Many understand the term repentance (from the Greek word metanoia) to mean “turning from sin.” This turning is simple, thus is not the biblical definition of repentance. In the Bible, the word repent means “to change one’s mind.” The Bible also tells us that true repentance will result in a change of actions (Luke 3:8-14; Acts 3:19). Acts 26:20 declares, “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” The full biblical definition of repentance is a change of mind that results in a change of action.
Repentance is more than just acknowledging wrongdoings. It is a change of mind and heart. It includes turning away from sin and turning to God for forgiveness. It is motivated by love for God and the sincere desire to obey His commandments.
To repent, you need to confess your sins to the Lord. Then seek forgiveness from those you have wronged, and restore as far as possible what has been damaged by your actions. Repentance is a life-giving thing. It’s the cry in the mouth of almost every one of God’s messengers in the Bible. They were all calling on God’s people to repent. And not just occasionally or tangentially. “Repent!” was often the whole message. When John the Baptist showed up, what was his message? “Repent” (Matthew 3:2a). Then the early church preserved the pattern: “Repent, therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.”
Some people knowingly break God’s commandments, planning to repent later, such deliberate premeditation mocks the Savior’s Atonement. If you’re not living in repentance, the following line of thinking may sound familiar to you. You know, I’ve gradually gotten to this place where my walk with God has become kind of formulaic, I pray and ask for forgiveness, but I just can’t seem to forgive myself and sometimes I wonder if God really forgives me. God is the only one who can forgive you, Luke 5:21 The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
The world wants you to think and believe that you cannot repent, but that is not true. The Savior has promised you forgiveness if you will humble yourself and make the effort that repentance requires. If you have sinned, the sooner you repent, the sooner you begin to make your way back away from those regrets and struggles and feelings of unforgiveness and find the peace and joy that come with forgiveness. If you delay repentance, you may lose blessings, opportunities, and spiritual guidance. You may also become further entangled in sinful behavior, making it harder to find your way back. It’s that recognition of sin followed by heartfelt sorrow culminating in a change of behavior. Acts 3:19–20!
Repentance is not simply something we say, or an act that can be done once, or when we wait for what I often hear people say that “come to Jesus” moment when our guilt has overtaken us. Repentance should be likened to a place, not one to be visited like our favorite vacation spot, but a location where we should take up residency; it needs to be where we live, a place where we become comfortable arriving daily. God demands repentance from sin, not simple regrets for it. James 3:2 says, “We all stumble in many ways”—so you can’t just drop in and visit repentance, enjoy it for the moment and get over it while taking our fond memories of the moment with us. There is a person in my small group who says it like this “I need Jesus every second, of every hour, of every minute, of every day.”
Your personal awareness of the need to repent right now has a lot to say about your relationship with God because only He can bring you to the place of contrition and change. Only God’s Spirit can pierce your defenses with repentance. If that’s happening in this moment, don’t turn away or put things off! Humble yourself before your heavenly Father, name and confess the sins, then ask for forgiveness in Jesus’ name. Don’t rush, but hurry to listen, then wait for God to point out what needs to change. Your soul and relationship with Him will start to fill with the refreshment that only comes by way of repentance, as you receive and walk with Jesus “every second, of every hour, of every minute, of every day” for eternity.