When Martin Luther said that “Jesus Christ willed...the entire life of believers to be one of repentance,” he was pleading with all who would listen to see and hate our sin as God does. More than that, he was trying to help us understand that the grace Jesus bought for us at the cross is always enough. If we define repentance as “turning our back to sin and our face to God,” then the question we need to ask is: “How do I do that?” And the answer, very simply, is by the grace of Jesus.
As Christians, we would all agree with that statement, but do you really live like it’s true when you’re confronted with sin in your own life? When you sin, do you tend to run away from God in guilt or run to God for grace? If you tend to run away from Him in guilt, shame, or fear, then you need to ask an even deeper question: What do you believe is at stake when you sin: God’s delight in you or your delight in God?
The more we understand that the love, delight, acceptance, and favor of God is based on Jesus and His work for us and not on our work for Him, the more we’re set free to run to God when we sin, desperate for the grace that only He can give and confident that He has already given us all we need in Jesus.
Repentance then, at its core, is a relational act. It isn’t a transaction by which we earn acceptance, salvation, or forgiveness; that’s all been done already by Jesus in His death and resurrection! Rather, it’s the restoration of our relationship with God that our sin has kept us from rejoicing in. In other words, we repent because we want more of God Himself and our sin is keeping us from experiencing the joy, life, peace, and rest in Him that Jesus died to give us!
Once we begin to see this, repentance becomes a blessing instead of a burden because, as sinners, it is our surest path to true and lasting joy in our relationship with Jesus. But what should this kind of repentance look like?
Step 1 | Be Honest (1 Corinthians 11:28; 2 Corinthians 13:5)
If we want to grow in knowing, loving, & following Jesus, we must be committed to living according to His Word. All true repentance begins with honest, deep, Biblical self-evaluation rather than a quick check of cultural and church norms or comparing oneself to others.
Step 2 | Be Humble (Luke 18:9-14; James 5:16; 1 John 1:9)
If the Bible is true then sin should never catch us by surprise. Therefore we should be quick to doubt ourselves rather than scared of being “found out” as a sinner in need of grace. As this happens, we will be set free from self-protection and self-promotion, and we will be driven to confess our sins as Scripture commands because we have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Step 3 | Be Hopeful (2 Corinthians 12:9, Colossians 2:13-15)
We can only be honest and humble if we know that the grace of our God will be enough to bear the full weight of our sin. Therefore we must cultivate a deep, rich understanding of this grace by remembering what God has done for us in Jesus, resting in the promises of His Word, relying on the work of His Spirit, and rejoicing in the truth that God’s grace is power.
Step 4 | Be Happy (2 Corinthians 1:20; Galatians 5:1; 2 Peter 1:3-4)
If repentance does not lead to joy then it is not true repentance. As mentioned above, repentance is the process through which we, as sinners, are restored to right relationship with our strong and beautiful God. And because our God is stronger than anything we fear and more beautiful than any temptation we face, we can live in freedom and joy only when we find that life in Him! We don’t repent to get God’s blessings, God’s forgiveness, God’s favor, God’s love, or God’s grace. We repent to get more of God! And when we do, He is faithful to give us all that we need.