Repentance leads to some very practical applications in our lives. God commands us to repent of our sins. He does not merely call us to feel bad about our sins. He does not call us to merely acknowledge our sins. Too often, we can settle for these imitations of repentance. But we need actual repentance. We need actual repentance if we are to keep the command of God and if we are to experience the true blessing of repentance.
What does that mean? It means when we fall into sin, by the help of the Holy Spirit, we need to seek to change our hearts and behavior.
Let’s just consider one example. Take the person who loses their temper and speaks sinfully to someone else. What does repentance look like?
We consider the heart that led to that sin. My own experiences with anger have everything to do with pride, a sense that I am so important and I deserved better treatment from someone else. My experiences also flow from a lack of love, a low valuing of my neighbor and lack of prioritizing their needs and desires. When I look at the heart behind my sin, I see the sinfulness of the sin. I can’t dismiss it by calling it an “accident” or saying someone shouldn’t make such a big deal of it. If I see my pride or lack of love at work, I see something that God condemns as sin.
Once I can see my sin, I can see how I need to change at the heart level. God does not want me to be proud and unloving. He commands the opposite. He wants me to be humble and loving. So I must set about pursuing a heart that is humble and loving. I begin with the Gospel. I have a Savior who humbled himself to die for me. I have a God who loved me while I was an enemy. The more I dwell on these truths, the more I find the motivation and help to be humble and loving.
Keep in mind, changing hearts is no small job. Depend on the Lord and persevere. God is pleased to transform us as we seek him in faith.
As we pursue changed hearts, our behavior must follow. Take again the example of anger. What is the opposite of anger and angry words? It would be love and edifying words. If I am serious about repentance, I will now seek to practically do differently. I will seek to be loving and show love in what I say and do. The person who has suffered at the other end of my words should feel the complete opposite if I am repenting.
On a related note, the person I have sinned against should also be confessed to. If I have sinned, I shouldn’t settle on euphemisms like, “I’m sorry, I was having a bad day the other day and I said some things I shouldn’t have said…”
Let’s do justice to our sin, let’s say instead something like this: “I’m sorry I sinned against you the other day with my anger and words, would you please forgive me?” Not only do we owe it to God and our neighbor to be specific about our sin, but there is also nothing so wonderfully healing as hearing the other person say, “I forgive you.”
Our sin involves our hearts and actions, so our repentance needs to involve our heart and actions. In all of this, it’s not just about what you don’t do, it’s about what you do instead. The Bible describes this as the process of putting off and putting on (Col 3:1-17). When you’re considering how you should repent of a given sin, take some basic questions with you:
What was my sin at the heart level? Seek the help of the Gospel to cleanse you of your sin and change your heart.
What was my sin in my behavior? Confess to those you have wronged and recommit to treating them according to the Lord’s will.
Repentance is a non-stop activity for Christians. But repentance is filled with hope, it is turning from our sin and turning to Christ. It’s the sin that kills, Christ is the one who gives us life. Repentance is also filled with help: as long as you have sin to repent of, you will have a God who will be faithful to help you. This article was originally published at https://www.dayspringreno.com/blog/actual-repentance on February 16, 2021.
Jason Ching (MA, Westminster Seminary California) is a pastor at Dayspring Church in Reno, NV. He is husband to Naomi and father of three.
Note: The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of other contributors on this site.