True Repentance Is More Than Just Words

“A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17)

This morning my wife was getting my 1st grade daughter’s bag ready for school when she came across a note that had to be signed. My daughter had used inappropriate language while standing in line (apparently so bad her teacher wouldn’t write it down!); my wife quietly pulled her aside, and asked her to whisper what she had said. I knew what she was going to say; “I don’t remember” immediately came out of her mouth. When I asked I got the same answer as well; without making a scene or overreacting my wife calmly told our daughter that until she “remembered” what she had said there would be no TV shows after school or on Saturday.

My daughter does not like to be confronted with her sin; I had to chuckle a bit because I don’t think I was any different as a boy. In the 6th grade I had my first job, once a week delivering the “Oskaloosa Shopper” paper in downtown Pella. I hated the job with a passion, so one day I got the bright idea to bury my papers in our backyard compost pile. I figured the evidence would quite literally vanish as it rotted away with the grass clippings and garden waste. Boy was I wrong! A neighbor had seen what I was doing and quickly found myself standing before a very upset father with evidence in hand.

I’m sure I said “I’m sorry,” just like my kids do today when either my wife or I tell them to do. It almost never comes without a prompt. As Christians my wife and I want our kids to recognize their sin, turn from it, and genuinely seek forgiveness when they’ve done wrong. It doesn’t come naturally to us, does it?!? Even now, as a grown adult who is a follower of Jesus I recognize times when I try to hide from my sin or minimize it’s seriousness. It’s easy to throw out the words, “I’m sorry,” but as Randy Alcorn points our in a recent blog entry, true repentance is more than just words.

So what is true repentance? Alcorn says this:

Repentance is more than reciting well-rehearsed words while trying to minimize our losses. Genuine repentance is vulnerable. It confesses not just as much as what has been found out, but more. It doesn't withhold information (e.g. from our spouses or friends) in the hope of preserving an image or a reputation. It puts itself at the mercy of others; it does not presume to direct or control them and how they respond to us.

He points out the great example of true repentance we see from King David in Psalm 51. You don’t read David making a bunch of excuses, trying to shift the blame elsewhere, or rationalizing his behavior. He simply states this: “… [he] didn’t rationalize or justify or qualify his sin. He owned up to it, 100 percent. He simply admitted he was wrong.”

What a stark contrast to the carefully crafted, lawyered-up “apologies” get get these days from celebrities, politicians, or (sadly at times) well known pastors or Christian leaders. So how can we know we are truly repenting? Alcorn says this:

God says through John the Baptist, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8). The sincerity of our repentance is demonstrated by how willing we are to take the steps necessary to nourish our souls and reprogram our minds from Scripture, so we can draw on Christ’s power to be restored and live righteously.

The first of Martin Luther’s 95 thesis stated that the life of the believer is one of repentance. I know the times in my life when I’ve felt most spiritually alive are those when I’m most fully aware of my sin and experiencing the unparalleled joy of knowing I’ve been forgiven. Let’s all take a moment today - and every day - to examine our hearts and practice true repentance.