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Six characteristics of true repentance.
How can you know if you have truly repented?
Before answering this question it is important to point out that Scripture speaks of true repentance as a glorious gift of God. In our fallen natural condition, none of us has the power or the desire to repent.
Repentance, therefore, is God-given. Three New Testament texts that support this idea are Acts 5:31; 11:18; and 2 Timothy 2:25.
Although repentance is a divine gift, it is also a human action. Once God grants saving repentance, the soul of the convert distances himself (herself) from sin. Nevertheless, there is such a thing as a false repentance as can be witnessed in the examples of King Saul (1 Samuel 15:24-30) and Judas Iscariot (Matthew 27:3-5).
A selfish sorrow based upon one’s bruised ego rather than the glory of God is not true evangelical repentance.
So what are the signs of biblical repentance? Let look at six characteristics.
Characteristic #1: Pain for sin
A truly repentant heart is sorrowful about his (her) sin (2 Corinthians 7:10). It is not so much a sorrow over the consequences of sin but over sin itself. A child of God hates sin with a holy hatred because it is an enemy of the heavenly Father.
When a regenerate soul falls into sin, much soul-turmoil ensues. There is a deep pain and sorrow over the sin committed.
Characteristic #2: Shame over sin
Not only is there a deep pain for sin but all converts feel great shame when they disobey the Lord (Ezra 9:6; Jeremiah 31:19). At times the shame may be so great that it leads to self-loathing as in the case of the prophet Job (Job 42:6).
Unbelievers, however, refuse to take sin seriously as they have no notion of staining God’s precious glory. Shame over sin is a true mark of a child of God.
Characteristic #3: Confession
Truly repentant folk are willing to own up and confess their faults without laying the blame at another’s feet. Adam blamed Eve. Eve blamed the snake. Nowadays millions do exactly the same.
Even within the sphere of the church, I have heard people literally blaming the devil for their sin. “The devil deceived me!” they say or, “The devil made me do it!”
God has given every Christian the Word of God, the Spirit of God and the precious gift of faith to overcome the works and wiles of Satan. Our weapons are more than sufficient to meet the advances of the enemy.
Rather than blaming Lucifer for our downfalls, we should confess that we are the ones to blame. We messed up. We sinned. We let the Lord down. The problem with always blaming the devil is that little by little our hearts grow hardened as we allow these petty excuses to justify our ungodliness.
As in Psalm 51:3-4, the Spirit-led children of God confess that it is they who sinned; no one else.
Characteristic #4: A Reformed Life
The fourth sign is reformed life. The repentant cease from sin because they detest sin. Scripture calls upon us to bring forth works of repentance (Isaiah 1:16). But the truly converted soul does something more than clean up his (her) life; he (she) also restores the damage done to others.
Look at the example of the tiny tax collector Zacchaeus. Once converted to the Lord he said, “I will give half of my goods to the poor and if I have deceived any man I will give him back four times more” (Luke 19:8).
Jesus replied saying, “Today salvation has come to this house; he is also a son of Abraham” (Luke 19:9). His actions proved that his heart had been revolutionized from within.
Characteristic #5: A New Heart
But true repentance involves something more than a merely reformed life. It is more about the new heart given by the Lord. This is the key difference between the children of God and the children of the flesh.
God’s children weep over their secret sin whereas unbelievers only feel bad about their public sins which may ruin their esteemed reputation. The sheep of the Lord are just as concerned about their inner thoughts and attitudes as they are about their external conduct. True repentance is a heart-matter.
Characteristic #6: Gospel-focused
The sixth mark of evangelical repentance is that it is more motivated by the gracious love of God revealed in the Gospel of Christ than it is about impending condemnation. Children of God understand that it is the goodness of the Lord which leads them to repentance (Romans 2:4).
The hypocrite, however, is only fearful about the judgment that is to come and has no inkling regarding the beauty of God Almighty. The unconverted soul repents outwardly so as not to go to hell; but the born again believer repents because he (she) loves God with all of his (her) heart.
In the light of the six characteristics, we would do well to examine our hearts.
Do you feel pain for your sin?
Do you feel ashamed about it?
Do you confess what you have done the Lord?
Do you restore the damage you have done?
Do you truly wish for sin to be uprooted from your heart?
Do you keep a Gospel-focus in every moment?
If so, your repentance is a precious gift of God. If not, cry out to the Lord for salvation!