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Nearly every person who has come to me for help has asked a similar thing. Here are some of the variations of their questions: How do I change? How does he change? How do I know he has changed? Either the person asking wants to change or he wants to know how to help someone transform. Repentance is undervalued and underutilized in many Christian relationships. You may test yourself to see if my observations are accurate for you. These self-assessing questions will reveal how much you value and utilize repentance.
How did you do? Here are a few more questions. Are you a repenting friend? Do you live in a community of repenting friends? We can live in such a community, you know? Christ came to die because of sin, and He gave His life to free us from sin. Isn’t the gospel amazing? The power of the gospel in our lives is limitless. We have something the world cannot experience. Our unregenerated friends are frenetic in their pursuit to drown out the noise of their guilty consciences but not the Christian. We have an other-worldly power working in us. Regular, daily cleansing is God’s gift to us through His gospel.
Though God justified you at salvation, the doctrine of progressive sanctification implies there is still more work to do. Progressive sanctification is the gradual and continuous removal of sin. And the responsibility is on you to access this means of grace for the incremental removal of sin from your life.
If you do not regularly repent of your sins, you will hinder your transformation into Christlikeness. Unremoved sin creates collateral soul damage. Here is a sampling of what can happen inside of you if you are not regularly repenting. These things will hinder your relationship with God and your relationship with others.
A common-sense question that I ask in counseling is, “Did you repent?” Sometimes I will follow up with, “How did you do it?” You may be surprised at some of the answers I have received. More times than not, the answers are vague and outside biblical boundaries. You must know how to repent. I think sometimes people can say “repent” but not carefully walk a person through the process of repenting. The following steps are a biblical method of repentance. As you read through this process, ask the Spirit of God to scrutinize your life to see if you are actively and regularly doing these things.
These possibilities sound too incredible, but they are possible. You can be free in Christ—all the time. Sin is only a depressing thought to those who have no means to rid themselves of their sin. Those who understand the gospel are not overwhelmed or discouraged by their sin. They are ready and willing to attack their transgressions because they know the power that is in the gospel. The power of the gospel releases the Christian community to be a confessing and repenting community. Praise God for the Savior’s cross-work on our behalf.
The goal of repentance is not vague or hard to discern. Simply put, the purpose of repentance is to be like Christ. Jesus is the template or the benchmark to whom we compare ourselves. If a person is repentant, there is a conscious effort to continue to grow into Christlikeness. Repentance is the only vehicle that will get him to the goal. If you want to know what Christ “looked” like so you can model Him, let me point you to Galatians 5:22-23 or 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, where you’ll find great templates.
Read those passages and ask yourself how well you’re reflecting them in your life. Repentance should not be a mystery. It should be obvious, objective, and measurable. All you need to do is hold up the picture of your life to the image of Christ. Then humbly move toward Him with authentic repentance.
Caveat – You are not looking for perfection as you live out change. Being perfect is impossible, but you can see objective evidence that would signify transformation from your Adamic ways to Christlike ways. Minimally, you should see objective manifestations of the fruit of the Spirit, even if in embryonic form.
Occasionally, I am asked whether or not the repentance was real. This question is usually asked when a spouse is wondering if their spouse is genuine and sincere in their repentance. This question requires biblical discernment.
Some of the elements you would observe in a repentant person are humility, sincerity, transparency, and honesty. These character traits should accompany anyone who is sincerely seeking to live the Christ-life. The foundation of genuine heart and life change is humility. A repentant person is a humble person. Humility is the prerequisite to receiving God’s empowering grace (James 4:6).
This process is essential if a change is going to take place. It is crucial because it represents the keys that allow the Christian to live a life of repentance and ongoing repenting. Your life is progressive, which is what theologians have termed progressive sanctification. Your life should resemble the “stock market” in that you should always be trending upward, though there will be dips all along the way.
With the Spirit of God engaging the humble heart and the Word of God actively and powerfully illuminating the mind, any person can change. Though there will be imperfections in exhibiting specific manifestations of the Christ-life, there should be a few things that accompany anyone who has authentically repented. Though it is not an exhaustive list, the following are some of the things I look for when addressing my heart and those I serve.
Teachability – A humble person is a teachable person. He is a learner. He does not push back or resists your counsel, even if your counsel is not the best. The teachable person is no longer about proving his points, and he is more apt to listen than disagree. Even when he feels compelled to disagree, there is discernible humility in his voice. It is not about him, which is the exact opposite of what sin craves. Sin is all about “me,” but genuine repentance is concerned for God and others.
Open to Correction – The repentant person is correctable, and you can correct him, which is a tremendous change in his demeanor. The gospel-centered person has nothing to protect and nothing to hide. I do not enjoy correction, but when I am corrected and by the grace of God receive it, I know the Lord is working in me. Correction cuts against the grain of my proud heart. You will quickly know if a person is genuinely repentant if he is open to correction.
Change Happens – Each new encounter with a repentant person should be a “step up” from the previous meeting, especially in a discipleship context. I have used the analogy of walking up steps as a metaphor regarding what change should look like when caring for others. True repentance should look like a person walking up steps. He is getting higher with each level. He is moving forward as each day passes. He is progressively changing. He is improving from week to week, even if only in small ways.
He Asks More Questions and Makes Fewer Statements – A repentant person is an inquiring person. He is anxious to receive from you rather than telling you why he has done this or that. The proud person talks a lot, making many statements. The humble person will ask more questions and seek to learn because he wants to change and grow. He is no longer interested in presenting airtight arguments. He has a growing disinterest in rationalizing or justifying his actions.
The Light Has Been Turned On by the Lord – I do not know how to explain this one except to say that the Spirit of God is illuminating a repentant person. He understands the truth. He discerns the Bible. The biblical concepts and ideas that you communicate to him make sense to him. On a few occasions, I have counseled people who seem more like a concrete block in that they do not understand the truth. Yes, I am aware that I can be a poor communicator, but I am also mindful that the Spirit of God speaks clearly to spiritual people despite me. If there is a lack of repentance in a person’s heart, there can be dullness in his hearing.
A Repentant Person Is Not Resistant – I have already mentioned this, but it needs a stand-alone category because it is a big deal. The humble person does not push back from your counsel. They are more self-suspicious than defiant. They are open, kind, receptive, respectful, and willing to learn. They will give you the benefit of the doubt and be quick to see the log in their eye while paying less attention to the speck in your eye (Matthew 7:3-5). The bottom line for them is they want to change. They are less exacting and more repentant.
If you are wrong or your counsel is inappropriate, they must bring this to your attention, and the tables must turn to where you are like them: open, not defiant, and eager to change.
I have had the joy of counseling many repentant people. They bring simultaneous joy and conviction to my soul. Joy because I rejoice in God at His incredible grace in their lives. Conviction because the Spirit often reminds me to be like them. They are my heroes. I wish I could write their stories to tell you what God has done in their lives.
It is an incredible and rewarding job to be able to partner with these humble people. I am blessed to not only know them but to watch God work so effectively in their lives. They inspire faith in me by their humble repentance and grace-motivated determination to be like my Savior.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).