How Do You Know If Someone Has Changed?

The process of transformation is not mysterious, though it can be a big secret, and hidden from a Christian. The steps for repentance are objective, sequential, and transforming. You can change, and you can help others in their progressive sanctification.

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Nearly every person who has come to me for help has asked a similar thing. Here are some of the variations of their questions: How do I change? How does he change? How do I know he has changed? Either the person asking wants to change or he wants to know how to help someone transform.

Repentance is under-valued and under-utilized in many Christian relationships. You may test yourself to see if my observations are accurate for you. These self-assessing questions will reveal how much you value and utilize repentance.

  1. How often do you ask your spouse (or friend) to forgive you?
  2. How often do you ask God to forgive you?
  3. Do you regularly invite loving correction into your life?
  4. Are you more apt to let a person sin without calling them to repentance?
  5. Are you tempted to hide your sin from your friends?

How did you do? Here are a few more questions. Are you a repenting friend? Do you live in a community of repenting friends? We can, you know? Christ came to die because of sin. He gave His life to free us from sin. Isn’t the gospel amazing? The power of the gospel in our lives is limitless.

We have something the world cannot experience. Our unregenerated friends are frenetic in their pursuit to drown out the noise of their guilty consciences. Not the Christian. We have an other-worldly power working in us. Regular, daily cleansing is God’s gift to us through His gospel.

Liabilities of Not Changing

Though God justified you at salvation, the doctrine of progressive sanctification implies there is still more work to do. Progressive sanctification is the gradual and continuous removal of sin. And the responsibility is on you to access this means of grace for the incremental removal of sin from your life.

If you do not regularly repent of your sins, you will hinder your transformation into Christlikeness. Un-removed sin creates collateral soul damage. Here is a sampling of what can happen inside of you if you are not regularly repenting:

  • Spiritual immaturity
  • Spiritual blindness
  • Lack of discernment
  • Quenching the Spirit
  • Grieving of the Spirit
  • Hardening of the conscience
  • The dullness of your spirit
  • Addiction to sin
  • The increase of sinfulness

These things will hinder your relationship with God and your relationship with others.

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The Doctrine of Repentance

How Do You Change?

A common sense question that I ask in counseling is, “Did you repent?” Sometimes I will follow-up with, “How did you do it?” You may be surprised at some of the answers that I have received. More times than not, the answers are vague and outside biblical boundaries.

It is vital that you know how to repent. I think sometimes people can say “repent,” but not carefully walk a person through the process of repenting. The following steps are a biblical method of repentance. As you read through this process, ask the Spirit of God to scrutinize your life to see if you are actively and regularly doing these things.

1 – Sin happens. Sin is the condition for repentance. It is essential to know what a transgression is. Thus, you must be able to identify it. If you do not have sound sin categories, you may not know you sinned, which will keep you from repentance.

2 – After you sin, you are declared guilty by the Lord. This condition is unalterable, undeniable, and unavoidable. You have no say in this matter. If you sin, you are guilty.

3 – Accompanying your guilt is a feeling of conviction from the Spirit of God. This emotion is a kindness from God. The Lord is merciful to let you know that something is wrong.

4 – The Spirit of God not only brings clarity to the sinner by convicting him, but He begins to move the sinner’s heart away from his sin by reminding him of the gospel–God’s solution for transgressions.

5 – The realities of the cross humble the convicted individual. He realizes what he did and how the Lord is merciful to take his sin and place it on His Son so the sinner can experience permanent freedom from the offense.

6 – Armed with a gospel-centered awareness, the sinner confesses his sin to God.

7 – The Lord freely forgives and freely cleanses the man from his sin.

8 – The newly freed individual experiences restoration and reconciliation to God.

9 – If he has sinned against others, he will confess and repent to those people so he can receive restoration and reconciliation from others.

10 – Freely forgiven, he is now compelled to share with others what God has done for him.

11 – He may ask a few close friends to help him, so he does not transgress again. He shares his temptations and patterns because of his affection for God and his desire not to fall into the same traps again. He is appropriately suspicious of himself, so he solicits the help of friends to serve him in his walk with the Savior.

12 – Others are encouraged and emboldened to share their struggles because they see the hope and the freedom this man has in the gospel. They no longer want to hide, but have a desire to be just as free as their repentant friend.

These possibilities sound too incredible, but they are possible. You can be free in Christ–all the time. Sin is only a depressing thought to those who have no means to rid themselves of their sin.

Those who understand the gospel are not overwhelmed or discouraged by their sin. They are ready and willing to attack their transgressions because they know the power that is in the gospel.

The power of the gospel releases the Christian community to be a confessing and repenting community. Praise God for the Savior’s cross-work on our behalf.

The Template for Change

The goal of repentance is not vague or hard to discern. Simply put, the purpose of repentance is to be like Christ. Jesus is the template or the benchmark to whom we compare ourselves.

If a person is repentant, there is a conscious effort to continue to grow into Christlikeness. Repentance is the only vehicle that will get him to the goal.

If you want to know what Christ “looked” like so you can model Him, let me point you to Galatians 5:22-23 or 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 where you’ll find to great templates. Read those passages and ask yourself how well you’re reflecting them in your life.

