Select Page

During my sermon “Unfailing Love for a Faithless People” (Hosea 14:1–9)—which Vinnie preached for me!—I noted that the path to restoring our relationship with God is through repentance and reliance on Christ.

Besides a brief glance at the Hebrew and Greek words, my comments on repentance were minimal. To dig deeper, I would like to consider the marks of genuine repentance by directing our attention to 2 Corinthians 7:10–11:

“For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter” (ESV).

According to this text, genuine repentance consists of 1) earnestness, 2) eagerness to clear oneself, 3) indignation, 4) fear, 5) longing, 6) zeal, and 7) punishment (not a helpful translation—see below).

Let’s consider these seven marks together:

Earnestness – The word denotes an accurate perception of sin that eradicates indifference toward God. Since repentance is a gift of God (2 Tim. 2:25), it necessarily births “the strong, lively actings of love to Christ in the soul.”[1] As a result, genuine repentance manifests itself in obedience to God’s commands. Hence, Paul says in Romans 8:3–4 that “the righteous requirements of the law are met in those who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.”

Eagerness to clear oneself – Genuine repentance moves us to identify the root cause of our sins so that we do not repeat them. Tracing our destructive behavior back to the lies that gave rise to their actions culminates in intelligent repentance. Such a practice—inconvenient and painful as it may be—mortifies sinful patterns and issues forth in new habits.

Indignation – Genuine repentance is accompanied by hatred toward sin. “Repentance is the vomit of the soul,” said Thomas Brooks (1608–1680).[2] Does the thought of sinning against God produce a gag-reflex in you? You have not repented if your sin does not bother you.

Fear – The fear of God follows repentance because one’s conscience has been awakened to his holiness, majesty, and splendor. Thus, the truly repentant person happily agrees with Calvin: “Even if there were no hell, it would still shudder at offending him alone” (Institutes 1. 2. 2).

Longing – Genuine repentance is marked by a longing to be restored to God and his people, the church. This is because conversion crushes apathy toward God: “Genuine conversion resembles a man that makes haste out of a city that is all in flames.”[3]

Zeal – Genuine repentance is marked by zeal to obey God.

Punishment – The word means “readiness to see justice done.” As an example, the truly repentant person says with Zacchaeus, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone, I restore it fourfold” (Luke 19:8). To elaborate: Genuine repentance seeks to make amends when possible.


My goal is not to make readers doubt their salvation. The question is not: How bad do I feel about my sin? The question is: Do I in some measure give evidence of this in my life? Is my life marked by trust-filled surrender to God as he offers himself to me in the gospel?

And so we pray: O God, because without you we are not able to please you, mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule my heart; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.


[1] Jonathan Edwards, “I Know My Redeemer Lives,” in The Sermons of Jonathan Edwards: A Reader, eds. Wilson H. Kimnach, Kenneth P. Minkema, & Douglas A. Sweeney (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), 158–159.  

[2] Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies against Satan’s Devices (1652; repr. Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1993), 63.

[3] Nathaniel Vincent, “Make Haste,” in Day by Day with the English Puritans, ed. Randall J. Pederson (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2004), 96.