I set out to write a blog post this morning on the doctrine of repentance. After a few short years as a pastor, I am convinced that a key problem in the church is that people don’t know what true repentance even looks like, let alone putting it into practice by “bearing fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matt 3:8; Luke 3:8). So, as I got ready to share my thoughts, which are largely based on Thomas Watson’s treasure trove of a book, The Doctrine of Repentance, a book which I highly recommend, I discovered that a similar blog post has already been written. Before you click, though, and even if you don’t click, please read my brief summary of Watson’s six (plus my one more) steps of true, biblical repentance below…

  1. Seeing your sin — it is an evidence of God’s grace that you would even be able to see the evidence of sin in your life and consider it to be a violation against a holy God deserving of the death penalty. Often, you will have to ask God (and others) to point out your sin for you since sin seems always to blind us from seeing it in ourselves.
  2. Sorrow for your sin — does it sadden you with godly grief that your sin displeases the Father, heaps upon the burden of the Son, and grieves the Holy Spirit?
  3. Confession of your sin — it is not enough to simply discover your sin; you must actually deal with it! Confession is the first step in dealing with it. Before any sin is eradicated from your heart, it must be acknowledged, to the Lord first (vertical reconciliation), then (if applicable) to anyone else against whom you’ve sinned (horizontal reconciliation).
  4. Shame for your sin — this element is largely missing from our view of repentance these days. A close synonym is embarrassment. We tend to justify our sins in our own minds, and often out loud to others as well — this is antithetical to shame. Even when we confess our sins to other believers, we often have the mentality that we deserve to not have to deal with it anymore. This shows that we’re not truly embarrassed or ashamed of our sin. Shame acknowledges that there’s something going on in our hearts that has a lasting effect as a result of our sin.
  5. Hatred for your sin — do you absolutely hate what sin is doing to your heart as well as to your relationship with the Lord? Then why do you keep committing the very same sins? Probably because you don’t really hate your sin all that much. In fact, you love that sin more than you love the Lord, at least for the moment.
  6. Turning from your sin — we must move in the opposite direction from our sin. When we see our sin and the affects it has in our lives, it should send us running! If it doesn’t, then your sin must not be very scary to you. What if you’re currently in a state of being alienated from God? What if you are persistently displeasing him? That should motivate you to run as fast as you can away from sin, by doing things like setting up barriers to your sin. Get some accountability partners (prayer triad?). Get a mentor and invite them to confront you about your sin. Install an internet filter on your browsing devices. Get rid of anything that causes you to sin (cut it off, even if it hurts!).
  7. Running to Jesus — this is the one I added to Watson’s superb list. It is not enough that we would merely turn away from our sin. It’s not enough that we would even run from it, for if we merely run away for a time, we will end up heading back to it at some point. No, it’s only when we run specifically to Jesus, asking him for forgiveness and trusting in him to change your heart, that repentance is true. Don’t think that you can somehow change your own heart. That’s impossible. Only Jesus can do that.

Finally, please bear in mind that to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance” implies that repentance is an ongoing process. One does not repent once, pray the “sinner’s prayer”, and then graduate from needing to repent. Repentance is a life-long endeavor for a true Christian. It should be happening EVERY DAY. And it should look like the list of seven elements from above. If you don’t repent like this, then you need to make some changes. More specifically, you need to ask the Lord to make some changes in you, and you need to agree and submit to the Lord for the painful work of heart surgery.

Here’s the link to the article which I mentioned above:

The Nature of True Repentance – Thomas Watson’s Six Ingredients