What is Genuine Repentance?

by Mike Ratliff

1 Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 And Jesus said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? 3 “I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 “Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? 5 “I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1-5 NASB)

Not long ago I became involved in discussion on a blog that was proclaiming that it is perfectly fine for Christians to use profanity and those who call them on it are being hypocritical and self-righteous. I have been teaching for quite a while that the genuine believer is regenerate, a new creation, whom God is the process of sanctifying. Our humility must come to predominate our pride. The prideful person is self-focused while the humble person is not. What are the motives for using coarse or vulgar language? There are many, but not one of them will cause a believer to edify others or glorify God. In fact, in the Bible, in every mention of coarse language, it is cast as part of sin or sinful itself. What was Isaiah’s lament when he saw the Lord high and lifted up?

1 In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. 2 Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.” 4 And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. 5 Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” 6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. 7 He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.” (Isaiah 6:1-7 NASB)

Being in the presence of God and thereby being exposed to His Holiness and Glory, caused Isaiah to see his sin clearly. What was it? What comes from the mouth reflects what is in the heart. If coarse or unclean language commonly comes from our mouths then bitterness is present in our hearts. We have become defiled by our pride, which has caused us to become resentful and bitter. When we are squeezed by God then out comes what is really inside. Isaiah’s sin of having unclean lips was rooted in the fact that he was full of pride and not humble. He was a man of unclean lips, but when he became broken before God, his pride was shattered and God forgave and cleansed him.

7 but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.  (1 John 1:7-10 NASB)

That is exactly what Isaiah did. He confessed his sins. He did not try to rationalize his sin or say that others are worse than him or that his was only a little sin or that swearing and cursing is not really sin. God’s light shining into our hearts always brings what is within us into our perception. God squeezing us reveals to us what we are really like and what is under attack from His sanctifying grace.

There is genuine repentance and false repentance. Genuine repentance brings salvation to the lost and is how genuine believers do not continue to be conformed to this world, but, instead, become transformed by the renewing of their minds.

As the passage above from Luke 13 at the top of this post says, salvation comes only to those who repent. Genuine salvation does not happen unless the believer repents. If this is true, and I contend that it is, then what does this say about professing Christians who refuse to stop being conformed to this world? Have they repented?

8 For though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it—for I see that that letter caused you sorrow, though only for a while— 9 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. 10 For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.  (2 Corinthians 7:8-10 ESV)

The Apostle Paul wrote the book of 1 Corinthians to the Corinthian church as a rebuke. They were having a great many problems due primarily to being fleshly about several things. They were not being humble nor were they worshipping or serving God, as they should. Paul’s letter hit home. In the passage above we see that Paul wrote in the power of the Holy Spirit being in the midst of God’s Word, which is sweet as honey, but he also experienced the bitterness in the heat of the Spirit by being part of God sending judgment into that church. God’s powerful word caused them to grieve and repent. Their grief was godly and genuine. On the other hand worldly grief produces death. What does that mean?

Godly grief comes from conviction of sin. Where does this conviction come from? It comes from God and it is the result of God being revealed to the conscience. The Holy Spirit, who is God, rouses the conscience and brings the one being convicted into the presence of God. It is at this point that we see our sin clearly and that we have sinned against God alone. This causes godly sorrow and genuine repentance. Conviction of sin leads to forgiveness as we repent. It is the Christians who walks in repentance whose personal holiness is growing ever deeper and wider. These believers prove that God has forgiven them by the evidence of turning from what they were before. This is repentance. It is all by God’s grace.

Genuine repentance always brings us to the point of confessing our sin. This is the evidence of God working in us when we do this. Godly sorrow leads to genuine repentance. However, there is also another form of sorrow or grief that leads to false repentance and spiritual death.

24 God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream of the night and said to him, “Be careful that you do not speak to Jacob either good or bad.” (Genesis 31:24 NASB)

God warned Laban in his dream to be very careful how he treated Jacob. However, he continued in his pursuit the next day. Laban even threatened Jacob after he overtook him. He had been warned, but he continued. What was his problem? Laban didn’t want to be called a failure. He didn’t want people to think that his plans went wrong and that he had to return without doing what he intended to do. It was all about his image.

Laban is a Biblical example of a hypocrite pretending to repent. Unbelievers often pretend to be sorry and say they’re going to change the way they think and act, but inside they know it’s a lie. When David confessed that he had sinned in 2 Samuel 12:13, it was entirely different from when Saul admitted he had sinned in 1 Samuel 15:24. They used the same words, probably even the same tone of voice, and showed the same feeling of remorse, but their motivation was quite different.

Ungodly sorrow or grief is an expression of being sorry for one’s sins, but that sorrow is really the expression of disappointment that one will no longer be able to do what he or she wants. They don’t really want to change their behavior. A criminal who has been arrested and convicted, such as a thief, expresses sorrow, but it is only a grief that he or she can’t steal anymore. The Bible portrays Laban in this same way. Deep down, he didn’t really repent. His sorrow was only an outward show. Those who are truly repentant aren’t afraid of anything except God’s anger and displeasure. They aren’t concerned about being humiliated and disgraced in front of other people as long as they know that God is with them. Hence, they become bold in their genuine humility.

The bedrock of Christianity is repentance. The Puritans used to pray for “the gift of tears.” This is asking God to grant repentance through godly sorrow or grief. They understood that it is God who grants repentance. Those who see no value in repentance from things such as cursing or swearing or using coarse language, for example, are in darkness.

Those who cling to their favorite sin will tell us that those who call them on it are being hypocritical and self-righteous and that is worse than them practicing their sin. This is self-deception, which is rooted in pride that resides in an unrepentant heart. We must pray for God to shine His light of rebuke into their dark and self-deceived hearts, drawing them into godly sorrow and repentance, which leads to genuine salvation.

Soli Deo Gloria!

5 thoughts on “What is Genuine Repentance?

  1. Thanks, Mike! Reminders of this daily needed!
    I love the first half of Psalm 32! Pleading with the Lord to cleanse me of all guile and hypocrisy!

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