True Repentance


What More Does God Need to Do?

Let me ask you an honest question, what more does God need to do for you to live a victorious, fruitful, productive life in Him? What more does He need to do? He defeated the devil. (1 John 5:18, Col 2:15) He forgave you your sins. (Col 1:13-14, Eph 4:32, 1 John 2:12) He equipped you with eternal life. (Rom 6:23, 1 Tim 6:12, 1 John 5:11) He gave you the Holy Spirit to lead into all truth (John 16:13), the Word of God (1 Thes 2:13, 1 John 2:14, Rev 19:13), the lamp for your feet (Psa 119:105). It’s finished folks. The only missing ingredient here is our repentance and faith in Him. And helping our people to deeply repent and grow in Christ by faith.

Dr. Neil T Anderson, "Sanctification & Spiritual Warfare",

What are we to repent of?

The Old Man of Sin

This is the state of our flesh when we were born into this fallen world.

The Old Man of Sin

This is the state of our flesh when we were born into this fallen world.

The New Man in Christ

When we are born again in Christ we are given a new heart and God’s spirit to be a new creation.

Root Causes of Sin

The Goal in Christ

Pride (selfish & self-centered; perfectionism, critical, prejudice, boasting, anger, malice, hate, jealousy, selfish-ambition, conceit)

Self-esteem (because of who God made us to be in Christ - in humility, love your neighbor as yourself implies loving yourself and being self-confidence in Christ; able to receive correction)

Rebellion (against God and authority; independence, disobedience, idolatry)

Submission (accountable to God and authority resulting in freedom)

Guilt (for unresolved sin and the lie of false guilt; defensive and paranoid)

Peace (of God that surpasses all understanding, now no more condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, clear conscience and innocence)

Fear (primarily of death, people and the devil; avoidance and blame shifting)

Love & Faith (in God through Christ Jesus resulting in boldness and initiation)

Hiding (with our sin in darkness; pretension and lying)

Truth (coming into the light of God’s Word which is truth resulting in openness and being teachable)

Death (spiritual & physical - it's a choice, we can and often do choose death, hopelessness and despair)

Life (I set before you life and death - Choose life!  choosing life results in joy and hope)

What is true repentance?

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (2 Corinthians 7:10 ESV)

Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? (Romans 2:4 ESV)

When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.” (Acts 11:18 ESV)

24 And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:24-26 ESV)

True repentance is having a genuine and sincere grief for our sin – godly sorrow. The process involves:

