7 signs of true repentance

  • How do you move toward reconciliation when you’ve been deeply or repeatedly hurt by someone?
  • How can you rebuild trust?

The first and most important step is to confirm the genuineness of the apology or the repentance of the one who hurt you.

I am not suggesting that changes to deeply ingrained patterns occur overnight. But there are essential attitudes in authentic repentance that offer hope for change. We must know what true repentance looks like on this level.

Seven signs of genuine confession and repentance (essential info for enablers)

The offender…

  1. Accepts full responsibility for his/her actions (instead of saying, “Since you think I’ve done something wrong…” or “If have done anything to offend you…”).
  2. Accepts accountability from others.
  3. Does not continue in the behavior or anything associated with it.
  4. Does not have a defensive attitude about being wrong.
  5. Does not have a light attitude toward the hurtful behavior.
  6. Does not resent doubts about sincerity or the need to demonstrate sincerity (especially for repeated offenses).
  7. Makes restitution wherever necessary.

Restitution gives the offender an opportunity to demonstrate by actions that he or she wishes to be restored to the injured person and to society in general. The harder you work to make restitution and repair any damage you have caused, the easier it will be for others to believe your confession and be reconciled to you. Forgiveness does not necessarily release an offender from responsibility to repair the damages caused by his or her actions. An injured party may exercise mercy and choose to waive the right to restitution, but in many cases making restitution is beneficial even for the offender. Doing so demonstrates remorse, sincerity, and a new attitude, which can strengthen reconciliation. At the same time, it serves to establish lessons that will help the offender avoid similar wrongdoing in the future.

Move forward with caution

An unrepentant offender will resent your desire to confirm the genuineness of his or her confession and repentance. He or she might resort to lines of manipulation.

  • “I guess you can’t find it in yourself to be forgiving.”
  • “You just want to rub it in my face.”
  • “I guess I should expect that you want your revenge.”
  • “Some Christian you are, I thought Christians believed in love and compassion.”

These lines reveal an unrepentant attitude. Don’t let yourself fall for such lines. Don’t be manipulated into avoiding the step of confirming the authenticity of your offender’s confession and repentance.

Use these signs carefully and with prayer. In difficult cases, seek a wise counselor. For genuine reconciliation to occur, you must be as certain as you can of your offender’s repentance—especially in cases involving repeated offenses. It is hard to restore a broken relationship when the offender is unclear about his confession and repentance.  

Even God will not grant forgiveness to one who is insincere about his confession and repentance. The person who is unwilling to forsake his sin will not find forgiveness with God (Proverbs 28:13).

I realize that only God can read hearts but we must evaluate actions. Jesus said, “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:16a). We must not be deceived by superficial appearances of repentance. Clear changes in attitude and behavior are the fruit of true repentance.

Steve Cornell

See: Forgiveness is one thing; Reconciliation is another

33 thoughts on “7 signs of true repentance

  1. Pastor Glenn Miller says:

    Hello Pastor Steve,

    I just returned from PA for my daughter’s wedding – my father-in-law, Ron mahurin, and I officiated. While in PA, I saw God work in a Mediation with Peacemaker’s rep June Appell, from Wayne, PA. I am going to send my Mom some of your material on True Repentance. My father-in-law heard you speak at Pinebrook and was very impressed. God bless you in your work. Glenn Miller (928) 830-7296.

  2. Susan says:

    After numerous affairs and 30 plus years of marriage….He even cheated on his 11 yr mistress….My “husband” confessed after me meeting up with an old girlfriend. I always knew in my heart but he was a cop and always new how to work the system…and me. I had become a believer in 1983 and he said he did then as well…he said he lied about that too. My point is he is sorry he got caught…He has told people that he “loves” me. but still does and says things to me that are red flags. I moved out of state 2 years ago and files for divorce twice…this time I am going through with a legal separation….I need to get his insurance. That is THE only reason. He took his ring off last summer and I told him that really hurt my feeling…he said he did it to “Spite ” me. So tell me is he really repentant????? TO me that was the nail in the coffin.

  3. valleysong says:

    Thank you for giving me knowledge of your site. It’s good to read stuff that is clear, digestible and healthy. My blog is designed as encouragement to those who find themselves in the Valley of Shadows (e.g. tough times, especially depression). I’m trying to do 2Cor1:3-5. Perhaps you would pray that the right people would discover it and be encouraged? God bless you beyond experience and expectation.

  4. beavoicefororphans says:

    Where in the Bible do you determine that we have this responsibility to confirm genuine repentance from our offender? It seems to me a little bit like playing God as well as manipulating or trying to control our offender.

  5. Let me assure you that if you’re living with a drug addict, alcoholic, abuser….you need to confirm the genuineness of repentance before restoring a broken relationship. See: my articles on forgiveness and reconciliation. It really isn’t playing God as much as ignoring God if you accept a superficial repentance from an offender.

  6. beavoicefororphans says:

    Okay. I see what you’re saying now. Even Jesus did not require people to repent. But if we want relationship with Him, we must repent.
    I am in the process of restoring a relationship with a sister. She says that she does not love me “in the flesh”, but wants to learn to love me “in God”. “In God” I cannot close the door on her, but “in my flesh” I don’t really want to be around her at all. It still seems kinda murky. I’ll just go on with my life, and try to meet her where she’s at when she comes around.
    As far as my blog that you commented on, the fiery trials that I went through because of being married to my Jeff were nothing of any type of abuse. He is the most loving person I know. I was in an abusive relationship before my life with Christ, and I agree that no on should return to that unless the other person is truly transformed. And in that relationship, he tried real hard to pretend to be changed. I thank God for all He’s done in my life to deliver me from that and provide a loving marriage.
    God bless you bless you!

  7. Robert says:

    Pastor Steve,

    I read your article and I was wondering if you clarify a couple of things, first, I fully and freely admit I have hurt my wife deeply by my adulterous thoughts and actions. I carried on a secret life for 20 years. I was finally exposed and spent about a month trying to lie my way out of it. I finally submitted to God, repented and have been reborn in Christ. My question is, since I am no longer carrying on with this behavior nor lying about it, am I a repeat offender? Also, I have said, “I guess you can’t find it in yourself to be forgiving.”
    “You just want to rub it in my face.”
    in the heat of having to hear my offenses over and over, does that mean I am unrepentant?

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