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Posts tagged ‘false repentance’

8 Signs of True Repentance

SOURCE:  Jennifer Greenberg

“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.

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.

How do you know when someone is truly sorry?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

They do not cry out to me from their hearts but wail upon their beds.

Hosea 7:14

As biblical counselors, sometimes it’s hard to discern if someone is truly repentant.

Tears are often the language of the heart, but when one is crying in the counseling office, it’s important to hear what the person’s heart is really saying.  The apostle Paul speaks of two kinds of sorrow, worldly sorrow that leads to death and godly sorrow that brings repentance (2 Corinthians 7:9-10).  As Christian counselors, it is crucial that we learn to distinguish between the two especially when we are doing couples work.

Worldly sorrow is a self-focused sorrow. It may contain great emotion, tears, and apologies, but the grief expressed is for one’s self. The person mourns the consequences of his or her sin and what she has lost. This may be a marriage, a job, a reputation, friends and/or family, or can even be one’s own idea of who they thought they were. Here are some of the things we often hear a person say when they are sorrowing unto death.

·         I can’t believe I did such a thing.

·         Why is this happening to me?

·         Please forgive me. – Implying, please don’t make me suffer the  consequences of my sin.

·         Why won’t he/she forgive me? (In other words, why can’t reconciliation be easy and quick?)

·         I’m so sorry (sad).

·         I’m a horrible person.

·         I wish I were dead.

·         I hate myself.

Judas is a good example of this type of sorrow (Matthew 27:3-5).  After he betrayed Christ, he was seized with remorse yet it did not lead to godly repentance, but self-hatred and suicide.

It is natural that we feel compassion for the person suffering such emotional and spiritual pain. However, it’s crucial that we not confuse this kind of sorrow with the kind that leads to biblical repentance, especially when we are working with both the sorrowing sinner and the one who has been sinned against.

Godly sorrow demonstrates grief over one’s sinfulness toward God as well as the pain it has caused others. John the Baptist said, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8).

Below are eight things I have found that demonstrate those fruits of genuine repentance.

·         Accepts full responsibility for actions and attitudes, doesn’t blame others or situations.

·         Acknowledges sinfulness (instead of “I can’t believe I could do such a thing”).

·         Recognizes the effects of actions on others and shows empathy for the pain he/she’s caused.

·         Able to identify brokenness in detail such as abusive tactics, attitudes of entitlement, and/or areas of chronic deceit.

·         Accepts consequences without demands or conditions.

·         Makes amends for damages.

·         Is willing to make consistent changes over the long term such as new behaviors and attitudes characteristic of healthy relationships.

·         Is willing to be accountable and if needed, long term.

In my work with couples who have experienced grievous sin, I have found that it is not their sin that destroys most relationships. All couples experience sin. The destruction comes when we refuse to acknowledge it. It is our blindness to it and our unwillingness to humble ourselves to get help, be accountable, and repent that makes reconciliation and healing impossible.

“I’m Sorry. I Was Wrong. Please Forgive Me.”

SOURCE:  Dr. Robert Kellemen

I was recently the recipient of a humble, heart-felt apology where the person sincerely asked for forgiveness. How rare that is!

It made me think of various ways people “apologize” and how we might respond.

The “No Apology, Ever!” Person

Some people are like Fonzie from the old Happy Days TV series. Remember? He could never even mouth the words “I was wwww-r-o-n-g.”

Some folks are like that—they’re never in the wrong. You and others always are.

What is a biblical response in cases like this? What biblical principles of reconciliation do you follow with someone who is never willing to seek reconciliation? Are you and I ever guilty of this way of responding to our own sin?

The “If You Were Offended” Person

Then there’s the person who is a master at the apology that is not an apology at all. In fact, their apology really blames others.

“I’m sorry if you were offended by what I said.” Or, “I’m sorry if you were hurt by what you thought I did.”

The tenor, the tone, the words—they all communicate, “What I did wasn’t wrong. You’re just waaaay too sensitive.”

What is a biblical response in cases like this? What biblical principles of reconciliation do you follow with someone whose apology is really an accusation? Are you and I ever guilty of this way of responding to our own sin?

The “You Were Wrong and I Forgive You” Person

Somewhat the opposite of the previous “styles” is the person who brings up forgiveness only as a way of expressing alllll the ways you sinned against her or him. They use the words, “I forgive you.” However, the bulk of their words are about your wrong.

“I forgive you for the way you’ve always been so condescending and judgmental. I forgive you for the way you hurt me and offended me with your cruel and discouraging words. I forgive you for all the ways your self-centered, arrogant actions have hurt me and countless others…”

What is a biblical response in cases like this? What biblical principles of reconciliation do you follow with someone who seems less interested in reconciliation and more interested in humiliation? Are you and I ever guilty of this way of responding to our own sin?

The “I’m Sorry; I Apologize” Person

This “style” sure seems right about being wrong. The person says, “I’m sorry. I apologize.”

This is a great start. However, by itself it may not lead to true reconciliation. In this “style,” there are no specifics. There is no admission of wrong, guilt, or sin. And, there is no request for forgiveness—which is so central to moving toward reconciliation.

What is a biblical response in cases like this? What biblical principles of reconciliation do you follow with someone who apologizes but does not admit wrong or ask forgiveness? Are you and I ever guilty of this way of responding to our own sin?

The “I’m Sorry; I Was Wrong; Here Are My Excuses” Person

No one apologizes using these exact words. However, the sense is more of excusing behavior than accepting responsibility.

“I’m sorry. I was wrong. Everybody was jumping on me all day long. My parents were dysfunctional when I was growing up. I was having a bad day. The boss was a jerk. No one ever taught me how to relate or handle my emotions. I have this medical condition. Your words and actions were just too much for me or any normal person to handle. And…”

What is a biblical response in cases like this? What biblical principles of reconciliation do you follow with someone who blames others (including you) for their wrong? Are you and I ever guilty of this way of responding to our own sin?

The “I’m Sorry. I Was Wrong. Please Forgive Me” Person

This “style” is how I was recently approached. It’s the person who says, “I’m sorry. I was wrong for __________.” They fill in the blank with the specific way(s) they sinned against you. No excuses.

They continue. “I sinned. Would you please forgive me? How can I make this right? How can we reconcile and get our relationship right?” They move from admission to the offer of a conversation about reconciliation.

What is a biblical response in cases like this? What biblical principles of reconciliation do you follow with someone who is seeking biblical reconciliation? Are you and I ever this mature in responding to our own sin?

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