  • First, even though we usually know our own sins they can at times be hidden from us due to our own unbelief (Prov 14:12, 2 Cor 4:4) or through deception (2 Cor 11:3, Rev 12:9). Ask your heavenly Father in humility and sincerity of heart, to reveal the sin in your life. He will by His Holy Spirit (John 16:7-11) without condemnation (Rom 8:1). The Steps to Freedom in Christ is a great resource to help us identify most of the unresolved sins in our lives and the lies we have believed.
  • Second, the acknowledgment of our sin before God – calling/naming the sin what God calls it (pride, rebellion, fornication, stealing, lying, bitterness, covetousness, etc.). Naming the sin is the "what" component but we should also include "who" we sinned against (God is always included here) and "where" and "when" we sinned as appropriate. This is confessing it - saying "I DID IT!" and bringing it into the light instead of hiding it in the dark or minimizing it or trying to justify it, which is the devil's domain and opens the door to give the devil another foothold in our life – leading to more bondage or oppression. Confessing is speaking the truth about what we have done - bringing it fully into the light. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9 ESV)
  • Third, we need to renounce the sin (Tit 2:11-12, 2 Cor 4:2) as wrong and deserving of God’s righteous judgment (Rom 2:5).
  • Fourth, since repentance appears to be a gift of God we should humbly ask our heavenly Father to show us just how sinful the sin really is (Jesus had to die for our sin) and to grant us His gift of repentance (2 Tim 2:25) the ability to change our mind, to turn from evil (Psa 37:27), and to stop doing wrong and learn to do right (Isa 1:16-17). When God answers this prayer we will be able to truly repent which means we will see our sin for the evil that it is and sincerely hate it as evil and turn away from doing it again - a change of mind. We need to truly see that it caused Jesus to have to die on the cross for us to be forgiven and free. God had to forsake His beloved Son Jesus on the Cross because of all the sins of the world, past, present and future, that were placed upon Christ moments before His death (Matt 27:45-46).  Godly sorrow must engage our emotions.  Sorrow is an emotion. The mind and will can't truly be engaged in the act of true repentance until we get down, in God the Father's presence, to the emotional core of how terrible our sin really is - that a sinless Jesus Christ had to die a horrible death on the cross so that we could be forgiven and free.
  • Fifth, if it applies, we need to ask God to forgive us our sin as we also forgive anyone who has sinned against us (Matt 6:12-15). Holding onto bitterness will prevent us from receiving God's forgiveness (Heb 12:15) not to mention that God Himself says He will turn us over to the tormentors if we don't (Matt 18:34). Forgiveness is a choice and a decision of the will. We must choose to let go of the anger and bitterness and any desire for revenge.  Forgiveness must also engage our emotions.  The mind and will can't truly be engaged in the act of true forgiveness until we get down, in God the Father's presence, to the emotional core of how deeply we were hurt by the act or acts of another person which caused us to harbor - hold on to - so much anger and bitterness and unforgiveness.  Once we get to that point before God we then need to remember how much more Christ suffered for us so that we could be forgiven.  We are called to do exactly as God did for us in Christ - how can we do otherwise?
  • Sixth, we need to thank God for (1) His forgiveness which was already accomplished in Christ Jesus on the cross (Eph 4:32) and (2) for His promise to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

What is faith in God?

Faith in God means we can truly “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not own your own understanding. Commit all your ways to Him and He will make your paths straight.” (Prov 3:5-6 NIV)

Like repentance, faith is also a gift from God (Eph 2:8). We should pray to our heavenly Father and ask Him for true repentance and true faith. (Matt 7:8-11)


“I’m sorry,” I remember my dad saying. “I’m sorry, and I love you.”

He didn’t say what he was sorry for. He didn’t mention the hand-shaped bruises aching up and down my small 11-year-old body. He didn’t seem to understand how afraid and devastated I’d been. But that was the first time I’d ever heard my dad say sorry, and the relief it brought felt like rain after a drought.

In the back of my mind, a little voice said, Don’t trust this. He’s only apologizing because Mom threatened to tell Pastor Jim if he didn’t. I shoved that voice down. I smothered my doubts. I had prayed for so long that Dad would change. I had tried to be a good daughter who reminded him of Jesus.

His apology, however vague, was hope and a sign that God was working. Or was it?

Cruelty of False Repentance

Around a decade would pass before I’d hear my dad apologize again. Initially, I didn’t assume sincerity. By that time, I’d already blown the whistle. I’d told our pastor everything. Dad was under church discipline. His marriage was imploding. He had nothing to gain by lying, did he?

And then something strange happened. As I began sharing my story with pastors, family, and friends, my dad would admit and apologize for things he’d done, but then weeks or even days later, claim he didn’t remember any of it. He’d say he didn’t recall beating me, throwing me down on the stairs, or even his recent apologies for those events. He didn’t remember his sexual comments, throwing a knife at me, or threatening to shoot me. He’d apologize, then retract. Remember, then claim to forget. Back and forth this went for maybe a year, until I felt like I was losing my mind.

“I don’t know what to think,” I told him over the phone one day. Huddled on the kitchen floor, I spoke between sobs. “I can believe either you’re crazy and didn’t know what you were doing, or you’re evil and you understood completely.”

“I’m not crazy,” he replied calmly. “You’re just going to have to accept that I’m evil.”

Analyzing Repentance

I’ve had a lot of experience dealing with unrepentant people: multiple abusers spanning two decades of child abuse, domestic violence, and sexual abuse. All of this was reinforced and compounded by psychological abuse, which continued well into my 30s. Because of my background, I’ve accrued some practical wisdom. Because of my faith, I’ve turned to the Bible for guidance when distinguishing real from fake repentance.

