Text: Ezra 9:1-10:3 | Listen to Message
10 Traits of Counterfeit Repentance
Repentance is one of the keystone *behaviors of the Christian faith, and yet so often Christians respond to their sin with anything but godly repentance. See how many of these signs of counterfeit repentance you recognize in your own life.
1. Deny your sin.
You readily protest you didn’t say what you said, you didn’t do what you did, you didn’t forget what you forgot. You adjust the record with outright lies.
2. Minimize your sin.
You make light of your sin and act like it’s no big deal. It’s not as bad as what other people are doing. That was a long time ago, you claim, and you’re different now. You didn’t really “lie,” you just exaggerated a little bit. You didn’t really “steal,” you just took some things from your employer who was under-paying you. You didn’t really “gossip,” you just shared a prayer request about a situation in your life.
3. Create a diversion.
You hate having the focus on you and your mistake, so you point the blame at someone else. Or you abruptly change the subject so that you don’t have to confess your sin. “Squirrel!”
4. Offer a worthless apology.
All of the following are total non-apologies: “Sorry I’m not perfect.” “Sorry you feel that way.” “Sorry if that offended/hurt you.” “Fine, you know what? I’m sorry, okay? You happy now?” None of these express even an ounce of genuine sorrow.
5. Get offended at and attack the people who know.
Who made you judge? How dare you notice my sin; you’re not so perfect yourself! If you’re in sin, and all you can seem to think about is somebody else’s problem, you’re not repentant.
6. Call your sin something else.
It was an accident. It’s just a disorder I talk to my therapist about; you wouldn’t understand. It’s a sickness. It’s a disease. It’s part of my identity. It’s who I am. It’s just how God made me.
7. Admit the sin but focus on avoiding the consequences.
You’re not sorry you sinned. You’re not sorry you rebelled against God. You’re not sorry you hurt innocent people. You’re just sorry you got caught. You’re sorry your reputation took a hit. You’re sorry it’s going to cost you something. If all your “confessions” come only after your sins are discovered, rather than before, you’re not actually repenting, you’re just doing damage control.
8. Promise to do better the next time.
You tell God and others things like, “I’ll work on that. I’ll try harder. I’ll do better.” And before you know it, you’re right back doing and saying the same old things because the promise was only meant to make yourself feel better and to get others off your back. You can’t get off the merry-go-round of sin/conflict/guilt/empty promises because you’re never feeling real conviction and deep contrition at any point in the cycle.
9. Run and hide.
You feel ashamed of your sin, but instead of doing anything constructive and healing, you run for the bushes. You withdraw from friendships and community. You change churches and start over with people who don’t know your history, rather than repenting and reconciling with those who do. You spackle and whitewash over your sin instead of letting God wash it away.
10. Morbidly obsess over your guilt and shame.
You feel gross about what you’ve done (and probably more so about what others know about what you’ve done), so you wallow in shame and self-pity. You feel like lowlife pond scum. You wonder aloud at how you’re even capable of such things. You say things like, “Maybe God has forgiven me, but I just can’t forgive myself” (since you’re convinced your standards of holiness and righteousness are so much higher than God’s). You park in the place of self-flagellation rather than simply repenting.
What all of these reactionary behaviors have in common is the drive for self-justification. When you minimize and deny your sin, you’re trying to convince yourself and others that you’re better – more righteous – than you actually are.
When you offer counterfeit confessions and apologies without any attendant change in your life, you’re just trying to make the situation go away so that you can feel better about yourself. Again, you’re trying to feel more righteous than you really are.
When you beat yourself up over your sin, rather than simply accepting the forgiveness of God, what are you doing? You’re trying to establish your own record of righteousness. You’re trying to atone for your own sin. You’re trying to justify yourself, rather than receiving the justification that’s a free gift of grace.
Stop! Stop all of these behaviors. Stop trying to justify yourself, which is utterly futile anyway. The Gospel is good news for bad people. So just admit what everyone else already knows: you’re a sinner who needs the mercy of God.
Want to know what real, Gospel-motivated, Gospel-embracing, Gospel-celebrating repentance looks like in action? Read Part II here.
*I recognize, while calling it a behavior here, repentance is first a gift of God and also an attitude of the heart. It is far more than a behavior but it is not less than a behavior. I’m emphasizing the behavioral component here to make the point that repentance that is not acted upon is not genuine repentance.