By Melissa McLaughlin

What does it mean to repent?

I had taken a leave of absence from my teaching job that year. After giving birth to our first child, I longed to be home and devote my time and love to our precious newborn daughter. My husband graciously supported my decision. Money was tight, as we were down to just one income, so I picked up a few part-time tutoring jobs to help ease the financial strain.

One evening while driving to my next tutoring session, out of nowhere bright lights flashed in my rearview mirror and a fierce siren blared, invading my quiet commute. My heart skipped a beat. “What is he doing?” I wondered. “Is he pulling me over?”

After parking at the side of the road, I waited as the police officer walked resolutely toward my car. He requested my license and registration, then proceeded to ask if I knew that I was speeding. In a firm voice, he stated the speed limit was 25 mph and my speed had been clocked at 45 mph.

My first instinct was to assume that the officer must be wrong. Surely I could not have been driving that fast. Maybe he made a mistake. But there was no discussion. He had the readings from the radar gun and that was that. In hindsight, I realized that after turning off a heavily traveled road, I had not paid close enough attention to the abrupt change in speed limit once I turned onto this small side street.

As he wrote out the ticket with my fine, the truth set in. And so did the consequences.

I frantically began calculating the grocery money for the week. How would I buy diapers and baby formula when we had to pay a speeding ticket with this week’s paycheck? We had exactly $150.00 left in our savings account. The ticket was exactly $150.00.

My mind raced wildly. Sweat drenched my body. The worst part was the drive home. My stomach knotted into a tight ball at the dread of confessing this mess to my husband. He had supported my decision to stay home with our daughter. We both went without the extras week after week so that I could give her my full attention, time and TLC. He cared for her while I tutored. Now I had gone and blown it.

As soon as I got home the story poured out of me. My husband took it all in, including the furrowed brow, the anxious face and the tears shining in my eyes. Shame, embarrassment and fear quivered in my voice as I admitted the truth and told him I was sorry. My husband listened, then quietly assured me we would get by.

The burden of heaviness lifted. A soft ray of sunlight pierced through the dark fog clinging to my heart. What a profound gift he gave me.

Though the ticket still had to be paid and the money would be tighter than usual, I had confessed my wrongdoing and began the process of forgiving myself, for my husband had already done so. My heart melted for him. Love for my husband seeped into previously unknown spaces of my heart as I rested there, soothed by his kindness to me.

What does it mean to repent? Why did Jesus ask us to repent? What does this have to do with me?

In Mark 1:15, Jesus’ first message to the crowds was to repent and believe the gospel.

Repentance means to have a change of mind that results in a change of action.

When we sin, we have turned our backs on God. To repent is to turn away from sin and turn instead to God.

What does it look like when we truly repent? Here are 7 elements of repentance.

1. Conviction – The Holy Spirit opens our eyes and helps us see what we could not see before. Our prideful spirits are softened, helping us become aware of the simple fact that we are wrong.

This is no small feat! No one, and I mean no one, likes to admit they are wrong. It goes against our prideful nature. We like to be right. We like things our way. We like to be on the throne. Period.

2. Surrender – The Holy Spirit supplies us with a willingness to be honest with ourselves and with God. With His help, we are willing to recognize and admit we are wrong.

Our sins and wrong choices may be willful wrongs or the result of honestly not knowing, perhaps stemming from overall disinterest or having succumbed to being led astray. No matter the reason for being wrong, we finally lower our self-righteous defenses, weakly lift the white flag of our heart and surrender to God and His truth.

3. Godly sorrow or remorse – An appropriate response when repenting for sins is to experience Godly sorrow or remorse at having gone the wrong way and disappointed God.

4. Confess fully (Apologize-Agree-Acknowledge-Ask) – Confess and apologize to God and others. Agree with God’s leadership and the truth of His Word, the Bible. Acknowledge that God is right and we are wrong. Ask for forgiveness.

5. Make restitution when necessary – Sometimes we have to pay for damages we have incurred while walking in a path of sin. Repentance includes making things right when we can. A good example of this is Zacchaeus, the tax collector, who repaid four times the money he had extorted from others, before having turned from sin to follow Jesus. Luke 19:8

6. Reflect on your sins, mistakes and wrong choices just long enough to learn from them. Make a plan to move in a new direction, walking new paths, forging new habits so as not to repeat the same sins and mistakes. A repentant person is willing to be corrected, demonstrating a teachable spirit and desire to learn and grow in Christlikeness.