Repentance should not be a mystery. It should be obvious, objective, and measurable. All you need to do is hold up the picture of your life to the image of Christ. Then humbly move toward Him with authentic repentance.

Caveat – You are not looking for perfection as you live out change. Being perfect is not possible, but you can see objective evidence that would signify transformation from your Adamic ways to Christlike ways. Minimally, you should see objective manifestations of the fruit of the Spirit, even if in embryonic form.

How to Know Change Is Real

Occasionally I am asked whether or not the repentance was real. This question is usually when a spouse is wondering if their spouse is genuine and sincere in their repentance. This question requires biblical discernment.

Some of the elements you would observe in a repentant person are humility, sincerity, transparency, and honesty. These character traits should accompany anyone who is sincerely seeking to live the Christ-life.

The foundation of genuine heart and life change is humility. A repentant person is a humble person. Humility is the prerequisite to receiving God’s empowering grace (James 4:6).

  1. Humility opens the door to empowering grace.
  2. Empowering grace comes from the Spirit.
  3. The Spirit enables and illuminates the mind.
  4. Now the repentant person has the power and the clarity to identify sin and change.

This process is essential if a change is going to take place. The reason it is crucial is that it represents the keys that allow the Christian to live a life of repentance and ongoing repenting.

Your life is progressive, which is what theologians have termed progressive sanctification. Your life should resemble the “stock market,” in that you should always be trending upward, though there will be dips all along the way.

Measuring Objective Change

With the Spirit of God engaging the humble heart and the Word of God actively and powerfully illuminating the mind, any person can change. Though there will be imperfections in exhibiting specific manifestations of the Christ-life, there should be a few things that accompany anyone who has authentically repented.

The following, though it is not an exhaustive list, are some of the things I look for when addressing my heart as well as those I serve.

Teachability – a humble person is a teachable person. He is a learner. He does not push back or resists your counsel, even if your counsel is not the best.

The teachable person is not about proving his points any longer. He is more apt to listen than disagree. Even when he feels compelled to disagree, there is discernible humility in his voice.

It is not about him, which is the exact opposite of what sin craves. Sin is all about “me,” but genuine repentance has an obvious concern for God and others.

Open to Correction – The repentant person is correctable. You can correct him, which is a fantastic change of events in his demeanor. The gospel-centered person has nothing to protect and nothing to hide.

I do not enjoy correction, but when I am corrected and by the grace of God receive it, I know the Lord is working in me. Correction cuts against the grain of my proud heart. You will quickly know if a person is genuinely repentant if he is open to correction.

Change Happens – Each new encounter with a repentant person, especially in a discipleship context, should be a “step up” from the previous meeting. I have used the analogy of walking up steps as a metaphor regarding what change should look like when caring for others.

True repentance should look like a person walking up steps. He is getting higher with each level. He is moving forward as each day passes. He is progressively changing. He is improving from week to week, even if only in small ways.

He Asks More Questions and Makes Fewer Statements – a repentant person is an inquiring person. He is anxious to receive from you rather than telling you why he has done this or that. The proud person talks a lot, making many statements.

The humble person will ask more questions and seek to learn because he wants to change and grow. He is no longer interested in presenting air-tight arguments. He has a growing disinterest in rationalizing or justifying his actions.

The Light Has Been Turned On By the Lord – I do not know how to explain this one except to say that the Spirit of God is illuminating a repentant person. He understands the truth. He discerns the Bible. The biblical concepts and ideas that you communicate to him make sense to him.

On a few occasions, I have counseled people who seem more like a concrete block in that they do not understand the truth. Yes, I am aware that I can be a poor communicator, but I am also mindful that the Spirit of God speaks clearly to spiritual people–in spite of me. If there is a lack of repentance in a person’s heart, there can be dullness in his hearing.

A Repentant Person Is not Resistant – I have already mentioned this, but it needs a stand-alone category because it is such a big deal. The humble person does not push back from your counsel. They are more self-suspicious than defiant. They are open, kind, receptive, respectful, and willing to learn.

They will give you the benefit of the doubt and be quick to see the log in their eye while paying less attention to the speck in your eye (Matthew 7:3-5). The bottom line for them is they want to change. They are less exacting and more repentant.

(If you are wrong or your counsel is inappropriate, they must bring this to your attention, and the tables must turn to where you are like them: open, not defiant, eager to change.)

The Changed Heart

I have had the joy of counseling many repentant people. They bring simultaneous joy and conviction to my soul. Joy, because I rejoice in God at His incredible grace in their lives. Conviction, because the Spirit often reminds me to be like them.

They are my heroes. I wish I could write their stories, to tell you what God has done in their lives. It is an incredible and rewarding job to be able to partner with these humble people. I am blessed to not only know them but to watch God work so effectively in their lives. They inspire faith in me by their humble repentance and grace motivated determination to be like my Savior.

Call to Action

  1. Are you teachable? Do you create a context of grace in your relationships that frees your friends to correct you?
  2. Are you changing? If so, how so?
  3. Are you characterized as a question ask-er, rather than a statement maker? If not, why not?
  4. In what specific way do you need to change after reading this article? Will you share that thing with a friend?
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