“Oh, God, I cheated. I am so sorry. I really mean it this time. I am truly repentant.” “Oh, God, I lied. I am so sorry. I’ll try harder not to do that anymore. I am truly repentant.” “Oh, God, I just fell into the trap of pornography again. I am so, so sorry. I promise I’ll stop. I repent!”
Round and round we go on the merry-go-round of sin and confession. But it’s hard to keep saying we are sorry when our subsequent choices to sin again seemingly prove that we aren’t.
I’ve heard people express it this way: “I’m tired of saying I’m sorry over and over. I feel guilty and hypocritical.”
But sorrow and guilt aren’t the problem. Sin is! Instead of being tired of feeling bad, we should be tired of sin itself.
Repentance is not feeling bad about a sin and its consequences; that is merely an active conscience. Repentance means to “change the mind.” The Greek term for repentance implies a conversion—a complete turnaround in one’s thinking, commitments, and lifestyle.
Repentance is closely linked to another Greek term, metamorphosis—to transform. When one repents [a change in mind], transformation [a change in form] takes place (Romans 12:1-2).
Repentance is about something intrinsic to our inner character. Repentance changes what makes life meaningful and what we believe will truly satisfy us.
Repentance Is a Trust Issue
We struggle with temptation because we struggle with trusting God. Satan casts doubt on God’s Word and character, then tempts us with appealing lies and empty promises. And like Eve, when we question God’s love, our faith falters, and we bite.
The truth is that surrendering to sin feels easier than surrendering to God. In the moment of temptation, we think we’ll be satisfied if we just go ahead and sin, and deal with the effects later. Of course, the guilt we carry and the consequences we face are much worse than we expect.
No matter how many times we sin, the Bible calls us to repent—to be in the habit of repenting. Refusing to repent is a sign of arrogance, replacing God’s vision with our own self-centered dream. But that’s exactly why we’re all in this mess to begin with!
Repentance keeps our hearts humble and receptive to God’s work. It helps us see the world for what it is: to see our sinfulness and need of transformation; to appreciate what God is doing in and through us; to catch a glimpse of our destiny with God.
A humble, repentant heart gives us an accurate vision of life. Only then can we see that it’s possible and worth it to walk with God and become what He wants us to be. We want our minds changed so that God’s love, not the world, defines us.
When Paul wrestled with the dilemma of recurring sin in his life, he cried out, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” He then answered the question: “Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25).
God has done His part to deal with this struggle. The reason we keep on repenting, even if we suspect we will sin again in the future, is because we want our hearts to be washed daily by Christ’s forgiveness. And we want God to continue His transforming work in us. In short, we keep on repenting because we are trusting that God Himself will conform us to the image of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6).
This process requires persevering humility and faith. Just as it takes time for a coach to develop a raw recruit into a seasoned ball player, so we “press on” in a life of repentance, so that we can attain the prize God has promised in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12-16).
Repentance is NOT . . .
. . . just confession — “Okay, it’s bad, and I did it.”
. . . just sorrow — “I’m sorry I did it.”
. . . just a feeling of guilt — “Oops, you caught me. I did it, and I feel guilty.”
. . . just a litany of words to get God off my back.
. . . just an escape from consequences.
For further study, see 2 Corinthians 7:10; Ezekiel 18:30-32; and Isaiah 55:7.
Dr. Richard Fisher has served as a professor and regional director with Moody Bible Institute.