In Luke chapter 3, John the Baptist calls those who repent to show it by their fruit. But what does the fruit of repentance look like? We’ve all likely experienced the proud person who refuses to acknowledge any wrongdoing. This person may simply continue in their unrepentant sin. Others, though, may come to a place where they say, “I’m sorry if what I did offended you.” That’s not repentance; that’s not even a genuine apology.
Of course, as we have to deal with sin in the church we always hope for the possibility that when we confront someone, they will be genuinely repentant. And yet, Scripture alerts us to the reality that there is a sorrow that does not lead to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:1-16). If we are to shepherd our people well, then we need to learn to discern the difference because “godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret,” but “worldly grief produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:10). How, then, may we identify, and even encourage, the godly grief that leads to repentance?
Jared Wilson identifies twelve signs of genuine repentance. These are helpful signs that show whether or not someone is truly repentant. Our pastors often use this list as we help people struggling with sin come to genuine repentance. I want to share these twelve signs of genuine repentance with you in the hope that they will be helpful to you as well:
- 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.
- We actually confessed before we were caught or the circumstantial consequences of our sin caught up with us.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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).
- 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.
- We don’t resent accountability, pastoral rebuke, or church discipline.
- We seek our comfort in the grace of God in Jesus Christ, not simply in being free of the consequences of our sin.
- We are humble and teachable.
As Christians, we have been set free from the bondage of sin by faith in Jesus Christ. But we have not yet been delivered from the presence of sin. Realistically, then, we must continue to fight the fight of faith against sin. That includes helping one another repent of sin.
Use these twelve signs as a guide when walking alongside brothers and sisters who need to repent. Turn them into questions if that’s more helpful. For example, sign 10: “Are you willing to embrace accountability? Pastoral rebuke? Even, church discipline if it came to that?” Or, sign 7: “Are you willing to confess your sin, even if it means serious consequences?”
As a church, we not only have a mission to share the gospel of Jesus with unbelievers; we also have a responsibility to display this gospel as we live together in holiness. We are not perfect, but we are being perfected by God’s grace through various means: the word, the Spirit, one another. Admittedly, we will not be perfected until the return of Christ, so we must continue to fight sin and to repent when we do sin. Until Christ returns or we breathe no more, then, let us use all the means God gives us that we may live our lives in a manner worthy of the calling to which we have been called.