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

One More Night with the Frogs

Do me a favor—take a minute and read Exodus 8:1-15. In this passage, we find the account of the second plague God brought on the Egyptians because Pharaoh would not let the Israelite people go free. Pharaoh was considered the “go between” for the people and their host of gods; therefore, he wasn’t going to let some lesser god of slaves come into his kingdom and tell him what to do.

Can you imagine what the plague of Continue reading

A Prayer for Smug Grace Legalists, Like Me

Talk about a great title for an article, “A Prayer for Smug Grace Legalists, Like Me.” As soon as I saw the title I had to read this post by Scotty Smith. This is a prayer most of us don’t pray very often; however, we should be praying like this every day. When we  exam our lives and then confess any forms of hypocrisy we are immediately drawn into a deeper relationship with God our Father through the Lord Jesus Christ.

I pray that Scotty Smith’s post for The Gospel Coalition will touch you in a special way, and thus change the way you look at yourself, others, and the God you serve.

Smith writes:

And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” Mark 7:5-8

Lord Jesus, these are strong words. What could be more painful and humbling than to hear you say, “You talk about me a whole lot, using plenty of spiritual language and Bible quotes. You’re very quick to recognize and correct false teaching. You’re even zealous to apply what you know to others, but your heart is far from me. There’s an unacceptable disconnect between what you say and who you are.”

It would be one thing if such a rebuke came to us because we were acting like the Pharisees and scribes you publically confronted—spiritual leaders who distorted and misapplied Old Testament law; religious teachers who put your people under the yoke of performance-based spirituality; Israel’s elders who replaced your commandments with their traditions; authorities who were more scrupulous about tithing mint, dill and cumin than “the weightier matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness” (Matt. 23:23).

But, Lord, help us to see and grieve, that we who love the gospel and a theology of grace, can be just as disconnected, hypocritical and rebuke-worthy as any legalist we will ever encounter.

Forgive us for being just as smug with our grace theology as we were obnoxious with our legalistic theology.

Forgive us when we call ourselves “recovering Pharisees” or “recovering legalists” when in actuality, we’re not really recovering from much of anything.

Forgive us, Jesus, when we enjoy exposing bad teachers and false gospels more than we love spending time with you in prayer and fellowship.

Forgive us for having a PhD in the indicatives of the gospel yet failing so miserably when it comes to the imperatives of the gospel.

Forgive us when we are quick to tell people what obedience is not, but fail to demonstrate what the obedience of faith and love actually is.

Forgive us when talk more about “getting the gospel” than demonstrating we’ve been “gotten” by the gospel.

Forgive us when we don’t use our freedom to serve one another in love, but rather use it to put our consciences to sleep.

Forgive us when our love for the gospel does not translate into a love for holiness, world evangelism, and caring for widows and orphans.

Forgive us when we love “the gospel” more than we actually love you, Jesus, as impossible or implausible as that may seem.

Forgive us when the word “gospel” is more of a hyphenated word in our vocabulary than a life-transforming power in our lives. Forgive us; forgive me.

Lord Jesus, change us by your grace and for your glory. So very Amen we pray, with convicted and humbled hearts.

Stop Beating Yourself Up!

If you are like most people, you have already begun working toward fulfilling your New Year’s resolutions.  Most of our resolutions lead us toward being a better person this year than last.  I would like to share a little bit of my background hoping that it will help you achieve your personal goals.

From the age of eighteen until I was twenty-four, I made a mess of my life. If there was a bad decision to be made, I would choose it every time. I had been raised in church, became a Christian at age nine, tried to be a leader in the youth group, and was growing in my knowledge of Scripture and the Christian life. However, just after graduation, I started making foolish choices. Eventually, I found myself so far away from God that I couldn’t find my way back.

In the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15.11-32), Jesus makes it clear that all we have to do is show our repentance, that is turn away from sin, by returning to God. He is always ready to restore us to a right relationship with Him, continue our Christ-like development, and use us for His glory. It is that simple.

I was too smart for all that. I knew I had been too wicked for God’s grace, and therefore, couldn’t accept God’s forgiveness, love, mercy, and grace. I couldn’t accept God’s gifts because I couldn’t forgive myself. I was beating myself up for my own sinful behaviors. I couldn’t hear what the Bible was saying about God because I was too busy trying to fix myself. Needless to say, I was miserable! No matter how frustrated I was with my backslidden life or how determined I was to make myself live the Christian life I continued down the wrong path. I was convinced that I was a hopeless case. I didn’t know it, but that was right where God wanted me—consciously aware of my inability to change on my own.

I realized that relief wasn’t going to come by my ability to control myself. In my own flesh I was always going to make the wrong decision.  My frustration was caused by trying to live up to the standards I thought was expected of Christians. However, in confessing my inadequacy to live out the Christian life on my own, God was then able to live through me. The only way I was going to be truly restored was to come to God broken and contrite. It was then that I was showered in God’s grace and restored into a right relationship with Him. Immediately, I realized I could never let guilt hold me back from enjoying my relationship with God.

Now when I fall short of God’s plan, I am quick to run to the throne of grace, admit my failure, thank God for His forgiveness, and joyfully move on with my life all the wiser. If guilt has driven a wedge between you and God, it is time to run to God, confess your sin and guilt, then enjoy His forgiveness, mercy, grace, and love. Trust me, as someone who has been there, living a life resting in what Jesus has done brings about your best life now!