Thoughts on Repentance
Over the years, Chris and I have had opportunities to counsel with couples in crisis. We are frequently asked how they can know if their spouse is truly sorry. They want to know if repentance is real. There is no formula or time frame, but there are responses that may take place that point toward repentance once trust has been broken:
Taking Ownership – Taking ownership means not making excuses for our actions or blaming someone else. We are simply free to say I did this. I am responsible for my own actions. That means not blaming our parents or past circumstances (although they may be contributing factors).
No Resistance – Showing no resistance means someone is free to check our story and ask us anything without us being defensive. It may not be comfortable. We may not want to rehash the pain/shame, but true repentance does not show resistance. (Know that if you are not questioning fairly and “in love” you can push someone who is repentant to resistance).
Recognizing Sin Against God – When the true magnitude of a sin is recognized, the offense against God is realized. The reality of this will drive us to repentance. David said, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.” (Psalm 51:4) Our sin certainly wounds others when we offend, but we are brought to great humility and woundedness ourselves when we realize the sin is against God Himself.
Righting Wrongs – When we commit an offense, many are left damaged in our wake. True repentance will show itself in apologies to those we have deceived/wronged. There is not an attitude of entitlement that says This is my business. I don’t owe them anything. God will help us discern which relationships need to be made right.
An Attitude of Inclusion – We’re just private people isn’t really a claim a repentant person gets to hold onto. Regardless of personality, a person who has been living a lie, and never wants to go back, will include a tight community of brothers and sisters in his life to never walk alone again. It doesn’t come easy because withdrawal squeezes a tight grip, but the fellowship of true community provides freedom that will never be found in the darkness of isolation.
We can’t know a man’s heart. Only God knows if someone is truly repentant. These are simply observations we have made in meeting with couples. It is not a perfect system. It’s not even a system.
What’s most important to know is that repentance is not an isolated event. It doesn’t only come with a major moral failure. It is part of the identity of a believer. Our lives bear the markings of repentance daily, not once for salvation, not once for an affair, not once for a big lie, but daily. Luther said the consistent pattern of the Christian life was repentance and faith, repentance and faith, repentance and faith.