Characteristics of Repentance

By Danni Moss
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Repentance is not complete without fruit to demonstrate its reality. While it is just one little verse, Mt. 3:8 gives us a clue that there is such a thing as fruit that demonstrates repentance. What might that fruit be?

First of all, repentance is not just saying the words, “I’m sorry” or “I repent of x, y, & z.” Repentance inherently includes the concept of reversing direction. Repentance without complete behavior change is not repentance.

Repentance also stays the course. Repentance is not genuine if it is recanted once the violator gets what he wants.

Repentance is also public, if appropriate. Wrong done in public or publicly exposed, should be publically repented.

A repentant attitude will be accompanied by a heart of humility that recognizes and grieves the hurt caused. Repentance and pride cannot occur simultaneously. So repentance offered with a jaunty “oops” attitude is not genuine repentance. At the same time, we need to beware of crocodile tears. False humility in public with an unchanged private life is not repentance.

Repentance cannot occur simultaneously with lies either. A repentance that acknowledges a sin that has been publically exposed while continuing to hide sin that has not been exposed, is not repentance. A specific example is a man who “repents” for one act of immorality he’s been caught committing, while failing to acknowledge and continuing to hide his other immoral relationships. That “repentance” is just to keep his fanny out of hot water and perhaps preserve his position.

True repentance will also accept the consequences of wrong actions. God forgives the repentant heart. His forgiveness is complete. However, He does not exempt us from the consequences of our actions. For instance, if a man in church leadership is caught in immorality he has voided his qualifications for church leadership since the Bible requires a church leader to live a blameless life. A man or woman who is a pedophile must accept the natural consequences of jail time and/or permanent removal from work with children. A church that supercedes these consequences is not only foolishly putting young people in danger, it is guilty of putting someone in the way of temptation, and, even more, extending “forgiveness” even further than God Himself does. Parents who are convicted of child abuse must accept the loss of their children if that is the judgment of the court. It’s a harsh thing, but it is the natural consequence of wrong done.

While we are expected to forgive, we are not expected to forgive (offer absolution to) someone who is not genuinely repentant.

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5 Responses

  1. This is exactly right about the “crocodile tears”! My husband cried on his knees several times and was pleading to forgive him and move back and live with him. When I answer that I am not ready to move back and live in one flat with him he starts screaming, calling me bad names, throwing things and thretening me. It doesn’t look like repentance to me.

  2. Danni
    You said:
    While we are expected to forgive, we are not expected to forgive (offer absolution to) someone who is not genuinely repentant.

    In my last marriage and my current marriage neither of my husbands have ever asked forgiveness for any of the abuse they have committed against me or my children. How do I get beyond what they have done to me if I am not expected to forgive them? I think that is why I am in the emotional state I am in. I have been told that I need to forgive them even if they never repent for what they have done to me. When I am overwhelmed and in such emotional turmoil from what they have done or are still doing to me I find myself forgiving them just so I can get some release from the pain. I doesn’t seem to work when I do this although I am afraid if I don’t that I will be hanging on to bitterness, anger etc and making myself sick because I don’t let it go.Even forgiveness ends up being crazymaking for me!

    • Mary,

      We do need to forgive them — for our own sake we need to let it go and leave them in God’s hands. However, we do not need to be reconciled to them — meaning we do not have to put ourselves back into a position of danger. We may still need to interact politely with them, and God’s Word says we should bless those who curse us.

      Usually when the church preaches forgiveness there is a misunderstanding that reconciliation is inherently included. It is not. Forgiveness is for our own benefit — to release us from bondage to bitterness and anger. That’s all. If there has been no genuine repentance, there is no obligation to restore relationship.

      And I have to say that forgiving the offender is something I have to do more than once. Whenever I find I have taken up that offense again, I have to forgive. So it isn’t a once-for-all thing. It does become less of an issue over time.

      — Danni

  3. What has been really healing for me was that now 8 years after the divorce, I can say, “You were abusive and mean, and you hurt the kids.” And he just listens (for a minute) and that’s all I say. I just needed to have enough power to say it.

  4. I agree gergirl – even if you have a response from them. Just the point you are strong enough now to vocalize it is very empowering!

    Good for you!

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