7. Receive God’s great love and rest in His forgiveness for you! When you recognize how much we desperately need God’s help at every stage, we find deeper joy and gratitude for the finished work of Christ on the cross. The heaviness of sin, guilt and shame has been lifted. Our penalty has already been paid! We are free to walk in the newness of life in Christ! Run to Jesus! His arms are open wide!

It is important to remind ourselves of one very fine line when it comes to repentance. We must guard against the temptation to dwell in regret, shame and guilt. This can be a form of self-righteousness and Satan will use this self-focus to chain you to the past. We are all sinners in need of a Savior. That’s why Jesus came. Let that reality lift you from the ashes and strengthen you to rise again in Christ.

Conversely, when we acknowledge and confess the sin in our lives, we should not flippantly “brush it off” either. Satan is thrilled when we take sin lightly, for then he has made an inroad in our lives that he can revisit and broaden bit by bit.

Make no mistake about it. God does not take sin lightly. God is just. And a just penalty must be paid for every sin. The great joy is that God is also merciful. He sent Jesus to pay that just penalty for our sins. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 Let us never forget, however, this verse begins with the pivotal word “If”.

Repentance is a gift from God that helps us maintain a humble attitude before Him who is pure, holy and righteous. Repentance helps us avoid judging others and gently chips away at the ugliness of our pride. The more we see the perfection of God and His laws, the more we realize we cannot stand before Him by any strength of our own. Little by little we realize how we are fully dependent on God’s mercies that are new every morning. Repentance allows Jesus to build a bridge from our sin to His love.

When we first become a Christian, we must repent, turning away from our self-made sinful life and instead ask to Jesus to take over as Lord and Leader of our lives.

However, until that day when we finally reach heaven and the presence of all sin is wiped away forever, we must humble ourselves and repent anew each day. This allows a posture of honesty, humility and surrender to reshape our hearts into vessels of overflowing gratitude before our gracious and loving Savior and increases our longing to be like Him.

Jesus asks us to repent, for without repentance we cannot receive the forgiveness He offers. Jesus asks to repent because remorse without repentance leads to utter despair. Jesus asks us to repent because repentance leads to renewed hope, the refreshment of forgiveness and best of all, a deeper love for Him.

The beautiful truth of repentance may best be captured in the stirring story found in Luke 7:36-50 of the sinful woman who stooped down low and wept before Jesus while He ate. She washed Jesus’ feet with her heartfelt tears, then tenderly dried His feet with her hair.  Such humility. Such gratitude. Such devotion. Such love.

When asked about her actions, what was Jesus’ response? Her sins which are many are forgiven – for she loved much. The one who has been forgiven little, loves little.

She loved much! The one who has been forgiven much, loves much! That can be all of us!

But you can only receive this forgiveness and love, if you repent!

Why did Jesus ask us to repent?

Because Jesus knew, hope awaits.

Because Jesus knew, forgiveness awaits.

Because Jesus knew, deeper love awaits us.

Because Jesus knew repentance leads us from much sin to much love!

Holy Spirit, sweep through my whole being. Bring me to my knees in complete humility and total dependency. Help me see my sins for what they are. Carve away my stony self-righteousness. Soften my prideful spirit.  Turn my mind to the glory of Christ and captivate my thoughts with the truth of God’s Word. Help me surrender fully to You. Help me repent. Help me acknowledge my sin, confess my sin and grow more and more into the image of Christ. Forgive me for my sins, that I may be set free to love You more! Let gratitude roll down from my heart like a mighty river, rushing me ever onward into the ocean of your grace and mercy. In Jesus’ name and for His sake I pray. Amen.

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Additional Resources:

The Power of Sin is Broken! Past, Present and Future! By Melissa McLaughlin

The Sacrificial Lamb – Why Did Jesus Have to Die? By Melissa McLaughlin

What is Repentance By Desiring God

How to Repent: 5 Steps By The Gospel Coalition

What is Real Repentance? By Core Chrisitianity