As a pastor and biblical counselor for many years, I have listened to many people talk about true repentance. I have been asked many times, “How do you know if someone has repented?”  This is one of our biggest challenges as a biblical counselor, because people will yell, scream, and rationalize they have repented, but we have to follow the Bible in regard to what true repentance really is.  We live in the day of wallowing and rationalizing with people in their sin rather than true repentance.  A truly repentant person is willing to put self out of the way!  Hopefully, we will answer the question in this article of how to determine if a person has truly repented. There are those who say, “If they say they have repented with their mouth then they have repented.”  The Bible does not indicate that and in fact gives us the truth and the example to know the difference. I have seen people say with their mouth they repented, but they truly do not understand what repentance means. Their life shows it. They go right back to what they were doing before. Many have never truly repented from their lusts or a worldly life. That is the reason nothing has ever changed in their life or ever will until they truly repent! Their foot and heart is still in the world and their lust(s) are still controlling their lives.  We wanted to share with our readers what the Biblical Fruits of True Repentance means.  We hope this article will be an encouragement to you and give a clear understanding on this most important subject.

For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.  For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness is wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge!  In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter. 2 Corinthians 7:10-11

By examining this passage, we can determine the fruits of true repentance in a believer’s life.  If a brother sins and claims to have repented, how can we know that his repentance was sincere?  One common misconception among Christians today is that repentance is an event, or a moment in time.  As we will see in this passage, repentance is more than a singular event; it is a process that produces certain evidences in a person’s life.  Like sanctification, repentance is both an event and a process.  As we have learned before in the life of Joseph, it is reasonable and biblical to not only look for these evidences of repentance in a person’s life; it is biblical to test them for their authenticity.   Joseph set up two tests for his brothers to see if they had truly repented!  This series on Joseph is available on our Audio Page athttp://mismallbusinessweb.com/LoveOfTheFamily/ministries/audio/ 

The Apostle Paul gives us eight fruits of true repentance that should be evident in a person’s life when they have repented of a sin.

  1. Carefulness

In this passage, the word “carefulness” means “heart searching”.  The idea here is that a person will accept personal responsibility for his actions and see those actions the way that God sees them without attempting to rationalize or justify them.  When a person has truly repented of a sin, there will be a time in his life of sincere heart-searching.  He will ask God to search his heart and reveal to him all of the motives and desires that were involved in that sin.  He will want to acknowledge and confront all of the areas of his heart involved in the sin issue so that he can fully confess that sin and turn from it.  His desire is to be fully cleansed from this sin and to be restored to a right relationship with God.  He will leave no stone unturned within the motives of his heart.

Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23-24

How many are mine iniquities and sins? Make me to know my transgressions and my sin.

Job 13:23

  1. Clearing

After a time of heart-searching, true repentance requires that a person deal with the sin before God.  This means that he will confess the sin in its ugly entirety, take personal responsibility for it and the consequences that have come from it, acknowledge it as a willful transgression before God, and ask His forgiveness.  In the act of clearing, a declaration of repentance must take place.  This means making a commitment to God to turn from and completely forsake the sin that is being confessed.  This is the “event” of repentance that was discussed in the introduction.  However, it must be understood that that commitment cannot be kept if a person stops at just heart-searching and dealing with the sin before God.  This is where many Christians experience failure and defeat in dealing with their sin.  They claim to have repented of a sin but find themselves involved in it again and again.  The problem is that they have repented with their mouth, but they have not translated that commitment into an attitude of the heart.  To make repentance a true position of the heart and to experience victory over that sin, a person must continue through the complete process of repentance outlined in this study.

The Psalms give us many examples of David’s attitude toward “clearing” and dealing with sin properly before God:

I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and my iniquity have I not hid.  I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah. Psalm 32:5

For I will declare my iniquity; I will be sorry for my sin. Psalm 38:18

Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. Psalm 51:2

For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Psalm 51:3

  1. Indignation

Once a person sees their sin the way that God sees it, there will be an attitude of mourning and disgust over their sin.  In proper repentance, a person will be grieved by their sin and the effect it has had on their life and upon others.  It evokes a sickening feeling to know that the sin has offended our kind Heavenly Father who loved us and gave His life for us.  When a person has confessed his sin and dealt with it properly before God with the right heart, it will cause such spiritual anguish to think of the sin that he will never want to be involved in it again.

Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you.  Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye doubleminded.  Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness.  Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.  James 4:8-10

And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went out, and wept bitterly.  Matthew 26:75

I am weary with my groaning; all the night make I my bed to swim; I water my couch with my tears.  Psalm 6:6

Seest thou this woman?…she hath washed my feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head…Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much…And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.  Luke 7:44, 47-48 

And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.  Luke 18:13 

  1. Fear

Here, we see that true repentance produces a deep respect for God and His holiness.  Once a person has acknowledged his sin and begins to see it as God sees it, he will begin to appreciate with great fear that God could have judged his sin.  The person realizes that he deserves to be judged, and he becomes thankful with great humility for God’s mercy rather than His judgment.  If God has already judged the person’s life in order to draw him to repentance, the person will actually humbly accept that judgment for its purpose and be thankful to God for the opportunity to repent and be restored to fellowship with God.

Isaiah was granted a vision of the very throne room of God, and he understood his position before God with great humility.

