What is contrition?


The word "contrition" is rarely heard inside the church and even less so outside the church. There are two types of contrition—the act(s) of contrition during one’s life, and having an ongoing contrite heart. Biblically speaking, contrition is heart-felt sorrow and remorse for one’s sins. It’s sincere humility, brokenness, and a healthy fear of God and his word. At times, it can’t be fully expressed in words, just tears and one’s humble disposition.

The Bible speaks of having a contrite heart (Isa. 66:2) and a broken heart (Psa. 51:17). Contrition includes genuine grief (Matt. 5:4). It contains a sincere sorrow that only God can give (2 Cor. 7:10; cf. Acts 11:18; 2 Tim. 2:25). It takes seriously what Christ did on the cross for his children’s sins (Isa. 53:4-6, 9-12; 2 Cor. 5:21).

In Isaiah 57:15 we read what God says about himself: "I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite." One example in Scripture of such contrition is when David confessed his sin of adultery and murder in Psalm 51. (Please see "Lessons on Repentance - Psalm 51" below.) We observe it again in Luke 18:9-14 in Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector.

You will know when you have experienced God-given contrition. You will feel an overwhelming release from the burden of sin. Its weight will be removed. Your joy will be deeper and all but uncontrollable—a "joy unspeakable and full of glory" (1 Pet 1:8; cf. Eph. 3:19). And although you will continue to sin, you will continuously live with a contrite heart, which pleases God.

Contrition is a wonderful, God-given blessing. Praise God for his unspeakable gift.

Related Topics

Lessons on Repentance - Psalm 51

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).