There are stubborn sinners who refuse to apologize, liars who claim to be sorry when they’re not, and hypocrites who may truly believe they’re sorry yet lack sympathy or understanding of biblical repentance. So what are the attributes of genuine repentance? Here are eight signs I’ve gleaned, from life and from God’s Word.

1. A Repentant Person Is Appalled by Sin

Horrified by what they’ve done, they’ll humble themselves, grieve the pain they’ve caused, and be cut to the heart in their conviction. As the prophet mourned in Isaiah 6:5, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.”

2. They Make Amends

In Luke 19:1–10, we read the story of Zacchaeus and the generosity he demonstrated as part of his repentance. A tax collector, thief, and oppressor of God’s people, Zacchaeus made amends: “Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor. And if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount” (v. 8). And Jesus confirmed the authenticity of Zacchaeus’s repentance: “Today salvation has come to this house” (v. 9).

3. They Accept Consequences

A genuinely repentant person will accept consequences. These may include losing the trust of others, relinquishing a position of authority, or submitting to worldly authorities such as law enforcement. When the thief on the cross repented, he said to his companion, “Do you not fear God? . . . We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve” (Luke 23:40–41). And Jesus commended his repentance by assuring him of his salvation: “Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

4. They Don’t Expect or Demand Forgiveness

Often I’ve been told by my abuser, “If you don’t forgive me, God won’t forgive you.” But this threatening posture indicates insincere repentance. It’s unloving, manipulative, and implies the offender doesn’t accept or comprehend the gravity of what they’ve done. When Jacob approached Esau and repented, he didn’t expect mercy, let alone compassion. In Genesis 32, we read he felt “great fear” and “distress” (v. 7). He anticipated an attack (v. 11) and considered himself unworthy of kindness (v. 10). In fact, so certain was Jacob of retribution that he separated his wives, children, and servants from him, lest Esau’s anger fall on them too.

5. They Feel the Depth of the Pain They’ve Caused

A repentant person won’t try to minimize, downplay, or excuse what they’ve done. They won’t point to all their good works as if those actions somehow outweigh or cancel out the bad. They’ll view even their “righteous acts” as “filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6). They won’t shame the offended party for being hurt or angry. They won’t blame their victims or other people for making them sin. Rather, they’ll take responsibility, acknowledge the damage they’ve done, and express remorse.

6. They Change Their Behavior

A truly repentant person will realize they need God to sanctify their heart. They’ll proactively work to change their behavior and take steps to avoid sin and temptation. That may mean seeing a counselor, going to rehab, or asking friends, pastors, or law enforcement to give them oversight and hold them accountable. Consider the stark contrast between the church persecutor Saul before salvation and after. Acts 9 tells us that even though some Christians were understandably hesitant to trust him, his character had already altered dramatically.

7. They Grant Space to Heal

The fruit of the Spirit includes patience, kindness, grace, and self-control (Gal. 5:22–23). A truly repentant person will demonstrate these consistently. They won’t feel entitled to trust or acceptance; rather, they’ll be humble, unassuming, and willing to sacrifice their own wants and needs for the benefit of the injured party. They won’t pressure us to hurry up and “get over it” or “move on.” Rather, they’ll understand our distrust, acknowledge our grief, and honor the boundaries we’ve requested.

As an abuser, they loved their sin more than they loved you. As a repentant sinner, they should love you more than their sin and pride.

As an abuser, they loved their sin more than they loved you. As a repentant sinner, they should love you more than their sin and pride.

8. They’re Awestruck by Forgiveness

If a person feels entitled to forgiveness, they don’t value forgiveness. When Jacob received Esau’s forgiveness, he was so astounded he wept: “To see your face is like seeing the face of God, for you have received me favorably” (Gen. 30:10). Jacob realized that forgiveness is divine miracle, a picture of the Messiah, and a sign of the Lord’s mercy. Though Jacob and Esau hadn’t spoken for 40 years, Jacob knew God had enabled Esau, by grace, to forgive him.

