What Does Repentance Look Like?

If you've ever spent any time counseling or helping a friend through a difficult sin problem, one of the most difficult things to ascertain is whether there is true biblical repentance. While there is no sure-fire way to see if someone's heart has been changed by the Spirit, there are indications that can demonstrate whether a person has truly turned from his sin.

Is it enough to say, “I'm sorry”? An apology is a good start, but repentance is most fundamentally a change of heart that results in a change of life–turning from sin to God for mercy and grace.

The following characteristics may help you discern the fruit of repentance in your own life and in the lives of those you are seeking to help.

Biblical repentance…

  • Accepts responsibility – not defensive; when confronted with sin, rather than looking for where observations and confrontations are wrong, we should seek the Spirit's guidance in knowing where the observations are right.
  • Accepts accountability (submissive) – not resistant to the care of men and women who love us and are willing to be honest with us.
  • Calls sin, “sin” – be willing to call sin what it is (misleading words: lies; looks of lust: adultery; defensiveness: pride and fear).
  • Ceases sinful behavior – no longer pursuing sin, even in “light” forms; not clouding the truth or explaining away sin.
  • Apologizes – not explanatory; rather than seeking to explain “mistakes” or “misunderstandings,” we own up to sin as sin.
  • Is primarily concerned about repentance and restoration – not primarily concerned about consequences or reputation
  • Is not resentful – doesn't resent the working of the Spirit of God through people who love us; doesn't resent those who hold us accountable and who work to “hold our feet to the fire”
  • Makes restitution when appropriate – of material goods, reputation slandered, trust broken, etc.

Anything you would add/change? Feel free to add your input in the comments.


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