Sin sometimes grows silently and unconsciously in the hearts of believers, but we must repent when we become conscious of it. Believers must continually turn from self-righteous pride, sinful anger, lust, covetousness, worldliness, prayerlessness, neglect of the Bible, and selfishness of every kind. According to the Bible, repentance is godly sorrow for sin and turning away from all known sin to Christ. According to the Baptist Catechism:
Q 92. What is repentance unto life?
A. Repentance unto life is a saving grace (Acts 11:28), whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin (Acts 2:37, 38), and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ (Joel 2:12; Jer 3:22), doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God (Jer 31:18, 19; Ez. 36:3 1), with full purpose of and endeavour after new obedience (2 Cor. 7: 1 1; Is. 1: 16, 17).
If we don’t repent, we will not be saved. Jesus said, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Lk 13:3). Here are some of the steps involved in the biblical process of repentance.
1. Seeing Jesus for who He really is. When we behold Christ, we see His beauty, His majesty, His greatness, and His holiness. We see the goodness of all His works. Our response to the goodness of Christ, in light of our sin, isn’t first to rejoice. It’s to fall on our faces in deep humiliation and conviction of sin. When Peter beheld the holiness of Christ, we’re told, “He fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man O Lord” (Lk 5:8).
2. Mourning, hating, and forsaking your sin. In light of Christ’s loveliness, we will see our sin for what it is. Our sin appears ugly and twisted, contrary to the love and goodness of Christ. When we draw near to Christ, we begin to hate our sin as Christ hates it. Our sin begins to repulse us because Christ is lovely, and so we hate it and forsake it. Scripture says, “Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret . . . see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you” (2 Cor 7:10-11).
3. Rejoicing in Jesus. When we turn from our sins to Christ, we rejoice in His bountiful mercies. This is a deep and solid rejoicing in Christ and His saving mercies. We rejoice that Jesus has covered our sins with His blood and wrapped us in His own righteousness. We rejoice that Christ prays for us from heaven and promises us eternal life with Him. We rejoice that He accepts us freely and gives us full reconciliation to God. When the Ethiopian repented of his sins, the Bible says that “he went on his way rejoicing” (Acts 7:39).
4. Putting on new obedience. In light of Christ and His great love, the repentant believer puts on new obedience out of love for Christ. We begin to obey in ways we didn’t obey in the past, and we stop sinning in ways we sinned in the past. Our hearts and our behaviors change, and we start keeping the good commands of our Lord in faith and love. Jesus says, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (Jn 14:15). We do not do this perfectly, but believers do it truly.
5. Being patient with your heart. Repentance is never perfect, and the more sensitive we are to our sin, the clearer that will be to us. We shouldn’t expect too much from our fallen hearts. We even have to repent of our repentance because our repentance itself is tainted with sin. Paul spoke of the war within him and said, “Wretched man that I am. Who will deliver me from this body of death” (Rom 7:24)?
6. Thinking on judgment day and heaven. As we live our lives in Christ, we should think often of the coming judgment and of final entry into heaven. The Bible says we’re to “Pursue the holiness without which none will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14). If we don’t love holiness in this world, we will certainly not love heaven, since heaven will be a world of holiness. Our lives of repentance and pursuit of Christ in this world fit us to enjoy life everlasting with Christ.