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12 Signs of Genuine Repentance

We’ve all experienced the proud person who refuses to acknowledge any wrongdoing. He or she may say, “I’m sorry if what I did offended you,” but you and I both know that’s not genuine repentance. In fact, that’s not even an apology.

We always that when we confront someone about a sin or offense, they will be genuinely sorrowful and that that sorrow would lead to repentance. But the Bible warns that there is a sorrow that does not lead to repentance. In other words, sometimes people are simply sorry they got caught, but they are not truly repentant. The apostle Paul explains the difference between “a godly grief” that “produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret,” and a “worldly grief [that] produces death.” How, then, may we identify, and even encourage, the godly grief that leads to repentance?

In Jonah chapter 3, the Ninevites provide a picture of genuine repentance. (1) They believe in God – Faith; (2) they mourn over their sin – Godly Grief/Sorrow; (3) they identify their specific sins – Confession; (4) they ask God to grant them repentance – Prayer; (5) they throw themselves at the mercy of God – Humility; and (6) they actually turn from their sin – Repentance. At the theological level, that is a beautiful picture of genuine repentance. But what does repentance look like at a practical, everyday level? What evidence or fruit does genuine repentance offer?

Jared Wilson helps us identify 12 signs of genuine repentance. These are helpful signs that show whether or not someone is truly repentant. The elders at High Pointe often use this list as we help people struggling with sin come to genuine repentance. These are also the 12 signs that I shared with you in our sermon on Jonah 3. Let’s consider these together so that we may grow in our understanding of repentance and be able to encourage one another toward true repentance.

“How do you know when someone is repentant? 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 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? Repenting 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.

Here are 12 signs we have a genuinely repentant heart:

  1. 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. 
  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.

As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. 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, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter” (2 Corinthians 7:9-11).