What Does True Repentance Look Like?

It is not always easy to tell the difference between godly sorrow or worldly sorrow. Godly sorrow seeks a healthy relationship with God, others, and yourself. Godly sorrow leads us to do our part in admitting our sin as well as repairing damaged relationships.

Worldly sorrow just wants the trouble to go away. Just say whatever is necessary to fix the problem, and then you can get back to whatever you want. Worldly sorrow only looks out for it’s best interest. Those displaying worldly sorrow are never sorry enough to change.

Jared C. Wilson gives us a few more indicators of what true repentance looks like in his post “How Do You Know When Someone Is Repentant?: 12 Signs.”

Wilson writes:

How do you know when someone is repentant? In his helpful little book Church Discipline, Jonathan Leeman offers some guidance:

A few verses before Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 18 about church discipline, he provides us with help for determining whether an individual is characteristically repentant: would the person be willing to cut off a hand or tear out an eye rather than repeat the sin (Matt. 18:8-9)? That is to say, is he or she willing to do whatever it takes to fight against the sin? Repenting people, typically, are zealous about casting off their sin. That’s what God’s Spirit does inside of them. When this happens, one can expect to see a willingness to accept outside counsel. A willingness to inconvenience their schedules. A willingness to confess embarrassing things. A willingness to make financial sacrifices or lose friends or end relationships. (p. 72)

These are good indicators, and I believe we can add a few more.

Here are 12 signs we have a genuinely repentant heart:

1. We name our sin as sin and do not spin it or excuse it, and further, we demonstrate “godly sorrow,” which is to say, a grief chiefly about the sin itself, not just a grief about being caught or having to deal with the consequences of sin.

2. We actually confessed before we were caught or the circumstantial consequences of our sin caught up with us.

3. If found out, we confess immediately or very soon after and “come clean,” rather than having to have the full truth pulled from us. Real repentance is typically accompanied by transparency.

4. We have a willingness and eagerness to make amends. We will do whatever it takes to make things right and to demonstrate we have changed.

5. We are patient with those we’ve hurt or victimized, spending as much time as is required listening to them without jumping to defend ourselves.

6. We are patient with those we’ve hurt or victimized as they process their hurt, and we don’t pressure them or “guilt” them into forgiving us.

7. We are willing to confess our sin even in the face of serious consequences (including undergoing church discipline, having to go to jail, or having a spouse leave us).

8. We may grieve the consequences of our sin but we do not bristle under them or resent them. We understand that sometimes our sin causes great damage to others that is not healed in the short term (or perhaps ever).

9. If our sin involves addiction or a pattern of behavior, we do not neglect to seek help with a counselor, a solid twelve-step program, or even a rehabilitation center.

10. We don’t resent accountability, pastoral rebuke, or church discipline.

11. We seek our comfort in the grace of God in Jesus Christ, not simply in being free of the consequences of our sin.

12.We are humble and teachable.

As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.

2 Corinthians 7:9-11

9 thoughts on “What Does True Repentance Look Like?

  1. #2 is the only one I had tpo sepnd time thinking about and questioning. I understand, but I feel like it is rare unless the Spirit chastises/convicts before the consequences come…like Samuel with David after the Bathsheeba incident. His repentance may have occured before the discipline. People do not want to be transparent, but it is SO NEEDED. Once again, thank you for making me think.

    • Seems to me the Holy Spirit is there all the time, right from the first step away from God–the first contemplation of that step–reproving, encouraging us to straighten up. If we possess the spirit of god within us, we can count on His chastisement & conviction. We must ignore & deliberately overstep His counsel long before we actually fall into sin.

      • He is certainly there from the beginning convicting us, but then when we over step Him to sin, we harden our hearts to His work and voice. That is usually when His discipline gets our attention.

    • This is such a needful post for me and others to hear. I reblogged it onto my site. I hope they click on the link and read other posts from you.

  2. The need to repent, regardless of the consequences, is of great importance. It reminds me of Luke 20.18, “Whoever falls on that stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.” Responding to the conviction of the Holy Spirit may be painful and the consequences for our actions may be difficult to bear; however, when the hand of God comes against you because of failure to repent it will crush you.

  3. Definitely a blog and subject to ponder….Sin is sin and while these are all good points to examine ourselves..I feel sin is between the Lord our God and ourselves in the end…Diane

  4. Diane, I would most definitely agree with you about our sin being between us and God. When Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph his reply was, “How could I sin against God.” Whatever sin we commit is always rebellion against God and His ways; however, after 18 years of ministry, 38years of being a Christian, and over 47 years of life I have yet to see one sin that did not hurt another human being. Part of repentance and being restored to a right relationship with God is making sure we have attempted to reconcile with those we have hurt. So, as I said I agree with you, but we show our love for God in the way we seek the best of others.

  5. Thanks for this blog. This truth is sadly not spoken much from pulpits today. Instead, there seems to be a twisted view of entitlement to forgiveness without any responsibility on our part to repent and amend…

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