What is the difference between true and false repentance?

Theological Terms

In the church, we say that there is ‘false repentance’ and ‘true repentance.’ In theology, we say that there is ‘attrition’ and ‘contrition.’ Regardless of what terms we use, there is an important difference between somebody who has truly repented and somebody who has not.

We are not saved by our repentance, but our repentance is a sign that we are saved. Therefore, if we are lacking in repentance, then there is a strong chance that we are lacking in salvation. True salvation results in true repentance and false salvation results in false repentance.

Attrition (False Repentance)

Attrition is false repentance.

One of the reasons that attrition takes place is because somebody gets caught doing something and wants to avoid the consequences.  For instance, if a kid tries to sneak out of their bedroom window and gets caught, they may say, “I’m sorry, please don’t ground me!” They are not sorry, they are only sorry they got caught and they do not want to face the consequences of their actions.

A second reason that attrition takes place is because somebody indulges in sin and then apologizes after they have had their fix. This is the equivalence of somebody saying that they are declaring to start a diet right after eating at a buffet; of course it is easy to make that declaration when stuffed to the brim.

Attrition says, “I’m not really sorry and I don’t really want to change.”

Contrition (True Repentance)

Contrition is true repentance. Contrition is a genuine sorrow to having offended God.

King David writes in Psalm 51:17, “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.”

True repentance does not take place because somebody is fearful of the consequences or because they have had their fix, but it happens because they are broken before God.

Contrition says, “God, what a wretch that I am! I am undeserving of Your amazing grace, please take my broken heart!”

Come Clean to Become Clean

James 4:6 reads, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

Matthew 5:3 reads, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Therefore, being in a broken state of contrition is a good thing! It means that God will turn His face towards us and give us grace! R.C. Sproul once said, “Anybody who comes before God in the spirit of repentance has no fear of being cast away from His presence.”

Once we come clean before God, then we can actually start becoming clean. Brokenness is a requirement for salvation. Let us come to the potter and let Him piece us together how He deems fit.

Do you lack true repentance in some area of your life? Do you need to confess something to someone?

Do not wait to get caught! Do not wait until you’ve had your fix! Come to God with your baggage right here, right now!