Not long ago after an apology to my family we had a discussion over dinner about confession and repentance – not the ordinary dinner table topic at our house! But I’m very thankful for the redemptive opportunity. We spoke about how you must separate these two pillars of faith (confession and repentance) in order to understand how they are united in Christ.

We went around the table and let everyone have their voices heard and when finished we came away needing a bit more theology. My wife and I decided to model confession and repentance for our three children. Everyone agreed that I was quick to confess sin or wrongs and Martha was quick to change behavior. But, is repentance changing behavior only? Or is repentance confessing only?

Confession for whatever reason is easier for me and more of a challenge for my wife. But behavior change? That is much harder for me, but my wife can change behavior on a dime! It’s very impressive. If Martha feels out of shape, it’s very easy for her to transform her diet and add in regular exercise. But she doesn’t want to talk or think about the heart transformation (e.g. body as a temple, glory of God) that ought to undergird that behavior change. On the other hand, let’s say I have a problem with being messy (I do). I am quick to confess it as a problem, say I’m sorry, and think through why my car, desk, or bedroom is messy. But I am very slow to change my behavior and pick up the mess!

This also affects how we parent. If our kids have a messy room, Martha doesn’t want to know why it’s messy and doesn’t see a need to talk about it with the kids. The room needs to be cleaned – end of story. In other words, she wants behavior change. But I want to talk to my kids about why they keep leaving their rooms a wreck and why it’s a problem. In other words, I’m looking for confession and a change of heart. But sometimes it takes a long time to get to the behavior change, especially when I’m not Mr. Clean!

Back to our discussion around the table, my oldest daughter asked, “But Dad, is it true repentance without a change in behavior?” I explained, “Well, honey, yes and no. True repentance begins in the heart, before any behavior change happens. But if it is true repentance it will produce a changed life over time.” Since no one can see someone’s heart besides God’s Holy Spirit, we must give grace to the struggler even when we do not see the change that we believe needs to happen now! I explained further, “Your Mom may not confess as quickly as your Dad, but she is wonderful at changing behavior, which is great! But me? I may be quick to confess, but I long for a heart change often before my behavior changes.”

So what is true repentance? It takes both Martha and I together to model it well. True Repentance includes both confession of sin and change in behavior, but most importantly it’s a change of heart that produces Christ-like behavior over time.