For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. (2 Corinthians 7:10)
Last time, we talked about the importance of repentance when it comes to renewing your mind about a life dominating sin. Perhaps you thought you were repentant the last time you tried to overcome this sin. You confessed to God and others. You memorized Scripture. You prayed and begged the Lord to remove it. But still the battle continues, and you find yourself on the losing end of it. What went wrong? Why can’t you put this sin to death once and for all? Maybe the problem is that you have never really experienced true repentance. So today, I want to talk about what true repentance looks like, both on the heart level and in your behavior.
If we read on in 2 Corinthians 7, we find this in verse 11: For observe this very thing that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter.
Paul has laid out for us here a very clear set of indicators for true repentance. Let’s take them one by one and see exactly what they mean for us in our battle. First, Paul says that when true godly sorrow has come to your heart, you will be diligent. The Blue Letter Bible says that this word means earnest or eager. This eager earnestness is the first reaction you will observe in your heart when God has granted you true repentance. John MacArthur, in his Study Bible, says that this is an “…attitude that ends indifference to sin and complacency about evil and deception.” Perhaps, in past attempts to kill this sin, you have started out strong, but defaulted back to complacency about it. Maybe you decided it wasn’t that bad, or that there were much worse sins you could be committing. When you experience God-granted, true repentance, there will be no trace of complacency. No longer self-deceived, your mission to put this sin to death will be clear and mandatory.
The next mark of true repentance Paul points out is the clearing of oneself. Basically, this is a desire to clear your name of the sin you have indulged, and completely disassociate with all manifestations of it. You don’t go to that bar, visit that website, or hang out with that group of friends any more. You will desire to restore the trust of those you have harmed by your sin, and reassure them that this time, there is no going back. You will want to build their confidence in you, and you will be diligent to make sure you do not disappoint them.
Indignation is the next clear marker of true repentance. This is righteous indignation, even holy anger—anger over your own sin, and even disgust at the amount of time you allowed that sin to dwell in your heart. You are literally sick of your sin. You are mortified at the shame you have brought to God’s name with your sinful attitudes and actions, and you are eager to be rid of both the sin and the shame that is now associated with it. This indignation is fueled by godly fear of the One who judges sin.
Next, Paul lists vehement desire and zeal. These go hand in hand. It means that you will have a yearning to restore the relationship with those you have sinned against, including God. The motive behind this is that you have such a great love for God and for those people, that you sincerely hate anyone or anything that brings shame or harm to them. This includes the sin you are putting to death.
Finally, the truly repentant sinner will have a desire to see justice done. This doesn’t mean that you go out seeking penance, or trying to make amends (although that can be a part of true repentance). This means that you are no long shifting blame or dodging responsibility for your sin. It is the end of “I’m sorry for what I did, but you…” kind of false repentance. When you are truly repentant, you will desire to take full responsibility for what you’ve done, regardless of the consequences. You will also be willing to be held accountable in the future, to give the one sinned against an extra measure of comfort in restoring trust.
This passage is an excellent primer on repentance, and if you truly desire to repent of a particular sin or pattern of sinful thinking, you would do well to memorize it. Measuring true repentance can be difficult, and a gauge like this one is very helpful for keeping on track. Having this passage ready in your mind at all times may be just the tool you need, from the moment God grants true repentance, until the death of that sin in your heart.