice that like Peter’s example doesn’t mention repentance, Paul’s definition of repentance doesn’t mention tears.
Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.” Then He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
Luke 7:44-48 (NKJV)
Much like the previous example, this woman certainly had tears. This woman certainly had sins to repent of. This woman even leaves the encounter with Jesus with her sins forgiven. Yet you’ll also notice that her name is never mentioned. You’ll also notice that Jesus doesn’t forgive her on account of her tears, but on the fact that “she loved much.” Much like the example with Peter, this is not only a misrepresentation of the text to prove a point, but doesn’t even get the name right in who they are making their example of “genuine repentance.” Repentance isn’t mentioned once. Jesus merely forgives her sins and explains the reason why. To attribute this incident to be referring to Mary Magdalene is not only inaccurate, but borderline deceptive if used to confirm the understanding of a concept that isn’t mentioned once in the text.
lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears.
Hebrews 12:16-17 (NKJV)
A biblical example that actually demonstrates the opposite is Jacob’s older brother Esau. The author of Hebrews makes the point following a warning against bitterness in the church about the fact that the end result doesn’t produce the kind of character any of them would want spoken of them. Esau’s descendants were not only an enemy of Israel externally, but he himself was an enemy of God internally. When the consequences of his negligence of God caught up with him, he had tears. This should supposedly prove the genuineness of his repentance. Yet unlike the examples given with the Apostle Peter and Mary Magdalene, Repentance is actually mentioned in this passage. He found no place for it and he had tears. If the claim that tears prove genuine repentance is accurate, this text shouldn’t exist in the Bible. Yet we read it just as it was written. Esau found no place for repentance, though he sought it (the birthright – Genesis 27:38) with tears.
Crocodile tears prove nothing about the condition of someone’s heart. Emotions are expressed differently from person to person. If you want to test the genuineness of your repentance, make sure you define repentance biblically. And also make sure that if someone mutilates and misrepresents scripture like this in order to prove their claims, make sure you check up on whatever else they have to say about God’s word in the future.
A Reason For Hope is a ministry of Calvary Christian Fellowship of Tucson
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