In his excellent book, Repentance, John Colquhoun gives 8 distinctions between true and counterfeit repentance. For ease of reading, I’ll put his points in my own words and provide summaries and quotations under each point, though I haven’t distinguished between quotations and summaries.
1. False repentance flows from faith in the law (as a covenant) and is legal; but true repentance flows from true faith in the law and the gospel.
False repentance comes from a temporary faith in the commands and curses of the broken law which a falsely repentant man fears. When the holy law strikes his conscience, he is forced to believe that it requires perfect obedience and its curse for disobedience stands against him. The only refuges he has from the curse of the law to pacify his guilty conscience and to satisfy Divine justice and to give himself hope include verbal resolutions, reformations, renewed duties, and other self-righteous schemes. He does not actually become righteous because he seeks it by works (Rom 9:31-32). He may pretend some regard to Christ in this legal progress. He may hope that God, for the sake of Christ, will accept his repentance and forgive his sins.
True repentance, however, flows from humble belief in the law and gospel. Godly sorrow for sin and turning from the love and practice of sin to the love and practice of holiness issue from reliance on the righteousness of Jesus Christ for all our title to pardon and sanctification and from trusting in Him for pardoning mercy and sanctifying grace. True repentance has a humbling, self-condemning, broken, whole-hearted longing for God’s pardoning mercy. (more…)