Hebrews 12:15–17 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; . . . that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it [repentance] with tears.
From John Piper – “Esau became so spiritually hard and calloused in his love for this world that when he tried to repent he couldn’t. All he could do is weep over the consequences of his folly, not the true ugliness of his sin or the dishonor he had heaped upon God in preferring a single meal to his entire God-given, God-accompanying birthright.”
My comment: As a counselor for 22 years, I have seen this many times. A person comes to counseling distressed over the consequences of his folly but not the true ugliness of his sin or the dishonor he has heaped upon God. Sometimes there are great demonstrations of tears and anguish and promises of efforts to change the behavior. But what is sadly lacking is true repentance, which always considers the awfulness of our sin before a holy God as the primary reason for repentance.
King David gives us an excellent example of this priority in true repentance. Look at David’s statement in Psalm 51 when the prophet Nathan confronted him after he had committed adultery with Bathsheba. David says to the Lord,
3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.
“Against you, you only have I sinned!?” What does he mean by that? David has certainly sinned against the husband of Bathsheba for having him sent to the front of the battle line so that he would be killed and David could have Bathsheba as his own. He has sinned against Bathsheba for committing adultery with her. He has sinned against all of Israel for the ungodly example he has given them. And yet, he says to God, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight”!!
What we are witnessing here is a properly prioritized understanding of repentance. David realizes that every sin that is committed is first and foremost a terrible offense against God. He is not denying that he has sinned against others, but his sorrow over his sin stems initially and primarily from the realization of the terribleness of the offense of his sin against an infinitely holy God. When we sin, our sin is a greater offense against God that any other living person on this earth.
It is not that we are to disregard in any way our need to be sorrowful and repent for our sins against others. It is, however, a common mistake among Christians to believe that our offense against others is the most important aspect of repentance regarding our sin. And this lack of understanding can greatly diminish the power and grace that is needed for us to arrive at truly effective repentance in our lives.
“From him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” Romans 11:36