To repent or not to repent, that is the question. Well actually it’s not really the question because all of us at some point in life will have to repent. Since we all have to do it, I guess what really needs to be asked is how do I really repent?
If you look in the dictionary it defines repenting as “feeling or expressing sincere regret or remorse about one's wrongdoing or sin.” While that is part of repentance the question remains – is there more to it? As you will discover from Scripture, repentance goes beyond just feeling bad. It must involve change – the type of change that influences how you think and ultimately how you act. Let’s look further.
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What Does Repent Mean?
A biblical definition of repenting means to change your mind or change your direction and move in a different direction. As you can see that is a little bit different than the common dictionary definition. While it may involve remorse or guilt because of your sin, it still goes a little further. The major difference between repentance and remorse is the source. Here’s what I mean. Remorse can happen not because you feel bad, but because you got caught. The remorse is a result of the consequence of the action, not because of a genuine desire to change it.
I was driving with my family to Niagara Falls and the speed limit on the road was 65. I was going a little bit faster than the speed limit, I was only doing 84 (in my math that’s a little bit). As I was cruising along on the highway I noticed a state trooper and before I could go back to the speed limit of 65 (like all good Christians do in those moments), he caught me with the radar. Eventually he pulled me over and gave me a ticket. When he pulled me over and gave me the ticket I felt remorse; I felt bad because I got caught and I knew this would mean a fine and possibly points on my license. I didn’t feel bad because I was speeding, I only felt bad when I got caught. This is not repentance.
If I was really repenting I would have said before I got the ticket or got caught, this behavior needs to change. I therefore would have changed my mind about how I was driving and would have slowed down to the speed limit. This is repentance. If all you do is feel sorry after you have been caught in your sin, then that is not repentance. If repentance doesn’t move you to change your actions, then unfortunately you have not repented. This is a big part of what is involved in repentance and moves us closer to answering the question: how do I repent?
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Where Does the Bible Talk about Repentance?
The Bible talks a lot about repentance but I want to give you two examples, one from the Old Testament and one from the New.
“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).
This is a very popular Scripture and it really defines what repentance is, even though it doesn’t use the word. There are four key words that really answer the question of how to repent. I will flush it all out later. For now, here are the four words: humble, pray, seek, turn.
At this moment let’s just look at the last word, turn. Notice God says “turn from their wicked ways.” This is what repenting is. Notice he didn’t say to feel bad about your wicked ways (though you should) he said turn from them. There cannot be forgiveness of sin unless you have a sincere desire to turn from your sin. This does not mean that you won’t sin in that area again, it means you have a real desire not to.
“Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first” (Revelation 2:5).
Notice again something very interesting about repentance – it requires action. Notice what Jesus is saying here:
Consider – Think about where you are and what you are doing.
Repent – Ask for forgiveness and change your mind about what you are doing.
Do – Don’t just change your mind, change your actions. (By the way, if you change your mind about what you are doing, your actions will follow.)
Hopefully so far you have gathered that repentance is not a feeling, though it may start with one. Repentance is an action. A change of mind about what you are doing that will ultimately lead to asking for forgiveness and changing your actions.
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Why Is It so Important That I Repent?
To understand why you need to repent, you must understand the impact of sin in your life. I want to consider sin from two perspectives, the perspective for the unbeliever and the perspective of the believer.
For the unbeliever, repentance is needed to restore relationship.
If you don’t know Jesus as your Savior, then your sin has put a separation between you and God. You cannot enter into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ until you first admit you are a sinner. You agree with God that you, just like every other person on this earth, has fallen short of what he requires. Once you acknowledge this and recognize your need for a savior, it opens the door for your relationship with God to be restored.
For the believer, repentance is needed to restore fellowship.
Once you have received Christ as your savior, your relationship with God is now intact. However what sin does is it puts a wall in the fellowship between you and God. Have you ever made a decision to sin? Have you ever ignored the conviction of the Holy Spirit to engage in activities that you knew were sinful? I know I have. After doing that what is the last thing you want to do? Spend time with God. You don’t want to pray, worship, read your bible, and you are definitely not going to be around other believers. In this instance, while you are still in relationship with God, your fellowship is broken. The only way to restore that fellowship is to repent and turn from your sin.
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How Do I Repent?
Now let’s get to the heart of the matter and answer the question how do I really repent? To do that let’s go back to our Scripture in 2 Chronicles 7:14:
“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
Remember the four key words, humble, pray, seek, and turn. Within these words is the answer to the question how do I really repent?
Humble – This means we have to get off our high horse and admit that we have sinned and have violated God’s standards or commands. If there is no humility, there will never be any repentance. In fact, if you believe you have never sinned, you are deceived.
“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).
Pray – It is in prayer that you confess your sins and ask God to forgive you. The beautiful thing about God’s love for you is this. If you ask him to forgive you, he will. Obviously there has to be a sincerity of heart, but God knows your heart so you can’t fool him anyway.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Seek – This is where you ask God for the power to help you so that you won’t do what you have done before. You want God’s forgiveness, but what you need moving forward is God’s strength to overcome sin. The good news is that he gives it to you in the person of the Holy Spirit. Because God’s Spirit dwells within you, sin does not have to rule over you. By seeking his face, you are allowing the Holy Spirit to have greater influence in your life which will lead to better decisions and strength to overcome the temptations of sin.
“So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves” (Galatians 5:16.)
Turn – Finally we get back to the turning, which is the moving away from sin and going in a different direction. Thankfully as you live a life guided by the Holy Spirit he will help you to do this.
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How Many Times Should I Repent?
A question that may pop into your mind is how often should you repent? When you sin and the Holy Spirit convicts you of that sin, you should repent. Remember as a Christian sin interrupts your fellowship with God, so repent and do it quickly to keep your fellowship intact. What happens however if you repent and you notice that you sin again? What should you do? The answer is the same, repent. The Bible says in Proverbs 24:16:
“The godly may trip seven times, but they will get up again.”
You may sin again after repenting. You may even commit the same sin again after repenting. Regardless keep getting up and repenting of your sin. Understand this is not about giving you a license to sin where the attitude is “I can sin as much as I want, I just need to ask for forgiveness.” That is not repentance.
Remember repentance requires a change of mind and actions. If your heart is sincere and you are walking with God and fall into sin, repent and keep walking with God.
However, if you find yourself struggling with a particular sin and you can’t seem to get freedom from it then you may need to get some help and accountability. This can come either through counseling, your pastor, leaders at your church or from another brother or sister in Christ. By the way if you need the help don’t be ashamed. These are some of the ways God helps you overcome.
One of the biggest tricks and lies of the enemy is to tell you that you can’t share your struggle because people will condemn you. Unfortunately, there are some Christians and leaders who will condemn you and that’s a shame on them. If you really are struggling and want freedom, don’t let that stop you from asking for help. That’s why you are part of the body of Christ. You don’t have to go through your struggle alone.
As you can see, the question of repentance is a very important question. As you walk with God you are going to make mistakes. You will sin. When that time comes, run to God and repent. He will not reject you and more importantly he will welcome you with open arms, because he was waiting for you to repent all along.
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Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, and co-founder of The Bible Study Club. He is the author of The Pursuit of Purpose which will help you understand how God leads you into his will. He has also just released his new book The Pursuit of Victory: How To Conquer Your Greatest Challenges and Win In Your Christian Life. Do you want to go deeper in your walk with the Lord but can’t seem to overcome the stuff that keeps getting in the way? This book will teach you how to put the pieces together so you can live a victorious Christian life and finally become the man or woman of God that you truly desire to be. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com.