(St. Peter Penitent, Guido Reni, 1600)
There are times in everyone’s life that it’s helpful to know if an offender is truly repentant. To know the true state of another’s heart. Is there godly sorrow and true repentance or worldly sorrow and temporary change?
When there is true, lasting repentance, restoration can occur as in Galatians 6:1.
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 repentant 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? Repentant 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.
12 Signs We Have A Genuinely Repentant Heart:
1. We name our sin as sin and do not spin it or excuse it or call it an “issue”, 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.
“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…! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.” [italics mine]
~ 2 Corinthians 7: 11
“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” ~1 Corinthians 7:10
(Reprinted from Jared C. Wilson’s The Gospel Coalition)
What Will Keep Someone From Being Repentant?
Several years ago C.S. Lewis wrote a book entitled The Screwtape Letters. Screwtape was a master demon who wrote a series of letters to his nephew Wormwood, a demon in training.
Someone who had obviously read Lewis’s book had written another letter patterned after it. The letter begins:
I understand that you are about to graduate with honors and begin your work on earth. I’m glad that your training went so well. I would like to give you one piece of advice, one bit of devilish wisdom that I feel will be very useful to you as you begin your tour of duty on Earth.
One of the most important things I learned about humans during my time there was that they think very highly of themselves. For the most part, they consider themselves to be good, moral and upstanding people. The faults, the shortcomings and even the sins of others are very obvious to them. But when they look at themselves all they see is what they want to see, which of course are their good points. My advice to you, my dear Harshwood, is to encourage that kind of thinking. Encourage it for all its worth. Our Enemy wants them to see their sins as He sees them, so they will turn back to Him. But that’s the last thing we want.
I encourage you to blind their eyes, their hearts, and their souls to that revelation. Encourage them to think only of their good points and you, my dear friend Harshwood, will succeed in damning thousands of human beings to the fires of Hell. When Pastors and Evangelists preach about repentance convince them that there is no need for them to repent, that the pastor is really talking about the person sitting in the balcony or on the other side of the church. Convince them that they are in pretty good shape, that there is no need for them to repent, and then you’ll have them. For you see my dear Harshwood, when human beings start thinking about how good they are, they get filled with pride, and when that happens they are as good as ours.
Good luck on your tour of duty. My heart goes out to you as you use every trick, every scheme, every evil desire, every good intention, every proud thought to win souls for the god of this world, our Lord and Master, Satan himself.
Signed Your Devoted Teacher,
(Excerpted from Sermon Central illustrations)
“Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.”
~Psalm 51: 10-12
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