Have you ever noticed that some people go through life like the proverbial bull-in-the-china-shop, smashing into the feelings and lives of others? Do they have no control over their behavior or do they choose not to control their behavior and words? Often we will see people like this have what appears to be a moment of clarity. As they turn and survey the damage caused, they may stop and express what appears to be regret. There may even be words of repentance spoken; however, this is usually selective and brief in time and temperament.
This does not just happen in day-to-day human relationships. These individuals will often behave this way in their relationship with God. We often wonder how they cannot see their error or why they feel justified in behaving so badly. When they are faced with having to admit their error we are still puzzled and questions, "Are they sorry that they have behaved this way or are they sorry that they were caught?"
Sadly many have rationalized away truth and convinced themselves that they have God's approval or even have done God's will. Thus, they only feel inclined to repent when forced into a corner from which they cannot escape.
Selective repentance can be an act of manipulation. Most people who have been done wrong want closure; thus when someone expresses regret of something that was done to them they will most likely be satisfied with the act of contrition. However, for those injured repeatedly by the same person in the same way, an apology may only be a way of trying to regain control in the relationship. If this is the case, it is likely that they are just being manipulated by the person in question.
Selective repentance can be a half-hearted approach to doing what is right. If they are only sorry that they were caught, do not expect intense or long-term regret. In this case there is obviously a lack of knowledge of what is wrong or the desire to ignore the wrong. The Apostle Paul wrote, "I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds." Acts 26:20 NIV We can only give people the truth. We cannot make them want it.
Selective repentance can be a way of holding onto one's pride. Often in this case they will apologize, but only to people with whom they can gain the upper-hand or with whom they need favor. The powerless and unimportant will never receive an apology.
Selective repentance can be dramatic, appear sincere, and will often be staged or mentioned for the maximum benefit. Yet selective repentance is not really repentance at all. If there remains in the background an insistence of innocence in the face of blatant wrong or a refusal to apologize to certain people, justifying their behavior in certain instances, it is likely that any repentance which has been done is selective. True repentance - whether with God or man - only takes place when there is the facing of one's error, feeling genuinely sorry for what has been done, and then turning to different deeds or actions.
Why is it important for us to be willing to repent whole-heartedly? For the Christian or for the person coming to Christ, it shows a willingness to accept one's shortcomings, to turn away from wrong and to be changed by the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul puts it in perspective in 2 Corinthians 7:9-10 when we writes, "I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death." NIV