This is the second in the series on what to do with sin. The first post was True Confessions and can be found by clicking the link. Today we will take a look at what true repentance is.
I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us.…2 Corinthians 7:8
Many people wonder how to know if they have truly repented of their sin. The questions come when despite a stated desire to repent, the person continues to struggle with a particular sin issue. The reality is only God knows the condition and contents of the heart.
The church is loaded with people who verbally repent without any change in their lives. Because repentance is critical in overcoming any kind of sin, when I don't see the fruit of repentance (a changed life) following stated repentance I direct the counselee to what Paul said in 2 Corinthians 7:8-11. The counselee must prayerfully examine if his or her repentance was genuine and complete. Most times it is not.
Genuine sorrow over sin brings genuine repentance, while worldly sorrow does not. Godly
sorrow has as its first concern the honor of God. It is produced by the Holy Spirit acting on the conscience of a sinner. This kind of sorrow cries out, “Woe is me”
and causes a person to weep bitterly over the sin that has been committed. The repentant person will be very intentional about Bible study and prayer in order to learn how to think differently about sin (Rom. 12:2).
Worldly sorrow is “unsanctified remorse”[i] and is focused on feelings of regret, fear, and
even desperation. Its focus is on how
the sin or its exposure will affect them. John MacArthur further says that worldly
sorrow “has no redemptive capability. It is nothing more than the wounded pride
of getting caught in a sin and having one’s lusts go unfulfilled.
Godly repentance consists of change of mind about the sin. The person admits that what they have done is sinful and doesn't justify or rationalize it. There are no attempts to minimize the sin or shift the responsibility for it onto someone else. They accept the personal guilt attached to what they have done.
In addition to confessing the sin there must be a change of heart with respect to the sin. Whatever the person loved related to the sin is now hated. We could call this a holy hatred and it's often an emotional response that is experienced in the body in the form of deep sorrow over their sin. Like the change of mind about the sin, this aspect of repentance takes place in the inner man, or the heart. This
is understanding is critical because it is heart change that brings life change, not the other way around.
When there is conviction of sin, confession of sin, and a growing hatred for the sin there will be a change in the course of life. Changing the course of life
involves an act of the will, an avoidance of the people, places and things related to the sin. The repentant person willingly changes their phone number, deletes their Facebook account, and stops frequenting the places he or she used to go to sin. In other words, a deliberate turning from the sinful behavior or, as Jay Adams calls it,
a radical amputation of the old actions. This aspect of repentance will be a result of changes taking place in the heart.
These three things are all aspects of true repentance; change of heart, change of mind, and change of life. If you find yourself struggling with a sin you cannot seem to overcome, spend some time with the Lord and ask Him to reveal to you which of these you missed. Spend time in the Word and pray for conviction as you read! I would also urge you to consider fasting (with medical approval) if you are really serious about overcoming a stubborn sin in your life.
[i] John MacArthur Study Bible
footnotes on 2 Corinthians 7:10