What Induces Repentance?

If I see a brother or sister doing something or having some attitude that I believe needs repentance, what stance should I take concerning them, what attitude should I choose to display toward them to encourage repentance on their part?

My flesh usually reacts to these situations with an attitude of criticism, fault-finding and gossiping. This kind of disposition is driven by a subtle desire to look better than them, to take the opportunity to make myself feel more important, more righteous in other people's eyes that the person who appears to be in the wrong. This is the typical way of relating to sin in other people's lives that has most been modeled to me. Just point out their sins and expose them so I will not be held responsible for their blood.

But this approach has proven itself to have originated from hell and only produces bitterness, pride, animosity and division. It is not a valid means of eliminating sin from the church but actually increases it, especially within myself. And although it sometimes initially feels right I am convicted that it never serves to promote the kind of repentance and righteousness that is truly necessary to bring about the purposes of the kingdom of God.

Let me turn it around and think about it in reverse. When I am at fault, when I am the one who is found sinning whatever the reason or motive I may have, either from weakness or by deliberate choice, what has been the only effective spirit displayed towards me that has encouraged me to repent? And even more importantly, what does the Bible teach about how to relate to people in need of repentance?

I can hear voices from the past instantly urging things like reprove and rebuke with all diligence. But those words have highly suspicious baggage firmly attached to them under these circumstances that needs to be exposed for the hidden sinful motives that are inherent within them. There is a place for proper reproof and rebuking but I believe that very few people actually perceive the kind of spirit that is so necessary for heavenly rebuking and reproving to be positively effective. If these activities are attempted without first taking time for self-examination and humbling one's self before God to seek His Spirit and perspective, the rebuking and reproving will almost always prove to only harden other people's hearts instead of leading them to repentance.

I just now stopped and took time to look up every verse in the Bible containing the word repentance and was amazed as much at what I did not find as I was at what is there regarding this word. I realized how much of my feelings and experience concerning this important step in coming to God has been based mainly on false ideas and assumptions rooted in bad experiences with those claiming to be teaching the truth. Most of what is promoted as the work of God to lead sinners to repentance is not based at all on the truth as found in the Word of God but in methods and attitudes firmly rooted in the soil of false religion, fear and false perceptions about God. I see that I need a good cleansing myself from these false notions about repentance as well as a solid reorientation to establish a true definition in my own mind and heart of the real ways God leads us to repentance.

As I read through the complete list of verses using this word I found a few that mentioned the attitudes necessary for the heart and spirit of anyone seeking to lead others to repentance. The clearest verse in this regard reveals how God Himself relates to those who need to repent, which interestingly happens to be referring to people claiming to already be Christians and followers of God who look down on those they consider to be more obvious sinners.

Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance? (Romans 2:4 NIV)

By what I can discern from the list of texts containing the word repentance, the most important attitude to have is what is here identified as the kindness of God. Now, I can remember people close to me easily trying to redefine the meaning of this word as they often did when coming under conviction about something wonderful in the gospel, in order to justify their harsh tactics to force others to repent. But it will never do to try to claim that confronting someone who is found in sin with an attitude of harshness, blame and censure can be construed to be kindness.

There were two others texts that refer to how a person is to act when seeking to attract others to repent.

The Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth. (2 Timothy 2:24-25)

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

Even as I copy these texts and analyze them, my heart is overwhelmed with amazement at how different they are compared to the emotions and attitudes I have usually had connected with the idea of repentance. I see that I have a great deal to unlearn regarding this word as well as some serious retraining as to what really is effective to induce both in others and in myself this key step in coming to God.

Father, I am amazed at the beauty and power of this incredible truth about you. I want to both experience this for myself, to know clearly and feel your kindness towards me and to have you make me a channel for your kindness to flow out towards others to draw them towards repentance. I have begun to understand over the past few years a better definition of what repentance really is, but until now I have not realized so clearly the absence of so many things in your Word about the motivations that lead us to repent that I assumed were there. I have been confused and even repelled by many false ideas about you from those claiming to represent you in this regard. Please impress this wonderful revelation about you much deeper into my heart. I want to experience your real kindness much more intently, to appreciate it much more deeply, to believe in you without reservation, to be disposed of all false ideas about your attitude towards me.

Thank-you for your kindness, and I say that from my own heart that is reacting with gratitude and amazement as I ponder this. Dispel the lying voices inside of me that attempt to contradict this, that try to add false qualifications to it, that try to reintroduce contaminating misrepresentations about your motives and thoughts towards sinners. Help me to see clearly and consistently your heart of love, compassion, gentleness and kindness so that I can always be drawn to live ready to repent any time I am tempted to run away from you in fear.

Father, I choose to trust in your heart and to rest in the authority of your Word. Despite all that the enemy claims about you, you are always kind, true and without any shadow of changing. Your lovingkindness is everlasting which is incredible incentive to turn towards you in repentance. (I just looked up that phrase and found it 46 times in my Bible.) Fill my own heart and mind and spirit with your spirit of kindness. Cause my life to be so full of kindness towards those who offend me or are seen to be in sin against you that your kindness will be a powerful incentive for them to turn to you for forgiveness and life. Thank-you for showing me your ways and your love this morning and keep me in your presence all through this day and for the rest of my life.


  1. Thank you for this, Clay. You've tackled a very sensitive subject.

    A couple of decades ago I'd gotten involved with an abusive man. We weren't exactly living together but he wouldn't leave, and gossip was thick and heavy at the little church I attended.

    One day my pastor came by to talk to me about the situation. We sat down at the dining room table and he opened his Bible and began speaking to me of God's love, and about the poor choice I was making.

    What made the situation bearable was the fact that he had tears streaming down his face the whole time he spoke to me. He didn't come in judgment, but out of love, and a desire to see me in the Kingdom of Heaven.

    I've never forgotten this pastor's compassion. The need to rebuke me was obviously very painful to him. There was no self-righteousness on his part or strident criticism, simply a call to return to my first love.

  2. About all I can say in response to this is - Wow! These stories have been so rare, but I believe that as God's glory becomes brighter in the earth that we are going to see this kind of spirit more and more reflected in those who are learning the real truth about God. I want my own life to look like what you described here by God's grace.


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