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Posts tagged ‘genuine 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.

Seven A’s of Confession

SOURCE:  Ken Sande

Many people have never experienced the freedom of repentance and forgiveness. Why? It’s often because they never learned how to make a sincere and believable confession.

Instead, they say things like: “I’m sorry if I hurt you.” “Maybe I was wrong.” “Let’s just forget the past.” “I know I shouldn’t have yelled at you, but you made me so mad.”

These worthless statements seldom trigger genuine forgiveness and reconciliation. If you really want to make peace, ask God to help you breathe grace by humbly and thoroughly admitting your wrongs.

One way to do this is to use the Seven A’s of Confession.

  1. Address everyone involved (All those whom you affected)
  2. Avoid if, but, and maybe (Do not try to excuse your wrongs)
  3. Admit specifically (Both attitudes and actions)
  4. Acknowledge the hurt (Express sorrow for hurting someone)
  5. Accept the consequences (Such as making restitution)
  6. Alter your behavior (Change your attitudes and actions)
  7. Ask for forgiveness

See Matthew 7:3-5; 1John 1:8-9; Proverbs 28:13.

How You’re Wasting Time in the Wrong Relationships

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud

Laura had been in a relationship with Jason for about four years. Her biggest complaint was that he took her for granted and did not make her a priority. He was a nice guy, but too self-centered to make a relationship work. Over and over again, he would leave her feeling ignored and unimportant. She had broken up with him several times, missed him, reunited, and nothing had changed. She would break up with him again and then a few months later would run into him and, with the pain gone, begin to enjoy all the good things about him and want to try again.

They would both talk about how they had been foolish to break up with so much good in their relationship, how they really loved each other, and how they truly should be together. “I was wrong to leave. I miss you and want to be with you again,” would be their mutual feeling. So they would get back together and do it again.

So what’s wrong with that? Everything. But please understand something: I am not saying that people should not be allowed to have second, third, or fourth chances. The story of redemption is the greatest story ever told. It’s natural, and sometimes good, to try again. When things go bad, especially in relationships, we want to find a way to make them work and to restore love. When business deals go bad, we want to be able to fix them and make them work. When we fail at a dream or career, we want to be able to come back and win. The story of every successful life includes failure, misses, and obstacles that are overcome. Redemption and restoration are good things.

But here is the real truth when it comes to redemption versus going backward: if redemption is to occur, something must be different. A second chance is not a repeat
 of the first chance. A second chance is a
 move forward to something new. There 
must be something new and different in 
order to move forward rather than back-
ward. If everything’s the same, you are
 repeating what already has been, and there is no reason to think the outcome will be different.

Laura’s plan to get back together with Jason was not because she or Jason had become a different person or grown in some way. She was getting back with Jason because she hoped that their relationship could be different. Hoping that we or someone else will change or that a situation will be different is not reality. There must be a real reason to believe and try again.

Had Jason gone through some awakening himself, other than he was “sorry” and wanted her back? Had he gone into therapy? Had he gotten a life coach to teach him how to make a relationship work? Had they gone to counseling together to find out why they had failed and what they needed to do to make it work? Had he followed through on any of that? Had he stopped his psychological dependency on marijuana that he called “recreational” but that always got in the way of their relationship?

No.

So when Laura went back hoping that it would be different this time, there was no real reason to hope. As I said in my book Necessary Endings, hope without realistic reasons to believe is not hope at all. It is only a “wish.” When a tree gets healthy, you can see the blossoms and the fruit that prove it has life in it. When a person or a situation has truly changed and is worthy of our investment, we will be able to see tangible reasons to believe.
 Said another way: Sorry is not good enough. Something has to be different. True repentance can be seen in the real “fruit,” or results, it produces.

Requirements of Restored Relationship

SOURCE:  Rick Warren

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 NIV).

Forgiveness is not resuming a relationship without change. In fact, forgiveness and resuming a relationship are two different things. One of them is what you do as the offended person. Resuming the relationship is what the other person does in order to get back into your good graces. Saying “I’m sorry” is not enough.

In fact, the Bible teaches three things that are essential to resume a relationship that’s been broken. These are all what the offender has to do.

  1. Restoring a relationship requires repentance. In other words, you’re truly saddened about what you did. That’s not just saying, “I’m sorry.” It means saying, “I was wrong. Please forgive me.” You can be sorry that the weather was bad or something like that, but repentance is admitting wrong and being truly sorry.
  2. Restoring a relationship requires restitution. Sometimes you have to do some kind of physical or material restitution. Even when you’re forgiven, it doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. You still have to pay a debt to society or to someone for what was damaged or destroyed by your actions.
  3. Restoring a relationship requires rebuilding trust. That, friends, takes a long, long time. When somebody hurts you, you have to forgive him or her immediately. But you don’t have to trust that person immediately. Forgiveness is built on grace and is unconditional. Trust has to be rebuilt over a period of time.

Most people in our culture don’t get the difference between forgiveness and rebuilding trust in a relationship. Whenever a political or religious leader gets caught in a scandal, there will always be people who say, “We’re all imperfect. We’re all human. We need to just forgive him and keep on going.”

