For many, repentance comes down to simply asking God for forgiveness. After all, it is also the definition that we find in the traditional dictionaries, namely the fact of deeply regretting having done or said something.
However, if we open the Word of God, we find that repentance is actually much more than that. David’s example confirms it for us: repentance is everything, words, gestures, feelings, and a new attitude. Therefore, here are the 14 signs of true and false repentance, or at least, repentance that is not true and true.
14 Signs of False Repentance
1) Repentance without a genuine desire to change
When I repent, I realize that I have hurt the Lord, that I have strayed from His ways, and that I have made vain the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. I must certainly ask for forgiveness, but above all nourish in me the desire to change. I must do everything in my power to let the Holy Spirit transform my nature, starting with crucifying the desires of my flesh.
“If my people, upon whom my name is called, humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their evil ways, I will hear them from heaven, and forgive them their sins, and I will heal their country.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)
2) Repentance without remorse or regret
“Good” guilt is guilt that brings me to the feet of the Master to ask for forgiveness, not guilt that makes me run from his face. If I have no remorse or regrets, then I haven’t truly grasped the magnitude of my actions and take my sin lightly.
“Then they heard the voice of the LORD God, going through the garden toward evening, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the face of the LORD God, among the trees of the garden.” (Genesis 3:8-10)
3) A repentance where one seeks to justify his fault
I have sinned. I must take full responsibility for it. I must not try to justify my fault because no argument will be valid enough to explain my disobedience to the Lord and His Word. Whatever the motives that led me to sin, I recognize my weakness because I yielded to his call.
4) A repentance that does not prevent us from repeating the same sin
I don’t just have to apologize to God. I must also do violence to myself and not fall back into this sin again. I know what my weaknesses are, and I know what can be an opportunity for me to fall. I must therefore do everything to flee these temptations and avoid finding myself in situations where I will be prey for the enemy.
“God saw that they were doing this and coming back from their wrong way. Then God repented of the evil he had determined to do to them, and he did not do it.” (Jonah 3:10)
5) A repentance that causes us to blame others and find another culprit
Even if I sinned with one or more other people, even if it was a third party who led me to the fault, I recognize that I had my free will and that I could have refused. I didn’t and am therefore entirely guilty. I don’t have another person to blame, not even the devil.
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6) A repentance that seeks to relativize the fault committed
Whatever the fault, a sin is a sin. There is no classification or scale of sin, although the consequences are different. Before the Lord, I am wrong. So I must not try to relativize my fault. Nor should I think that because a third person has done the same or worse than me, I am exempt from repentance, quite the contrary.
“For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23)
7) Reluctant repentance
I don’t have to repent because it was imposed on me. I must not repent to please my church, family, and loved ones. I must not repent out of love for my partner. I must ask God for forgiveness because I myself became aware of my fault. There’s little point in apologizing to someone when you don’t mean a word of it. It is the same with God. I need to know that God searches the depths of my heart. He knows if I am sincere or if I am doing this act reluctantly.
“He who conceals his transgressions does not prosper, but he who confesses them and forsakes them obtains mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13)
Example of True Repentance: David
Repentance is more than just regretting past deeds. It is a deep inner change that brings the soul to Salvation. But how do you enter into sincere repentance? How do we get rid of the burden of sin and guilt? Take the example of David.
When David sinned with Bathsheba, he wrote Psalm 51, a text remarkable for its beauty and depth. We can see that his process of repentance went by degrees, and so must we.
The broken soul emerges from the dark depths to climb slowly up the steps of forgiveness which once again bathe it in light. Here are the examples of David’s repentance.
1) Sin is first judged, that is, fully recognized before God.
“O God! have mercy on me in your goodness; According to your great mercy, blot out my transgressions; Wash me completely from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I recognize my transgressions, And my sin is always before me” (verses 3 to 5).
2) The culprit implores forgiveness of the offense and asks for the cleansing of his sin.
“Purify me with hyssop, and I will be clean. Wash me, and I’ll be whiter than snow. Show me gladness and joy, and the bones you have broken will rejoice” (verse 9).
3) The purification experience will bring the culprit back to the truth.
“O God! create in me a pure heart, renew in me a willing spirit. Cast me not out of your sight, neither take your holy spirit from me” (verse 12).
4) The joy of the Holy Spirit once again dwells in the repentant.
“Give me back the joy of your Salvation, and may a spirit of goodwill sustain me!” (verse 14)
5) Forgiveness brings the Spirit of witness and service.
“I will teach your ways to those who transgress them, and sinners will return to you” (verse 15).
6) Forgiveness brings heartfelt gratitude and adoration.
“O God, God of my salvation! deliver me from the shed blood, and my tongue shall praise your mercy” (verse 16).
7) The repentant is rehabilitated and regains fellowship with God.
“Spread out your blessings on Zion by your grace, build the walls of Jerusalem!” (verse 20)
Like David, let us cry out to God and humble ourselves before His face so that He can create in us a pure, sanctified, and entirely renewed heart.
Repentance is not an act, it is an attitude that brings us from darkness to light. Do not deprive yourself of it because repentance concerns all Christians, new and old converts!