Why "I'm Sorry" Isn't Enough - What True Repentance Looks LIke

“You two stop arguing and tell each other you’re sorry,” Mom would yell to my sister and me. Crossing my arms and glaring at her, I’d squeeze out the required apology. 


“Sorry,” my sister would mumble back. 

But as soon as Mom’s attention was elsewhere, we’d stick out our tongues and stomp off. Anyone watching would agree that although my sister and I had spoken the right words, our actions didn’t back them up. The sin that caused the conflict continued to dwell safely in our unrepentant hearts. And without repentance, we had no real change. 

The books of First and Second Corinthians paint a much different picture, albeit of a more serious sin than the childhood spats between my sister and me. First Corinthians 5 tells us that members of the church were engaging in sexual immorality. And not just your garden variety of immorality, but “such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles.”

The MacArthur Study Bible adds this commentary: “This sin was so vile that even the church’s pagan neighbors were doubtless scandalized by it.” Now if the pagans are scandalized by it, you know it’s bad. Sadly, neither the sinning members nor the church took the sin seriously. 

With apostolic authority, Paul challenged the offending members and the church. The book of Second Corinthians describes the happy ending – all involved repented and were restored. Unlike my sister and me, however, the offending members of the Corinthian church displayed characteristics of true repentance. 

Let’s look at them in Second Corinthians 7:9-11. 

Godly sorrow – Because repentance, as MacArthur defines it, “refers to the desire to turn from one’s sin and restore one’s relationship with God,” godly sorrow is a necessary component. Different from regret, which often focuses on wishing we hadn’t sinned because we got in trouble, godly sorrow springs from the conviction of the Holy Spirit that our sin has offended God himself. 

Diligence – This is the immediate desire to eagerly pursue righteous living. 

A Desire to Clear Oneself – Not to be confused with trying to avoid punishment, this refers to the repentant sinner’s yearning to regain his godly reputation, earn back the spiritual trust they’ve lost, and no longer bring shame to the name of Christ. 

Indignation – In contrast to loving the sin they’ve committed, those who genuinely repent feel anger at the lies of the world, the flesh, and the devil that enticed them to sin. 

Fear – Fear is appropriate when one has sinned grievously against God. As Isaiah experienced when he saw God in all his glory, we should be frightened to stand before God with sin in our lives. Those who haven’t called upon Christ for salvation are one breath away from spending eternity in Hell. Those who have a relationship with Christ are in danger of God’s discipline. Either prospect should invoke fear. 

Vehement Desire – Once we’ve restored our relationship with God through confession and repentance, we must then work to restore the relationships with others that we’ve damaged by our sin. Vehement desire describes a passion to do whatever it takes to make things right. 

Zeal – Zeal is the dynamic energy that commits itself to maintaining purity and warning others about sin’s effects. As a testimony of God’s ability to bring beauty from ashes, sometimes those most wounded by a particular sin become the greatest champions against it. 

Vindication – No longer committed to protecting themselves from the penalty of their actions, repentant sinners desire vindication against the effects of their sin, no matter what it costs them. The dishonest tax collector, Zacchaeus, in Luke 19, is a beautiful example of this. When he placed his faith in Christ, he confessed his sin and expressed his desire to “restore three-fold” whatever he had wrongfully taken. 

Many people experience sorrow and regret over their wrong actions, but those who genuinely repent always demonstrate some of these biblical characteristics. Saying “I’m sorry,” whether we say it to God or to one another, just isn’t enough. To be true and life-changing, repentance requires that we confess and forsake our sin and call upon God to help us banish it from our lives forever.

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1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this thorough review of repentance. Challenging and healing all in one.


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