No! You must forgive him immediately, but you don’t have to trust him. The Bible says trust is built with time. Credibility is what a leader leads with. All leaders must have trust; it’s the currency they live in. If you lose trust, you have lost your right to lead at that moment. You may have the title, but you’re not the leader until you rebuild trust. And that isn’t going to happen instantly.

Q&A: He’s Sorry Now. Do I Wait?

SOURCE: Taken from an article by Leslie Vernick

Question:  My husband has had several affairs. One sexual and the others emotional. After each one I have tried to work on me and felt they occurred because I needed to fix things in my own life. I needed to be more loveable, appealing and easy to be with. In so many ways I have been completely humbled and broken, but despite the changes in my own life I recently discovered he had resumed calling the woman he had been having an emotional affair with 4 years ago. In addition, he has confessed to having a sexual addiction or integrity issues involving pornography and pleasing himself sexually. Yet, even while he has been doing this, I have felt loved and cared for by him most of the time.

My biggest concern has been however, when we have discussions, I feel very intimidated by him and end up backing away or apologizing profusely because I’m afraid of his anger and intimidation. I’m not perfect and see so many of my own faults and insecurities but I desire to have intimacy with God.  I’m fit, I have a great profession, close relationships and work at being a good parent to my son (16) and daughter (18).

So here is my dilemma. My husband and I are separated. After the last affair, it was agreed if he ever did this again it would mean automatic divorce, no more counseling, etc. When we first separated I felt scared, but now after 5 months I’m fine and our children are fine.  They say they prefer him gone and we have needed time to heal. Before, I tried so hard to rebuild my marriage that our children took a back seat. Now I’m enjoying the peace of our home instead of always being anxious that I would make a mistake that would drive him into the arms of another woman.

I’m thriving, going to a great Christian counselor and reading and trying to understand sexual addiction. However, my husband wants another chance and feels he now understands why he made so many hurtful choices. He periodically meets with a pastor from our church but has not sought counseling or a recovery group. He seems softer, has realized much and constantly says he misses me and loves me, but I have lost my desire for him. I almost would be embarrassed to put myself through this again but feel guilty or unsure if I’m disobeying God. Isn’t God a God of second or fifth chances?

I have never been good at discerning when my husband was betraying me how can I ever trust him. How do I know if he is fully recovered? Am I being disobedient by not giving him another chance?

Answer: Oh how we wish life’s decisions could be black and white and that God would just tell us what to do. I struggle with the same dilemma of “not knowing” the future, or the reliability of a person’s words.  Talk is cheap and insight, even good and truthful self-awareness, is still a long way off from faithful and consistent change in a person’s heart and habits.

The good news is you don’t have to decide just yet about whether or not to follow through with divorce. Although you certainly have biblical grounds. You indicate you are getting good counsel so I’m going to give you some things to talk about with your counselor to make sure you are moving in the right direction.

First, pay attention to your feelings but don’t allow yourself to be ruled by them. You feel anxious about his anger and intimidation. Is this true in other relationships or mainly with him?  You indicate your own insecurity issues and sometimes people who fear rejection are easily intimidated into compliance because they fear disapproval or loss of relationship even when the other person isn’t intentionally trying to be controlling.

This season of separation can be a good test for you to observe the fruit of your change as well as his.  Are you able to speak up and say no, even if you still feel anxious or intimidated? And, can he hear and respect your “no” the first time, without arguing, trying to change your mind or threatening you with loss of potential reconciliation? If you’re still not able to be clear and direct with what you want or don’t want because of fear, you need to figure out why.  Is it him or it is your need to please, to not disappoint, to be a good Christian girl, and/or to always be the accommodating one?

Your husband has done great damage to your family and marriage yet he doesn’t seem to be working very hard to make sure he never does it again. That does not sit well with me at all. Why has he not gone to personal counseling, joined a recovery group or taken other steps to deal with his problems? You say you’re reading about sexual addiction, but is he? You seem to have done lots of work to mature, grow, and become a more godly woman but what exactly has your husband done to identify his problems and change them?

From what you describe, it seems to me that your husband has been ruled by a selfish and a lazy heart. (These are defined more fully in my book, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship). Pornography is a selfish and lazy way to have sexual pleasure and release without the responsibilities of relationship or mutual giving. It’s all about him!  From what you describe, most of the marriage has been all about him and what you’ve lacked or not done to make him happy or keep him faithful to you.

Affairs are also selfish and indulgent. He wasn’t thinking of you or your children, only about what he felt and what he wanted. From my vantage point what you describe as your husband’s change is really just more of the same but now instead of the other woman, you’ve become the desired object he wants.

Yes, God is a God of second chances, of fifth chances, of hundredth chances, but you are not God. You do not know his heart.  Only God can discern his true motives. However, you can use the growth you’ve achieved to speak the truth in love, ask him to do the work required in order for you to be willing to consider reconciliation and build trust again and see what happens. If his heart is truly changed, he will. If not, he will get angry, blame you and want you to do the work to trust him. You’ve already been around that bend several times and you’re wise to not repeat it.

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