Once we have recognized and understood our guilt and sin, the next step in the process of killing that sin is repentance. Repentance simply refers to our turning from sin, and is a necessary component of our conversion (Mk 1:15; Lk 13:5; Acts 2:38). In order to be saved from our sins, we must turn from them and trust in Christ to save us.
But repentance is an act that we continue to engage in throughout our lives (Ps 51; Lk 17:3-4). Even though we have been saved and given a new heart, our flesh still desires sinful things (Gal 5:16-17). As we recognize sin in our lives, we must systematically repent of that sin in order to grow in Christlikeness.
It is important to note that true repentance is not just turning away from sin, but also involves turning to something else. As we turn from sin, if we are to be free from that sin, we must also turn to God, asking for forgiveness and trusting Him for renewal.
The Bible also speaks of a false repentance that does not lead to life change (Mt 3:7-8; 2 Cor 7:10). In order to avoid this, it is necessary to know the elements of true repentance.
The first element of true repentance is confession (Prov 28:13; 1Jn 1:8-9). Now, God already knows all things. He knows our sin better than we do. So what is the point of confessing our sin to Him? Confession is a form of submission to God. When we confess our sin to Him, we are recognizing that we are accountable to Him for our actions and that His standards are the standards to which we are bound. We are submitting to His authority. But confession goes a bit further than that. Not only are we recognizing before God the fact of our sin, we are also agreeing with Him about the grievous nature of our sin. We are agreeing with Him that we have engaged in a wretched violation of His holy standard.
The second element of true repentance is resolve. Repentance involves the conscious, willful choice to turn from that sin and never to engage in it again (Is 1:16-17; Jn 5:14, 8:11). Without this resolve, we have not even taken the first step toward defeating the sin. Rather, we have essentially given it permission to stay. There must be the desire and decision to refuse to engage in that sin ever again.
The third element of true repentance is fruit (Mt 3:7-8; Acts 26:20). True repentance is an internal action to turn away from sin. However, if true repentance has taken place, there will be outward evidence of that internal action. One such fruit is restitution. Frequently, when we have sinned against someone it will be necessary to make things right in a tangible way. The OT spells out specific guidelines for making restitution for a sin against a brother's person or property (Ex 22:1). If we have stolen from someone or ruined property or sinned in such a way that our victim was hurt financially, we must compensate them in some way. The principle behind restitution is that we should do all we can to make whole the person we sinned against. If true repentance has taken place, there will be the strong desire to make restitution.
Another fruit of repentance is reconciliation. When our sin damages relationships, true repentance will compel us to repair those relationships and restore them to their former state of fellowship. If we are not moved to go to those against whom we have sinned and to be reconciled, it is very likely that our repentance is false repentance and that we need to re-examine ourselves with the Word, praying for godly grief for our sin (2 Cor 7:9-10).
We have now taken a brief look at the first two elements of the process of change, guilt and repentance. Next time, we will address the issue of forgiveness.
(Some of this material is adapted from lectures given by Dr. Stuart Scott at SBTS.)