John and Jill are both Christians who are in a relationship with one another. They've been dating for a year and truly want to live for God and hold Him as their highest treasure. One night, after a romantic date out on the town, John and Jill head back into their car with feelings of delight and a strong desire to be with one another sexually. One thing leads to another and before they know it, they've done the very thing they swore to never do: sex outside of marriage. The next morning they both meet up and agree that should never happen again. They feel genuine sorrow and ask for God's forgiveness.
Fast forward a week.
John and Jill are hanging out with friends in John's apartment. Because it is getting late, John's friends leave. John and Jill are alone and strongly desire to be with one another sexually. Knowing they should part ways, they decide to stay together and watch a movie on the couch. One thing leads to another and John and Jill find themselves doing the very thing they swore to never do again a week ago.
Maybe you have found yourself in a place like that. You sin, feel guilt and shame, and then swear to never do it again. A few days later (for some, less than that) and you find yourself in that sin again. Here is the question we must ask: How do I know I'm repentant? In other words, how do I know I mean what I say when I speak the words, 'I don't want to do this anymore'?
The answer is found in 2 Corinthians 7:10-11:
(10) For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (11) 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.
From this passage, we learn that there are five marks of a truly repentant person:
1. Genuine Sorrow.
"For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret..."
When you sin, do you just feel bad that you did it because it was wrong? Or do you feel bad because it grieves the heart of God? You know you are repentant when you look at your sin and say with David, "Against you and you only have I sinned..." (Psalm 51:4).
2. No Rationalization.
"Whereas worldly sorrow produces death."
We've seen it a thousand times. That hollywood or sports star gets busted for doing something illegal and they say sorry mixed in with 'If it wasn't for _____, I wouldn't have done it'. Worldly grief is defined by rationalization. People who have this are quick to blame others for their sin and slow to take ownership of what they have done. Do you make excuses for your sin? Do you blameshift? Do you fail to take ownership of your sin when you fall? The Bible promises that a lifestyle of blame shifting does not produce salvation, but "death".
3. A Brutally Honest Confession of Sin.
"For see what earnestness this godly grief has produces in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves..."
Repentant people are people who confess their sin. They don't hold back in confessing their sin to one another. Repentant people don't try to cover up their sin, they don't put on a mask for people, and they don't lie about where they are at. Do you refuse to confess your sin to the people you respect in your life? Do you put on a mask before people, hoping they think you're alright, all the while knowing your heart is breaking?
4. Strive To Make Things Right.
"What indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment!"
Paul here says that those who are characterized by repentance are those who have a hatred and fear of their sin. People who hate their sin strive to make things right that they did wrong. Those who steal give back what they stole and strive to live a life of generosity (Eph. 4:28). Those who lie confess their lie and seek to live a life of truth-telling. What does this look like for those like John and Jill who can't reverse what has already been done? To answer that, let's look at the fifth mark...
"People who are repentant make a plan of action that will set up boundaries for them to not fall back into the sin that they are repenting of."
5. Initiate A Plan For Victory
"At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter."
People who are repentant make a plan of action that will set up boundaries for them to not fall back into the sin that they are repenting of. This is done in the spirit of Matthew 5:29-30 where Jesus tells us that repentant people take radical measures to cut off all opportunities to fall back into sin. This means that John and Jill set up rules where they will not be alone. This means the porn addict puts a web filter like Covenant Eyes on their computer and gets accountability. This will look different for everyone, but the point is that the repentant person wants to change and thus makes a plan for how they will change.
Maybe you are reading this and you find yourself discouraged because you seem to keep falling into the same sin over and over again. Friend, look at your life and see if these five marks are a part of your life. If they are not, repent and God would flood your life with grace to live a life well-pleasing to Him.
I am a Husband to Clarissa, Pastor at Liberty Baptist Church, reader of many books, and tweeter at @brad_merchant.