Repentance can be confusing. Is it to be simply be sorry for sin? To try harder next time? To never sin again? The Bible is clear on the importance of repentance (Luke 13:3; Acts 17:30). So, it is crucial to know what repentance is and what it looks like.
Essentially, to repent is to turn away from sin and to turn to God and trust in the gospel. It involves the altering of both the inward emotions of the mind and heart and the outward actions of the body. There are many vital elements in repentance, and throughout the Bible we see a clear picture of repentance.
Recognition of Sin
“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight” (Psalm 51:3-4).
When you realize you are a sinner and you see your need for a Savior, you’ll then come to the point of recognizing your sin. This is to confess your sin to God and ask for forgiveness. To recognize and confess your sin is to do what David did in Psalm 51: admit that you sinned against God and agree with Him that you are guilty. In addition to recognizing your sin, you are to also recognize the remedy for it—the cross of Jesus Christ.
Remorse for Sin
“As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:9-10).
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In repentance, Paul says that godly grief should occur. To have godly grief is to have remorse for sin, which is to show deep sorrow and regret over sinning against God. When this occurs, you will be “grieved into repenting.” And because it is a godly grief—a grief that doesn’t just acknowledge wrongdoing, but also admits crime and offense against God—it produces repentance that leads to salvation, for it leads to a confession of sin and an acceptance of the gospel. Remorse for sin is sour, but it leads to the sweetness of the gospel.
“Till sin be bitter, Christ will not be sweet.” – Thomas Watson
Resentment of Sin
“O you who love the Lord, hate evil!” (Psalm 97:10a).
The reproach of sin creates a resentment of sin. This is a righteous reaction to the wickedness of sin and its negative effects. True hatred for sin in repentance is a sure sign that godly grief has occurred, for the natural person does not hate sin, but loves it. Some may hate certain sins, but those who repent hate their own sin because they see what their sin did to the Savior and what it does to them. In order to love the Lord, you must first loathe your sin. The hatred of sin is found in loving the Savior.
“Look to the cross, and hate your sin, for sin nailed your Well Beloved to the tree. Look up to the cross, and you will kill sin, for the strength of Jesus’ love will make you strong to put down your tendencies to sin.” – Charles Spurgeon
Removal of Sin
“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil” (Isaiah 1:16).
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The resenting of sin prompts a removing of sin. Sin will not remove itself from you; you must remove yourself from sin. And most importantly, you need to remove the evil of your deeds from before God’s eyes. The removal of sin is essential in repentance, for it demonstrates a true turning from sin. This does not mean that you are perfect, but that you are taking practical steps to remove the sin in your life. This is seen in not only removing sin, but also replacing it with godly living, as Paul says we are to “put off” and “put on” (Colossians 3:8-14).
Rejoicing over Forgiven Sin
“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25).
Many view the word repent as being somewhat harsh or negative. Although, the end result of repentance is positive. Repentance should end in rejoicing—being joyous over the fact that your sin is forgiven and that you can experience renewal as God restores you from the effects of sin. True repentance will always lead to true rejoicing, for biblical repentance always leads to believing and clinging to the gospel—the good news for repentant sinners.
“Just as we cannot enter into true repentance without sorrow for our guilt, we cannot emerge from true repentance without joy for our release from shame.” – Bryan Chapell
In your repentance, say, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ!”