Again. I did it again. I. Messed. Up. It happens literally all the time, every day, many times a day–I mess up. One day I’ll hurt someone’s feelings, one day I’ll say something I shouldn’t have said, and the next day I’ll lie… And I’m sure you know how it feels like. At some point, I just got so sick and tired of this endless cycle of messing up that I asked myself, “What is so wrong with me? I thought I confessed my sins, became a Christian, then gained a new identity in Christ… aren’t I supposed to have turned away from my sins? Why do I keep messing up? Am I not a Christian anymore? Why am I not changing?” That word used so frequently by preachers from pulpits appears in the Bible more than 100 times—“Repent”—and it’s also the word that many of us don’t understand at all. I wanted to understand it. What does it mean to truly repent? In my personal search for the answer, I went to God, intensely searched my heart, asked myself questions, and viewed many sermons and articles about genuine repentance (more than I can count!). I have learned so many convicting lessons about the heart of true repentance, which I want to share with all of you. This is the introduction to a 3-part series I’ll be working on called “The 4 R’s to True Repentance.” It’s about four biblical steps we need to take to truly change our hearts and get out of the guilt cycle. Plus, they’re really easy to remember!
The 4 R’s to True Repentance:
I’ll be going through them in the next few articles, so stay tuned!
But for today…
What is repentance?
Repentance is simply a change of heart and mind that results in a changed life. This change begins in the core of your being, the root of all your behaviors: your heart. Repentance is a radical renewing of your heart and mind because in order for your behaviors to change, the root cause of all your behaviors must change. The Bible tells us this in the following passages:
Proverbs 4:23 – “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (ESV).
Ezekiel 16:30 – “’How sick is your heart,’ declares the Lord God, because you did all these things, the deeds of a brazen prostitute” (ESV).
Luke 6:45 – “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (ESV).
The desires of your heart influence all your thoughts, therefore influencing your actions. A weak, unstable tree grows from weak roots, and a strong, firm tree grows from deep, strong roots. Psalm 51 is often taken as the prime example of true repentance for Christians, wherein King David repents of his sin of committing adultery with Bathsheba before the Lord. Try reading through Psalm 51 now and then continue reading this article.
Are you back? Well, did you notice there was not a word about adultery, murder, or lying in the entire confession? Not. A. Word. And those were the sins David committed! Why didn’t he talk about the issues themselves? Maybe because they were not the real issues to begin with. It doesn’t begin with adultery, murder, or lying, but it began with his heart of lust. And David recognized he needed to change his heart, saying, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10 ESV) To repent, we need to renew our hearts. How? We’ll discover how in the next few months!
What repentance is not.
#1 Repentance is not about trying to turn away from a sin or trying to read your Bible every day or trying to do anything for that matter! It is not you making your own effort to accomplish something that you think will cleanse you. Repentance is realizing you are weak and helpless and throwing yourself on God and fully depending on His saving grace to support you, recognizing that you are not even capable of avoiding sin by your own effort. It is turning from self-worth and ability. It is letting go and saying, “I can’t do it!” Jesus came to save the broken-hearted, not those who can “perfectly” repent or have all the steps right toward being a “good” Christian.
“Jesus answered, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.’” – Luke 5:31-32
I’ve gone through seasons of radical change where I was so determined to turn over a new leaf, but soon enough, because the root issue was never dealt with, the old habit just came back like a weed. If you just snip a weed at its stem and leave its root under the soil, it’s just going to come back up again and again. No matter how much effort and time you spend snipping that stem, that root is still there. All your snipping will make no difference unless you turn to God to rip that root out of the ground and replace it with a strong root firmly established in Christ’s truth and grace. Recognize you are helpless and that you need Him to help change you from the inside out.
#2 Repentance is not a one-time thing. You do not become perfect and skip all the disappointments and temptations just because you said that sinner’s prayer when you were six. Repentance is a process that continues on till the day you die. It is a constant attitude of confessing our sins and trusting that God will forgive us.
“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
I look forward to continuing this series, and I would love to hear from you all below! Have you ever struggled with understanding repentance? What do you think true repentance looks like?