A View from the Pew: Signs of True Repentance

At its heart, preparing for Easter during the season of Lent means repenting of our sin. The problem for many of us in the pews today is that repentance has almost completely vanished from our faith practice.

With each passing day comes a new revelation for which someone famous must give account. Their often misguided attempts at seeking reconciliation provide poor models for sincere repentance. As we begin the journey toward the cross and ultimately the resurrection, here are five signs of true repentance to help us know we’re on the right track:

  • It’s more than an apology. Repentance is more than being sorry, and being sorry is more than regretting the negative consequences of getting caught. Our apologies can come too quickly and easily for it to be meaningful. In order for us to come to terms with our sin, we must not only acknowledge its impact on ourselves and others, we have to acknowledge it before God. Psalm 51 is particularly good for bringing us to that point of honesty before God.
  • It takes time. As we sit in worship each Sunday, we can let ourselves off the hook. Repentance is a daily discipline because it involves more than confession. Repentance is a serious attempt to correct behavior. Admitting the sin is a first step. You know repentance is real when, over time, your efforts to stay connected to God override your temptation. Setbacks will happen, but persevering is a sign of meaningful change.
  • It’s active. Too often we limit our faith expression to platitudes. Words do have power in our lives but only to the degree our actions match them. When focusing on true repentance, look for ways to address behavior with more than words. It’s true that a change in actions can lead to a change of heart, not just the other way around.
  • It’s ongoing. In a results-oriented world, it can be frustrating to feel like you’ve never finished a task. Repentance is never done, even when we ring out the strains of “Up from the grave He arose” on Easter morning. Rather than view repentance as a spiritual discipline reserved for Lent or Advent, make space for it in your daily discipline year round.
  • It’s Christ-centered. The downfall of much of our faith practice is the focus on ourselves. Preparing for Easter can become an extended exercise of navel-gazing if we’re not careful. Try to focus on the life of Christ during this time, taking note of His life and choices, seeking to emulate Jesus in your day-to-day life. Not only will that give you something to strive for, it will keep you from thinking of repentance as a “negative” or “don’t do that” activity. Instead, you are growing closer to God by connecting with the life of Christ.

Repentance goes hand-in-hand with redemption, which is one of the most powerful themes of the Christian faith. I hope you find the elusive connection during this Lenten season.

Lance Wallace is a Baptist layperson and member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, GA, does media relations and issues management at his day job, and blogs at newsouthessays.com.

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