Signs of Repentance
In the last article, we looked at the extreme measures that must be taken when church discipline is unsuccessful and when restoration is no longer possible.
But what does genuine repentance look like? How can we know that the process of church discipline has worked?
Repentance, to put it simply, is a public, consistent change of direction—confession of sin and desire to make restitution and restore relationships.
Among the many ways you can identify someone exhibiting true repentance are these common signs:
THE REPENTANT PERSON ACKNOWLEDGES THEIR SIN HONESTLY.
Forgiveness cannot take place without confession (1 John 1:9). By publicly and humbly acknowledging their sin, the repentant person will demonstrate that they recognize their error, without making excuses, and are publicly committing to a change of behavior.
THE REPENTANT PERSON WILL TURN AWAY FROM THE SIN THAT INITIATED THE DISCIPLINE.
As we discussed before, this does not mean that every single sin a believer commits must be confronted with church discipline, or that the person who repents must be perfect from that point onward.
Church discipline involves a particular sin, either one that has an especially strong grip on the person, compelling them to remain in sin, or one which the person will not repent for, that they do not believe is wrong or do not care that it is.
In these cases, an evidence of repentance is the ability and willingness to give up that sin and remove that vice from their life.
THE REPENTANT PERSON SEEKS BIBLICAL COUNSEL.
An important takeaway for all believers, not just the recipient of church discipline, is the truth that only through God’s power—not our own—can we have victory over sin.
The Holy Spirit does the work of sanctification in us; the power of God has given us the victory over sin; all we do is walk obediently with Him.
The repentant person will look for biblical counsel—from God’s Word and other mature believers—as they seek God’s will and claim victory over their sin.
THE REPENTANT PERSON MAKES FINANCIAL RESTITUTION IF NEEDED.
The example of Zacchaeus in Luke 19 demonstrates a man convicted of sin and brought to the place of genuine repentance. Because Zacchaeus profited greatly by his sin, part of his repentance was to make financial restitution to everyone he had sinned against.
Not all instances of church discipline will require financial restitution, but certainly some do. We can follow the example of Zacchaeus, who’s repentance led to great generosity, as he declared, “And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold” (Luke 19:8b).
THE REPENTANT PERSON CONFESSES TO AND SEEKS FORGIVENESS FROM ALL PARTIES INVOLVED.
This sign goes beyond just confessing to the person you sinned against; it involves confessing before the church leaders and the church body.
Sins committed by church members tarnish the reputation of the church and can sow division within it. Sins committed by a church member cause hurt and grief among the rest of the body. So, the sin requiring church discipline does not just impact the sinner and the victim, but the entire body as a whole. So, confession and forgiveness should as well.
And for the rest of the body, forgiveness should be an easy, joyous thing to do. Remembering how much we have been forgiven, with great joy we can forgive others and welcome them back into fellowship.
THE REPENTANT PERSON EXHIBITS HUMILITY AND BROKENNESS.
“A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise,” David wrote in his confessional hymn (Psalm 51:17).
False repentance worries about consequences; genuine repentance worries about the sinful action. False repentance is external contrition but internal defiance; genuine repentance is internal contrition displayed externally.
Beloved, let us rejoice when genuine repentance is displayed; let us support, encourage, and love our redeemed and restored brothers and sisters; let us praise our loving God for His overflowing grace and forgiveness for us!
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