Repentance and Forgiveness Are from God

When these eight signs of repentance are authentically present, we are blessed. Our offender has forsaken evil, and the God of peace is glorified. But what do we do when these signs are not present? What do we do when someone lies about being sorry to avoid consequences, or uses our goodwill as an opportunity to hurt us again?

For more than three decades, I begged God to call my abusive dad to repentance. Instead, like Pharaoh, his heart only hardened. His pretenses at change turned out to be a strategy he used to enable his wickedness. My own love and trust were weaponized to betray me.

Eventually, I had to accept that my dad didn’t want to get better. And no matter how much I loved him and wanted him to repent, change, be a good dad, love me, and love Jesus, salvation is God’s work, and I couldn’t fix my dad. Sometimes the most loving thing we can do for a person is to not let them hurt us any longer.

Few things in the life of a believer are as disheartening as the long struggle with persistent sins. This is particularly true when we have experienced victory over sin in other areas of our life. We know God has the power to get rid of our sin, so why won’t he? 

It may sound counterintuitive, but sometimes victory over some sin tarries because God desires to teach us how to truly repent of that sin. God desires his people to know not only how to walk in holiness, but also to obey his command to rend our hearts when we fall short of his glory (Joel 2:13). Yes, sin in our life is a problem, but so is a life where we haven’t learned how to truly repent of sin.

Torn Hearts

We’ve all probably seen a pastor illustrate the concept of repentance during a Sunday morning sermon. He walks across the stage on “the path of sin” and tells us that repenting is not merely stopping as we walk down the path, but turning to walk back in the direction of God. This is absolutely right; repentance involves both turning away from sin and turning back to the Father. However, the illustration fails to provide the posture of our heart as we come back to God. This is no incidental point, but gets to the very core of what true repentance is all about.

“True repentance, like all good things, is a gift of God.”

In Joel 2:12–13, the Lord calls to Israel, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” In the Old Testament, people commonly expressed great grief and anguish by tearing their cloaks. But more than caring about the proper “signs” of being upset about their sin, God cared that they actually grieved over them in their hearts — grieved to the point of weeping and mourning. 

In his famous psalm of repentance, David reminds us that God does not delight so much in the outward signs of repentance (which included making a sacrifice), but “the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). We’re not talking about the shame and condemnation the enemy wants to heap on us, but a godly grief.

We can be in the habit of going through the motions when it comes to repenting, but these passages show that the most important thing is the condition of our heart. Does your repentance look like a heart that has been rent like a garment, broken and contrite as it beats before God? This attitude is missing from most repentance, and it’s the very thing God is trying to teach us!

How to Get a Broken Heart

It may sound strange, but how do we go about getting a broken heart? 

First, we simply need to ask for it. True repentance, like all good things, is a gift of God (2 Timothy 2:25). If we want to obey the command to rend our hearts, we must ask God to grant us true repentance.

“The more glimpses we have of the glory of God, the more we mourn for scorning that glory.”

We must also be aware of one of the biggest hindrances to obtaining a broken heart: our neglect of the relational aspect of sinning. By this, I mean that we can view sin as a failure of performance rather than a failure of intimacy. The only grief we experience is disappointment in our inability to do what is right, and not that we have “despised” the living God (2 Samuel 12:9). 

When we sin, we play the part of an adulterer who looks for satisfaction in another, rather than the only One who can satisfy. That is why David said to the Lord, “against you, you only, have I sinned” (Psalm 51:4). David rightly saw his failures in terms of relationship, and as a result his heart was grieved as it can be only when we have sinned against the One we love so much.

Behold His Glory

Finally, true repentance comes not merely by understanding the relational aspect of sin, but by understanding the nature of the One with whom we are in relationship. In other words, the more we see God as glorious and holy, the more we will see sin as something to weep over. Repentance is less about feeling bad over behavior, and more about feeling awe and delight towards God. The more glimpses we have of the glory of God, the more we mourn for scorning that glory.

In the end, God’s plan for us is that we will be holy as he is holy (1 Peter 1:16). He will surely do it! In the meantime, he desires a brokenhearted people who have learned to mourn over their sin.