The truly amazing thing about being forgiven is that it is a liberating experience. As God in Christ has set us free from sin’s misery, power and curse, so too when we confess sin sincerely to others, an enormous burden is removed from our shoulders. Insincere repentance never removes that burden. In fact it adds to is.
We all fall short. We all sin, sometimes appallingly. At different times in your Christian life, you will inevitably need to confess your sin to someone and ask them for forgiveness. You may possible even have to face the consequences of your sin–even after asking for forgiveness. That is common ground for every Christian, whether they sit in the pew or stand behind a pulpit. Yet, the manner in which we ask forgiveness speaks much about the quality of our repentance.
We have all experienced those insincere, wafer-thin apologies which only serve to aggravate the initial sin. Heart-repentance is a mark of a true Christian. It is a saving grace worked in us by the Holy Spirit. It involves a true hatred and turning from sin to God and his tender mercy, and an endeavor after the paths of righteousness. True repentance seeks not to cover, but to uncover one’s own sin before God and man. Yet, so often our repentance is luke-warm, half-hearted and self- justifying. In short, it is not evangelical and inward repentance. Here then, are five ways in which we can evaluate whether our own repentance is sincere or self-justifying.
1. Do not blame other people for your sin. This is usually the easiest way to obviate your own responsibility in the matter, and in case anyone was wondering, it is also the most obvious. There is nothing worse than someone apologizing out of one side of their mouth while justifying themselves out of the other. Your wife’s (or husband’s) apparent lack of attention to you, or worse her affair, is no excuse for your own infidelity. So don’t use it. Your pastor’s boring sermons are no excuse for you to fall asleep in God’s presence. The injury someone did against you is not an excuse for you to sin in like manner. Focusing on our own sins when we confess before men is a sure sign we have focused on our own sins before God.
2. Do not mask your sin with the language of prevailing grace. Before we hear how God has delivered you from your sin with his amazing and prevailing grace, it might be good to hear a full and frank confession. People who have been injured by our sin need to hear a full and frank confession, and a sincere and clear request for forgiveness. The more public your service to God, the more public this confession needs to be. Couching an “apology” in the language of how God has delivered you from this or that sin, while it may be true, is a way of putting the injured party in your debt, when in fact, you are the debtor.
3. Do not use political sound bites to describe your sin.