Signs of true repentance

In order to determine whether someone has truly repented of a sin they have committed, it is important to understand the differences between ‘saying sorry’ and ‘feeling guilty’, as well as ‘sorry for been found out’ and ‘repentance’.  It is possible to be sorry for the consequences of their actions, but not really have a repentant heart or intention to change their ways.

In essence, what someone does comes from their thoughts and convictions which produce their actions, whether for good or for evil. Repentance therefore is not just guilt or regret about something done wrong. If a person is truly sorry, their behaviour will change accordingly. That is the difference between offering an apology (mind over matter) and being truly sorry (from the heart) with the intention to change your ways so you may not cause anyone pain again.


Can you repent without feeling sorry?

It is not possible to repent or be forgiven if you don’t feel sorry about what you have done. You have to understand the wrong you have committed and the pain and suffering it caused another person, say that you are sorry and then decide not to do it again – this is repentance. Then you must confess it to the Lord and ask His forgiveness. When others are involved, it is wise to also go to the person you have hurt and ask their forgiveness in all sincerity.

In Matthew 18:8-9 the Lord Jesus gives us a picture of the intensity of ‘turning from any wicked way’. A truly repentant person is zealous about casting off and turning away from their wrongdoings, even at great cost. This zeal is worked by the precious Holy Spirit within.


Check your own heart

How can you check your own heart, whether you are truly repentant in your words and actions? Following are some guidelines from Scripture to help you measure the condition of your own heart before the Lord. They will help you pray through matters that may still be an obstacle to you in your relationship with the Lord.

1. No excuses. This is when someone admits to a wrongdoing without adding a ‘but’ as excuse for what they did or shift part of the ‘blame’ to the other person. Plain raw honesty is needed (Genesis 3:12-13).

2. Confess immediately. A truly repentant person will not wait until they are caught or the circumstantial consequences of their sin catch up with them. The moment they have done wrong, they will say sorry and make right their wrong. They will not want anything to stand between them and the Lord (Psalm 32:5).

3. Tell everything. This is when someone admits to all their wrongdoing and not hide anything. They will desire to come clean completely, to be transparent and open, and to ask for help and prayer (Psalm 7:3, 8).

4. Wanting to make right. They have a desire and willingness to make right their wrongs and show that they have changed their ways (Psalm 32:5).

5. No self-defence. Sometimes our actions so impact another person, that it takes time for them to heal. A truly repentant person will be patient, understanding, supporting and caring towards those processing their hurt, without defending themselves all the time. They will not pressure anyone or burden them with feelings of guilt to ‘forgive’.

6. Willing to face consequences. Sincere repentance is shown when a person so desires to be right with God that they will rid themselves from the guilt of their sin, even when it means facing serious consequences such as undergoing church discipline, possible jail time, or having a spouse leave them. They understand that sin causes great damage to others that is not healed in the short term and in some cases the damage done is irreversible (Proverbs 28:13).

7. Willing to seek help. Sometimes a certain behaviour that causes others harm may require seeking help, e.g. when it involves addiction or a pattern of behaviour (violence, self-harm etc.). The person’s desire to be delivered from destructive behaviour will be very strong.

8. Willing to be corrected. Accountability plays an important role in the life of a truly repentant person willing to change their ways. They will not resent accountability, or discipline and correction in love (Psalm 39:11).

9. Grow spiritually. When someone repents and rights their wrongs, they have a deep desire to grow in their relationship with the Lord as well. They will want a vibrant spiritual life, not only deliverance from sin. They will be humble and teachable (Psalm 27:4).

10. They will be filled with joy. Psalm 51:12 says; Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit. One of the characteristics of being forgiven by the Lord is an inner joy that becomes visible in someone’s life.

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