A Litmus Test for True Repentance

4 Characteristics of a Repentant Heart

No one could have listened to John the Baptist’s preaching and left wondering what they were to do. John had a one-word message: Repent!

John’s purpose was to prepare the way for Jesus’ ministry. Repentance—true, heart-plowing repentance—is the key to making room for the seed of God’s Word to take root.

Do you want personal revival? Than you need personal repentance.

But what does repentance look like? When John the Baptist challenged his listeners to prove their sincerity by bringing forth fruits of repentance, they asked a simple question: “What shall we do?”

To this question, John gave four directives. These instructions can serve as a litmus test for repentance.

1. A Repentant Heart Is Giving

He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise.—Luke 3:11

A repentant heart will share. Freely. Gladly. Without compulsion.

Christian giving is to be the humble fruit of a repentant heart. When we’re repentant, we recognize that everything we have has been given us from God. And we know that we are not worthy of it. Thus, we more easily release our grip on material possessions and delight in serving as a funnel to pass what we’ve been given on to others.

Jesus told His disciples, “Freely ye have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:8). And “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

2. A Repentant Heart Is Honest

You can gauge the sincerity of your repentance by the transparency of your integrity. Repentant hearts can’t bear dishonesty—in words, in actions, in covering sin, in questionable practices.

When the publicans (tax collectors) asked John what would be the fruits of their repentance, he didn’t hesitate to cut to the chase.

And he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you.—Luke 3:13

If you think it’s tough to argue with an IRS agent, try pressing your case with a Jewish publican!  Everyone knew the publicans padded their “accounts due” receipts when they collected taxes for the Roman government. But this odious practice was overlooked by the Romans while the people suffered from the extortion.

A repentant heart is not satisfied until all sin—visible and hidden, lawless and overlooked—has been confessed and forsaken. From there, the repentant heart will insist on honest and transparent dealings in every relationship.

3. A Repentant Heart Is Merciful

Roman soldiers knew a clever trick to gain extra cash. Walk up to an unsuspecting (preferably wealthy) person and accuse him of a crime, say stealing, for instance. Loudly intimidate him, and roughly threaten to take him into custody for his crime. Do it right, and there’s a good chance he’ll pay you off to drop the arrest.

And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely…—Luke 3:14

Since you are not a Roman soldier, you probably haven’t violently attempted to extract money in this manner recently. But have you falsely accused? Have you held vengeance in your hand and attempted to intimidate those who have wronged you? Have you been a peacemaker in all of your relationships?

Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.—Romans 12:17–19

A repentant heart revels in God’s mercy and freely extends the same mercy to others.

4. A Repentant Heart Is Content

John tagged another instruction onto his orders to the soldiers:

…and be content with your wages.—Luke 3:14

The repentant person recognizes that all he needs is found in Jesus alone.

Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.—Hebrews 13:5

Rather than chasing possessions, the repentant heart hungers for Jesus. Assured of the promise of Christ’s continual presence (an assurance that we do not feel while harboring secret sin), the repentant heart finds peace.

So are you repentant? Ask yourself:

  • Am I giving generously?
  • Am I honest in all things?
  • Am I merciful to others?
  • Am I content with Jesus alone?

If you—like me—are convicted that these are not always your habits, remember, there is forgiveness at the cross. Confess your sin to the Lord, and offer to Him a tender, repentant heart.

Repentance is the solution in which the Holy Spirit delights to release His power. And that is why repentance always proceeds revival.

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