Repentance is central to biblical faith. It brings a man into contact with God, friendship with Jesus and true freedom of conscience. Repentance brings refreshment to the soul and delivers us from slavery.
Repentance is turning away from sin in order to lay hold of holiness. It may include emotion and regret, but it is more than a feeling. Repentance is breaking the chains of sin that hold us captive and experiencing blood-bought liberty which no man can diminish.
We live in a world that demands apologies over every imagined grievance. The aim of such demands is not freedom; it’s slavery to the will of others. Such demands for apologies, where no sin exists, can be cheerfully ignored. What should not be ignored is repentance.
Repentance is not about making apologies, it’s about setting people free. Repentance is also more than a one-time event. It is a daily characteristic of the soul that Jesus is transforming.
Here are some of the characteristics of true repentance, as distinct from the grovelling apologies of our current culture.
First, repentance is not forced or reluctantly squeezed out, as was the case with the likes of Pharaoh and King Saul ( Exodus 12:31; 14:5-7; 1 Samuel 15:24-25).
Saul’s repeated confessions did not obtain forgiveness because Saul only shrank from the punishment of his sin. David on the other hand, shrank in horror from the sin itself (Psalm 51:4).
Secondly, true repentance is full and complete. It does not make excuses. It does not blame circumstances or other people. Repentance is a confession and ought not be coupled with a defence.
A repentant soul will confess their sins wholesale and in detail, as David confessed his adultery. (Psalm 51; 2 Samuel 12)
Thirdly, repentance banks on grace.
A sincere confession springs from the grace of God and remorse for offending God. A confession that springs from the unwanted consequences of sin alone may be regret, but that’s not quite the same as repentance.
He who covers his sins shall not be blessed; but whoever confesses and leaves them shall have mercy. (Proverbs 28:13)
Consider Peter’s repentance before Jesus (John 21:15-17). Repentance before the Lord is searching and thorough. Peter could never love Jesus enough, but the searching is done to show us how much Jesus love us.
This is true repentance. It banks on the grace of the one who forgives and not on the eloquence or even sincerity of the one who repents. It’s focus is on God’s mercy, not my ability to give a rousing, heartfelt confession.
Finally, all true repentance is accompanied by a reformed life.
Repentance always leads to a change of heart and conduct in the believer. (Luke 3:7-14)
For the grief according to God works repentance to salvation, not to be regretted, but the grief of the world works out death. (2 Corinthians 7:10)
It’s one thing to be sorry for sin. It’s another to be repentant. A repentant heart works its way through the joints and out to the fingers and toes. The man who used to steal steals no longer. The women who used to gossip, gossips no more.
It’s progressive and takes time – a lifetime. but it’s visible. True repentance is something that others can point to in your life.
Do you want to be free from guilt, shame and the stain of sin? Do you want to walk with your shoulders back and your eyes out front so that you can face the world without fear? Then seek God for a repentant heart.
Turn us Lord, and we shall be turned. (Lamentations 5:21)
Trust in Him as Jeremiah did and He will do in your what you could never have done yourself.