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How to Know if My Repentance is Real?

Updated: Dec 3, 2023

Repentance is a simple subject in theory but in practice is difficult and can give people a sense of condemnation, when in fact it is supposed to do that opposite. Repentance is the remorse or sincere regret of sin that leads one to turn away from their sin and turn to the Lord and his Spirit for guidance to live a holier life, true living (John 6:63).

Often times people will say they’re trying to repent which is a good thing but can also be problematic as they feel their effort is the end goal of Christianity and they are failing. It’s a good thing because it shows a change in Spirit, the beginning of a new self (Hebrews 8:10). Wanting to change and trying to change is evidence that God has done something in us. How do we know it’s authentic? We see a pattern happen in us over time that doesn’t fade. This is not to say it doesn’t go up and down and we backslide and move forward, but rather over the slow process of years and decades we evidently see something changing. We don’t do certain things we once loved as sinners now enslaved to Christ and his righteousness, we have a heart for the things of God like mercy, grace, compassion, love, charity, etc. If you wish to learn more on the subject of repentance, feel free to check out, "Repentance: The First Word of the Gospel" by Richard Roberts. Now why can someone “trying to repent” be problematic? The problem is the change we see, or should see, is often slow and it is often most evident in our attitude and perspective more than our action. You see, as we become more sanctified, we hate our sin and love righteousness more and this is clear within the first several months of being a new convert. Some things have a new taste that we can’t handle anymore and is disgusting to us. However, we see this change in attitude and acting like this is not repentance, but it is! Of course, this attitude should follow with action and will eventually, hopefully sooner rather than later, but our failure to fight sin perfectly should not discourage us as it often does. Sometimes repentance is trying and failing and then after trusting in grace, the death of Christ to atone for our sin (Galatians 1:4) more than we did last time we sinned when we tried to make up for our fail, while simultaneously trusting that He who started a good work in us will finish it (Philippians 1:6). We know that though it is slow, the Lord will not leave us as we are. As we become more sorrowed over our sin it WILL produce change, but our mind and heart is being renewed and this takes time.

In fact, this change in attitude is not insignificant but could to a great degree be more significant than just simply not doing certain things. If you are trusting that for your salvation your repentance, be perfect or completed then you are not throwing yourself upon Christ’s sacrifice for past, present, and future sins but instead trusting in your completed work of self-manifested righteousness. I have to remind myself of this on a regular basis. My works and stumbling to maintain them are evidence of something greater than I could ever produce in myself by trying harder to repent more perfectly. There are times when God creates a weakness in us so that we would be more inclined to throw ourselves onto him and less to what we are deceived into believing we have accomplished. Again, I need to emphasize sin is not okay, and war needs to be waged against it (Romans 7:23; 1 Peter 2:11), but we cannot expect the repentance of a mature lifelong Christian when we ourselves have only been saved 5 or 10 years. We need to fight, and fight hard, acknowledge our mistake, pray and trust the forgiveness promised to us, and move on. The conditions on our heart in this are evidence as are our actions. There is more to be done in a converted believer than producing more external works because the one who is broken-hearted internally, likely isn’t broken-hearted enough over their sin and the Lord will convict them. The one who thinks they are broken-hearted enough over their likely isn’t broken-hearted enough either and Lord will likewise convict them. Looking at God’s ancient people it becomes evident that their heart was not in the proper place, and this displeased the Lord more than what they did physically. God desires their heart would be changed and promised that to his New Covenant people because it is something severe and weighty and needed to be addressed.

The problem with seeking only a physical and external repentance is that it does not please the Lord entirely. Within ancient Israel and then later Israel and Judah there was, for a time, obedience but it was empty. The prophet Isaiah spoke of this issue when he states that the people come near to the Lord with their mouth and honor Yahweh with their lips, but in reality, their heart did not care for or want God (Isaiah 29:13). Worshipping God improperly can led to serious consequences, and this is seen within Leviticus as Nadab and Abihu, two of Aaron’s sons, were killed by God for inappropriate and irreverent worship (Leviticus 10:1-3). The position of Israel and eventually Judah’s heart led them to worship false gods repeatedly. We must see that the heart matters and when we are fearful that our actions don’t add up to what we think they should, we need to be cautious and asses ourselves (2 Corinthians 13:5), but we rejoice in the fact that our heart has some resemblance of true saving faith because much of God’s ancient people failed to possess it. The Lord cares so much about this that through the Old Testament prophets he spoke of his Spirit which would come in a New Covenant bringing the law to the people’s heart. This means that they would not have it externally on stone, but it would be engraved in their heart, their nature, so that they not only do the right thing of habit, but they desire to (Jeremiah 31:31-34). The Spirit would come to empower the New Testament Church to obey the Lord faithfully carrying out his mission of expanding the kingdom. Elsewhere within Ezekiel the same message or preached as he exclaims the Lord will give a new heart, one of flesh that is living and beats for the Lord (Ezekiel 36:26). Continuing, the reader sees that the Spirit will move us to follow the Lord’s decrees, once again, from the heart (Ezekiel 36:27). The condition of our heart matters! When we stumble and are distraught and upset by sin it shows our actions were in conflict with our nature, guided by the Spirit, and this troubles us and causes some degree of grief as the Lord would experience it over sin. This too is evidence of repentance as our heart is changed and our actions will follow in time. So when you feel as if you are not genuine because you sin, join the club, all Christians sin. However, what will set you apart from the secular world is the grief over sin and the slow, but ongoing, progress of sanctification that becomes evident with time and patience.

Repentance is something that can be messy, and it can be messy often, but so human experience and the Christian life. It will be filled with ups and downs but ultimately, we hope in Christ who has accomplished for us what we could not accomplish for ourselves, and we trust in the Spirits work within us. The condition of our heart and our attitude towards sin can be good evidence of real repentance showing that God has saved us and is sanctifying us. If you are interested in supporting us, feel free to check out our store!

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