Text: Ezra 9:1-10:3 | Listen to Message
8 Traits of Genuine Repentance
In Part I, which you can read here, we shared “10 Traits of Counterfeit Repentance.” Now – for the positive side – here are 8 traits of what genuine, Gospel-motivated, Gospel-celebrating repentance looks like:
1. Name your specific sin.
It’s a lot easier for most of us to say “I’m sorry” than to say “I’m sorry that I lied about you” or “I’m sorry that I hurt you with my sarcasm.” But a generic, one-size-fits-all apology is cowardly and self-righteous. Humble yourself and confess exactly what you said or did that was wrong – and acknowledge the hurt you caused another.
2. Acknowledge the treacherous nature of your sin.
There are always two layers to every sin: a surface layer and a root cause. For example, you gossip (on the surface) because (in your heart) you’ve made an idol out of something like garnering sympathy or getting revenge. You’re a workaholic because you’ve made an idol out of money or reputation. You lie effortlessly because you’ve made an idol of getting your way or appearing righteous at all costs.
The pattern is this: You’ll never break any rule without first violating the 1st Commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). This is why our sin is treacherous. This is why Ezra calls it breaking faith: because every sin is infidelity. Every sin is the result of loving something more than you love God.
3. Acknowledge the weight of your guilt and shame.
Guilt is the objective liability for what you did wrong. Shame is the more subjective humiliation and disgrace you feel. There’s no point in pretending that you aren’t both guilty and ashamed. Just acknowledge that you’re capable of some pretty gross stuff – and for that you owe a debt to God and others.
4. Acknowledge that you deserve God’s wrath.
Ezra acknowledges that God has every right to be angry with His people for their sin – even to consume them. The New Testament confirms that the just payment of our sin is death (Romans 6:23). Instead of minimizing or trivializing your sin, acknowledge that, left to yourself, you deserve God’s punishment.
5. Demonstrate godly sorrow and contrition.
For Ezra, this looked like tearing his garments, pulling out his hair, and weeping prostrate on the ground. He was appalled and devastated by his people’s sin. Do you ever feel this way? Are you ever distraught because of how you’ve hurt someone you ought to have loved and cared about? Have you ever wept because the magnitude of your sin left you deeply grieved and brokenhearted?
I’m not talking about grieving (or, rather, feeling humiliated and angry) over being caught. I’m not talking about grieving because the inescapable consequences of your sin are worse than you imagined. That’s not godly sorrow. Godly sorrow grieves over the sin itself.
6. Rehearse the grace, love, and mercy of God.
In the midst of his confession, Ezra praises the favor – the steadfast love and grace – of the Lord. He basically says, “God, we’ve been unfaithful to you, but you’ve remained faithful.” When you deny or minimize your sin, you’re scorning and minimizing the grace of God. You’re making light of the immense price Jesus paid to forgive you and make you clean. So don’t deny your sin or wallow in self-pity. Confess your sin and celebrate the free grace of God that forgives you!
7. Take drastic measures to separate yourself from both temptation and ongoing sin.
In Ezra’s day, the sin was entering into adulterous relationships with pagans who were leading the hearts of God’s people into all manner of idolatrous and detestable practices. The remedy was to end those relationships and send those people away.
This is similar to what Jesus teaches in the New Testament when he says, “If your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away . . . If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away” (Matthew 5:29-30). He’s exaggerating to make this point: Be willing to deal with your sin decisively. Kill it at the level of temptation before it kills you.
8. Make amends as quickly and comprehensively as possible.
Oftentimes your sin creates a debt or an obligation to another person. For example, you’ve wrecked someone’s reputation with gossip or slander, or you’ve stolen or defrauded someone of something that you need to repay. It won’t do to say, “The past is the past, let’s just call it good.” If you think the people you’ve hurt should have the additional harm of having to pay your debt, you don’t even begin to understand repentance. Real sorrow demonstrates itself in the willingness to humbly bear its own consequences.
If this Gospel response to sin all sounds terrifying and costly, you’re right. So long as we’re trying to justify ourselves and make ourselves appear more righteous than we actually are, we’ll never live this way. But there are two hints in this text about how we can repent, confess, and restore the way we’re shown here:
First, we see Ezra’s intercession for the people of God – which hints at Jesus’ intercession for us. Second, we see Ezra’s identification with the people of God, even though he himself had not committed the sin he was confessing. This points us to our ultimate hope: When the Son of God became a man, he identified with us completely and perfectly. He lived the life we ought to have lived and he died the death we ought to have died. He not only prayed for us (which he did – and does!), he also allowed our sin, and guilt, and shame to be put on his account, and he suffered and died as if he was the one who had committed sin.
Today, you are righteous not because you live in denial, adjust the record of wrongs you’ve committed, wallow in self-pity, or repent to an acceptable degree. You’re righteous because Jesus took your sin and judgment, and gave you his goodness in return. By faith, you’re free to acknowledge your sin, come out of hiding, and be free!