Before true repentance can occur and real freedom found, brokenness must be experienced. Brokenness is an issue of the heart meaning the intellect, emotions, and will must be radically changed. One of the most common questions Elsie and I hear from clients is, “How can I know that he is broken and truly repentant over his sin?” Most wives who express this have no idea what to look for other than a gut feeling that he has or hasn’t been broken over his sin. Knowing that, what does brokenness look like? How can you know if your loved one is truly broken over his/her sin? There are three aspects to consider with regard to brokenness-things that bring us to our senses, the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and the evidence or fruit of brokenness. The best example of these three aspects of brokenness is found in the story of the “prodigal son” as described in Luke 15:14-20.
1. THINGS THAT BRING US TO OUR SENSES
Loss (15:14). The prodigal experienced the loss of his wealth, his friends, his family, his lifestyle, and his self-respect. He was destitute.
Neediness (15:14). As a result of his losses, the prodigal son became needy. He needed money, food, clothing, a job, and his family.
Desperation (15:15). Desperate people do desperate things. The losses and neediness of the prodigal son have driven him to take desperate measures. For a Jew to hire himself out to a Gentile pig farmer is a desperate act, after all, pigs are the most unclean of any animal and forbidden by the Old Testament law from being eaten or even touched.
Alone (15:16). No one rescued the prodigal. Neither his father, brother, or friends sought to rescue him. He was alone. To be broken one must experience how alone he is without anyone to enable, rescue, befriend, or support him.
2. THE WORKING OF THE HOLY SPIRIT IN OUR LIVES
When the Holy Spirit brings conviction of sin, the soil of the soul is tilled and prepared to bring forth the fruits of repentance.
Brokenness is always marked by anguish over sin, emptiness of self, and complete turning to Christ. Pride is shattered and humility is seen. Charles Henry Mackintosh in his book The All-Sufficiency of Christ, defines brokenness as “simply the response of humility to the conviction of God.”
3. EVIDENCE OF BROKENNESS
Repentance (15:17). One of my favorite passages in the Bible is Luke 15:17 which says, “But when he came to his senses . . .” Prior to being broken he had lost his senses! He was not thinking straight. He was deluding himself, but not anymore. Now he is thinking clearly and his self-talk testifies to that fact. The one who is broken changes his thinking. He comes to his senses and starts to think and assess his life accurately.
Honesty (15:18). The first thing the clear-thinking prodigal does is tell himself the truth. He makes a clear-headed, non-delusional, non-defensive, no excuses assessment of his situation. Not what he wishes it was, not as he has told himself or others, but as it really is. He tells himself the truth. The broken person tells himself the truth and is honest in his self-talk. He owns his sin. He no longer blames others, defends himself, rationalizes, minimizes, denies, or justifies his sinfulness.
Humility (15:19-20). Finally, the prodigal son humbly told himself the action needed to salvage the mess he had made of his life. In his self-talk he acknowledges that his sin is first and foremost against God. All sin is against God. He is the primary One we have offended (cf. Psalm 51:4).
The prodigal son then rehearsed what he would say to his father. He completely owns his sin. He makes amends by confessing his sin without defensiveness to God and those he has wounded. He humbly asks for their forgiveness. He does not simply talk about confessing his sin to God and others. He takes action and does it. He humbly accepts whatever consequences are imposed on him by those he’s offended. He does not try to manipulate the consequences of his sin to lessen his pain.
Too often we try to repent before we are broken. We try to do all the right things externally, jump through the required hoops, as a substitute for true brokenness, but no amount of external acts can substitute for a heart broken over sin.
Irv and Elsie