Then said I, Woe is me!  For I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts. Isaiah 6:5

Jacob had been a deceitful man in his life, and he had come to realize that he did not deserve God’s mercy.

I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant… Genesis 32:10

Job is a very good example of the proper fear of God and humility toward Him.  Though he had not sinned unto judgment, Job accepted the circumstances of his life with deep reverence toward God.

Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped, And said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.  In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.  Job 1:20-22 

Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth: therefore, despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty.  Job 5:17

One of the criminals being crucified alongside Jesus came to this point of repentance when he rebuked the criminal who scorned Christ.

But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost thou not fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.   Luke 23:40-42 

  1. Vehement Desire

Once a person has repented of their sin and they have developed a godly fear of the Lord, they will show a great desire to move forward in their walk with God, leaving behind their sin and folly.  This vehement desire is evident in the person’s desire to change their thinking to God’s thinking by renewing their mind in the Word of God.

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.  And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.  Romans 12:1-2

But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.  To him be glory both now and forever. Amen.  2 Peter 3:18

Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 3:13-14

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.  1 Corinthians 13:11

That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ… Ephesians 4:14-15 

  1. Zeal

Now that the sin has been confessed, the person’s thinking has been changed to God’s thinking, and he is pressing forward in his walk with God, he is now on the path of usefulness for God once again.  With his heart cleansed and fellowship restored, the person has a new zeal for serving God in his local church, sharing the Gospel, giving unselfishly of his time, talents, and treasure for the work of the Lord, and exercising his spiritual gifts productively.  He is becoming a mature Christian who is eager to apply holiness in his life and to be separated from the worldliness and carnality that originally led him into sin.

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.  2 Corinthians 5:17 

He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.  And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LORD.  Psalm 40:2-3

Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 3:13-14

  1. Revenge

In this instance, revenge does not mean getting back at another person for an offense.  We know that cannot be the correct interpretation because the Bible clearly states, “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” Romans 12:19.  Rather, the word “vengeance” in this verse has the meaning of vindication.  Once a person has properly repented of and dealt with their sin, he must now rebuild his damaged testimony for Christ by establishing a pattern of faithfulness to God and the things of God over time and allowing the fruits of his repentance to be revealed before others.  In this way, over time, a person’s testimony may be re-established in the hearts of his Christian brethren.  By rebuilding his testimony, a person may be vindicated from the sin that had once enslaved him and tarnished his witness for Christ.  As we will see in the following passage, a repentant sinner who moves forward for Christ is irrefutable evidence of the power of Christ in a submitted life.

Remember that before his conversion, Paul was a zealous persecutor of Christians.  After his conversion, it took time and evidence in his life for other believers to trust that he was sincere.

Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name…  Acts 9:13-14

After Paul’s conversion, God had to convince Ananias that Paul was sincere.  Ananias restored Paul’s sight, and immediately he was baptized (Acts 9:18).

Paul wasted no time.  He immediately began preaching the Gospel of Christ.

And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.  Acts 9:20

Others could see the evidence of what Christ had done in Paul’s life.

But all that heard him were amazed, and said; Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests? But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ.  Acts 9:21-22

  1. Approved to be Clear

This is the final step, or the result, of true repentance.  It may take weeks, months, or even years for a person to reach this stage of repentance, but it is possible by the grace of God.  Once a person has searched their heart, confessed and forsaken their sin, transformed their thinking through the Word of God, moved forward in their walk with God, and established a testimony of faithfulness over time, there will come a time when the person is no longer remembered for their failure in sin, but rather, for their faithfulness and maturity.

One good example of this is Mary Magdalene.  Luke tells us that she had been healed of evil spirits.  Seven devils had been cast out of her (Luke 8:2).  But nowhere in the Scriptures is Mary remembered for her past wickedness apart from this one verse and a brief mention of her healing in Mark 16:9 for purposes of identification.  Everywhere else where her name is mentioned, it is for her loyalty to Christ and her service to Him.  Once Mary had been healed, she had clung to Christ and followed Him loyally and obediently.  She was there mourning with His mother at His crucifixion.  She anointed and attended to Jesus’ body at the tomb.  She was the first person Christ appeared to when He arose from the grave. And she was the first to tell the disciples of His resurrection.  Mary was “approved to be clear” of her past wickedness, and she is ever remembered as a close follower of Jesus Christ who loved Him and devoted her life to His service.

There are many other examples in the Scriptures of people who recovered from sin and are remembered for their walk with God rather than their past failures.  We have already seen the examples of Paul and Peter, but there are others.  Moses was a murderer, but he is remembered as a great man of faith and leader of God’s people (Hebrews 11:23-29).  David was a murderer and adulterer, but he is remembered as “a man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22).  Abraham was a liar and an adulterer, but he was also the father of God’s people.  This man who had failed so greatly in his life was known as “the Friend of God” (James 2:23).

As we have seen in this study, repentance is more than just words spoken with the mouth or a singular event.  Repentance is a process that requires submission, patience, endurance, and humility.  A truly repentant person will show forth the fruits of repentance in his life over time.  He will patiently endure his reproach and the trying of his sincerity in repentance.

The process of true repentance is not altogether a pleasant experience.  But by the grace of God, it can raise the believer to a new level of spiritual maturity for the glory of God.