In the Old Testament, the sign of extreme repentance and remorse was to wear sackcloth and be covered with ashes. It is my understanding that sackcloth was the hairy hide of goat and was not pleasant to the touch. Ashes of course are dirty and unpleasant to smell and be around. "Sackcloth and ashes" is therefore indicating both repentance as well as atonement for a sin. At any rate, I am glad we are not instructed to wear a burlap bag filled with ashes every time we sin!
To some degree God looked at the willingness of people to do something very uncomfortable as a sign of remorse for a sin committed. But, His forgiveness was not granted due to the outward expression of regret but rather the inner reality of brokenness.
In the New Testament, the term "Godly sorrow" is roughly the equivalent of sackcloth and ashes in the Old Testament. Godly sorrow is the heartfelt express of a contrite heart which is to be deeply sorry for and ashamed of having done something wrong or bad. This remorseful and penitent heart allows us to repent and accept God s forgiveness.
When a person's conscience becomes seared with a hot iron, they lose the ability or willingness to manifest any form of remorse for their behavior. It is at this point that a person hardens their heart and refuses to yield to the righteousness of God. In the Old Testament the term "stiff-necked" was used to describe both individuals and groups who rebelled against the Word of God and refused to be subject to what it says.
Without question, the lowest point a person can reach in their lives is that of becoming unable to admit a mistake or accept responsibility for their decisions and actions. When a person becomes, in their own mind, too powerful or good to fail; they are a failure. When a person reaches the point they defend wrong as right and right as wrong; they are guilty of deception and hypocrisy.
We live in one of the most corrupt and putrid times in history. Perhaps only during the time of Noah has evil prevailed like it does now. The world is full of powerful and arrogant people who have no conscience and thus no ability to ever accept being wrong. From government to religion, entertainment and academia; there is a prevailing attitude of arrogant self-righteousness and "in your face" blatant sin. There is no remorse even when people are arrested or their deeds or shown to be evil and/or hurtful.
It takes a big person to admit they are wrong. It takes an even bigger person to feel remorse for that wrong. It takes a giant person to lie on the ground wearing only sackcloth and covered with ashes. The world scoffs at those who remain humble before God and live with a brokenness found in knowing outside of Christ we are horrible people. The world may scoff but God smiles.