Because my series on biblical counseling has been so intense, I wanted to take a brief break to talk about repentance. Given some of the BCM material I will be covering in future posts, I think this topic fits in nicely.
The Church talks a lot about repentance, as well it should. It is one of Christianity’s cornerstones, recalling that Christ came “not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). However, whenever the word “repentance” is tossed around, I sometimes feel a bit like Indigo Montoya from Princess Bride:
“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
So, today, I want to talk about what repentance means and what it looks like.
The problem in the Church is that people often mistake confession or apology for repentance. True, repentance begins with an acknowledgment of wrongdoing. But confession is not repentance. Neither is apologizing for offense repentance. According to the Strong’s Concordance, almost anytime the word “repentance” is used in the New Testament, it means “reversal.” In other words, a repentant person will not just acknowledge his or her wrong, but will immediately reverse the wrong behavior. Also encapsulated in the Strong’s definition is compunction, or a genuine feeling of remorse for the pain that was caused by the offense.
Too many times, hurting people have been urged to reconcile with oppressors and abusers because “he said he was sorry.” Church leaders and counselors, in a hurry to ‘restore’ broken relationships, have been fooled into thinking that confession equals repentance. But repentance isn’t something that comes out of one’s mouth. It is a total transformation of attitude, action and character. That’s why we have these verses in the Bible:
“‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’” ~ Matthew 15:8-9, Isaiah 29:13
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” ~ Matthew 7:21-23
“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” ~ Luke 3:7-9
So if a person says they are sorry but continues to act in the same hurtful way, he or she has not repented. And scripture obligates no one to reconcile with an unrepentant abuser. In fact, just the opposite:
But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. ~ 1 Corinthians 5:11
When One is Unrepentant
How can you know if someone is truly repentant? Look for the fruit. For instance, a repentant person should never do the following things:
– Display a bad attitude.
– Make excuses as to why he/she committed the offense.
– Blame or demand that others take responsibility for their share in the offense.
– Suggest that he/she may commit the offense again if certain conditions aren’t met.
– Expect or demand immediate forgiveness or reconciliation based solely on his/her apology.
– Whine about being persecuted or misunderstood.
– Complain when forgiveness or reconciliation is not extended to him/her by a certain time.
– Accuse his/her victim(s) of being unreasonable, bitter or hardhearted.
– Shift focus to the flaws in others.
– Use his/her status as ‘repentant’ to gain allies or draw attention to oneself.
When One is Repentant
However, a repentant person will demonstrate fruit in keeping with that repentance, such as:
– Exude an attitude of humility and gentleness.
– Take full responsibility for his/her offense without excuse.
– Acknowledge the pain of those hurt by his/her offense.
– Listen to and respect the feelings and boundaries of others.
– Submit willingly and eagerly to constructive feedback and accountability.
– Work patiently and lovingly to restore trust in broken relationships, even if that means distancing oneself for a time.
– Seek help for areas in which he/she struggles.
– Refrain from repeating the offensive behavior.
Let me say this again: No one is obligated to reconcile with an unrepentant abuser or offender. Not only is it unhealthy and dangerous, it is unbiblical. God Himself does not reconcile with the unrepentant, even those who do works in His name. The Apostle Paul is likewise clear: “Expel the wicked person from among you” (1 Corinthians 5:13).
Repentance cannot be adequately demonstrated in a 30-second come-to-Jesus chat session. Repentance is more than words; it is a complete reversal of behavior, a transformation of character. Don’t be led astray by those claiming to be repentant simply because they issued a public apology. Look for the fruit. Settle for nothing less.
For more on this topic, visit A Cry for Justice. Be blessed today. 🙂