“Sorrr – rry.”
Those of us with conventional parents learned the value of social conformity as toddlers. We learned that life works out better for us if we say those magic words, “I’m sorry.” You don’t have to really mean them – in fact, we may not even be sure what it means to really mean them. Does it mean we regret getting caught and suffering the consequences? Does it mean we wish we’d thought of a more subtle, acceptable way to get what we wanted? Does it mean we recognize the pain of the person we have hurt? Or does it mean even more than that?
Repentance was Jesus’s first message (Matt. 3:2; Mark 1:15; Luke 5:32; John 5:14), and it’s a significant theme in both the Old and New Testaments, yet, we rarely stop to consider its implications. We can all recognize a fake apology, but what makes repentance real? Scripture gives us at least three markers for sincere contrition: a broken heart, a humble spirit and a changed mind.
“You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God” (Psalm 51:17b, NLT). Real repentance is heartfelt repentance. It is accompanied by genuine and vulnerable emotions of sorrow. Plastic conformity and bare intellectual assent are disqualified. A broken heart looks like grief; it looks like Christ’s tears shed for wayward souls (Luke 19:41).
“I restore the crushed spirit of the humble and revive the courage of those with repentant hearts” (Isaiah 57:15, NLT). A humble spirit is ready and willing to receive whatever consequences may come, knowing that God is in control. Humility sets aside selfish motives and the natural tendency to defend oneself. Humble repentance looks like Jesus, silent and meek before His accusers (1 Peter 2:23). [Note: I am not saying that Jesus was repentant – Jesus had nothing to repent of. He simply showed us what real humility looks like.]
“Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God.” (Matthew 3:8, NLT). Repentance implies a 180-degree turn away from sin. One of the two Hebrew words used for repentance in the Old Testament has this very meaning. The Greek word most often used in the New Testament means to change one’s mind. This is an active meaning which includes, but goes beyond, heart-change. It means that if God gave you a do-over, you would make a different choice. I have known people who tried to claim forgiveness ahead of time, saying that God would forgive them after they have their fun. By definition, this is an unrepentant attitude. A changed mind begins to resemble the mind of Christ. A changed life begins to look like the life of Christ (1 John 2:6).
So the next time the Holy Spirit convicts me of sin (that’s a whole different. blog post), I will ask myself whether my heart is broken, my spirit is humbled and my mind is changed. If so, then repentance has done its work – making me look more like Jesus.