I can think of none other who can embody the difference between repentance and remorse better than Peter. "Huh?" you may ask. Well, let me explain my thinking.
When his beloved Lord and Savior was standing alone before His accusers, instead of coming to His side, he denied the fact that he even knew Him- forcefully! Immediately after Christ's death, we don't really hear a lot about Peter other than he ran to the tomb when Mary came to tell them all that Jesus was alive. I bet he was hoping against hope that he was wrong and that Jesus had never really died after all. But when he got there, all he saw was a pile of burial rags. Not only was he grieving his Master's death, but this would have rubbed his guilt in his face. He probably thought someone was taunting him. After that, he kind of drops off the radar for a few pages. It's not until Jesus shows himself for the third time that we hear about what Peter is doing. He's gone fishing. Back to his old life. As if Jesus had never existed. And this is even after he saw Jesus post-death with the other disciples!
What was wrong with him? Why wasn't he jumping for joy and signing himself up for the Lord's service? I think he felt his betrayal had been too great. His guilt was blinding and incapacitating him. The Evil One was using it to keep him from being an effective servant.
And what was Jesus' response to Peter's betrayal? "Simon. son of John, do you love Me more than these?" When Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him, it was His way of giving Peter a chance to "redeem" himself. After Peter denied His Lord three times, it was time to let him do the opposite- declare his love. And notice how Jesus didn't have him stand up in the midst of a crowd and say it. This whole affair (including the betrayal) was just between Jesus and Peter.
Isn't that amazing? Even after His death and resurrection, Jesus thought of Peter. He knew that his disciple would need to stop beating himself up and accept Christ's forgiveness before he could be useful. He had to let go of the guilt.
How often do we hold onto the things we have done and don't even hear when Jesus whispers, "Do you love me?" He's already forgiven us. He forgave us the moment He died on that cross. And yet we dare to keep dragging ourselves back to the past and cling to our regrets! And every time we say, "Lord, I've done too much. I can't let go," Jesus asks yet again, "But... do you love me?" That's what it all comes down to: Do we love Him enough to let Him be enough? Do we believe that He's really and truly taken care of it?
Just like Peter had to let go of his past mistakes and move on, we have to do the same. That's the difference between remorse and repentance. Remorse drags us down and becomes a heavy load that we force ourselves to bear, thinking we are not "good enough" to do anything else. Repentance on the other hand, well, it's a totally different animal. When we truly repent of what we have done, we make the choice to let go and say, "Lord, I do love You. Use me according to Your Will." Not forget- just let go. And that simple act freed Peter from the past and gave him permission to move on. It gave him the ability to become the person and the leader that would set fire to the church. If he hadn't become that person, 3,000 souls would not have been saved with a single message. The church might not be what it is today. He might never have died for Christ, sealing his place forever in history as the "rock on which Jesus would build His church". And the other disciples who knew how he had been before, would not have seen God's amazing transforming power in his life.
The man who went fishing that day was not the same man who came back. He left as a man weighted down by regret and came back a leader, ready to take up his sword in the upcoming spiritual battle that would rock the world.
So what about you? Are your "issues" getting in the way of your service? Of your happiness?
Maybe you don't know the answers to these questions right now. Or maybe you can't let go yet. But just remember: there is nothing in your life that is greater than Jesus' power to forgive.
Listen. Can you hear Him?
"Little child, do you love Me?"