Is it possible to know if we or someone else has really repented? Can we know if there is a repentance that pleases, honors, and glorifies God so that the repenter is delivered from their sin?
The Catalyst for Repentance
Paul’s letters to the Corinthian church illustrate repentance. In the first, he calls the church to repentance as they deal with a man who is living in adultery with his stepmother. What led them to repentance was, first and foremost, the truth of God delivered in the power of the Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 5).
And it worked! The second letter gives thanks for their godly sorrow that led to “repentance without regret” (2 Corinthians 7:10 NASB).
The Necessary Step to Repentance
Paul’s Spirit-empowered words produced something: spiritual conviction. The Corinthian believers realized how deeply wrong their tolerance of sin was, and it ushered in a “godly sorrow” (v. 11).
This is different than the sorrow of getting caught or of facing the consequences of our sin. It comes from hearing the truth and being pierced by the Holy Spirit. This is the sorrow that grieves over forsaking God and harming His glory. It is sorrow that goes to the core.
Godly sorrow makes us want to turn. It may be progressive. We may begin with a small anxiety over what we’ve done, but as we face the truth and deal honestly with God, we come to increasing levels of grief over our sin.
The Fruit That Signifies Repentance
This sorrow produces a “repentance without regret.” Everyone has experienced a shallow repentance, coupled with a longing to return to our sin because we still believe it’s valuable. But a godly sorrow brings us to a place of hatred for our sin in such depth that we turn with no desire to return.
Jesus said that repentance is always known by its fruits. And these are seen over time. Paul saw these fruits in the Corinthians:
“Behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you; what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong!” (v. 11).
Read through that list and you will see deliberate attitudes and actions. Their Spirit-induced grief caused them to earnestly and zealously turn from their previous direction.
The Repentance We Need
As we long for a nationwide revival in the church, God is calling us to cry out to Him with extraordinary prayer. But there is another ingredient: If My people will humble themselves and pray and turn from their wicked ways, God says (2 Chronicles 7:14).
We must not merely pray and talk about revival; we must evaluate our lives soberly in light of the truth of God’s Word. We must stay before the Lord until it produces a godly sorrow, and repent with no regret.