How to Repent: 4 Steps for True Biblical Repentance

Early in my Christian walk, I committed the same sin over and over again. Every time, I’d cry afterward, but would eventually sin again. I was caught in a vicious cycle, one that quite frankly, I didn’t want to stop because I enjoyed that particular sin. 

As I continued walking with Christ, the Holy Spirit convicted me for that sin. One day, I asked myself if I enjoyed the sin more than I loved the Lord. My answer was a resounding “NO.” 

Although I wanted to stop sinning, I didn’t have the strength within my flesh to do so. I cried out to the Lord, confessing my sin and repented. It’s important to note that even after I repented, the desire for that particular sin remained. However, I now had a new-found, greater desire and determination to walk holy before the Lord. 

What is the Meaning of Repentance?

According to Strong’s Concordance, repentance is a “compunction (for guilt, including reformation); a change of mind, as it appears to one who repents, of a purpose he has formed or of something he has done.” That’s the formal definition of the word repentance. An informal definition of repentance is turning away from previous behavior, attitude, or opinion. 

True repentance goes beyond merely saying you’re sorry for something. Indeed, true repentance results in changed behavior and attitude. When Christians sin, the Holy Spirit convicts the Christian, bringing remorse or “godly sorrow” for the act(s) they performed. Christians grieve over what they’ve done and desire to change their behavior. They want to be pleasing in God’s sight.

Where Do We Read About the Need for Repentance in the Bible?

The Bible is full of verses about repentance. We see the word repent in the Old Testament (Ezekiel 14:6 and Ezekiel 18:30), and we see God demanding the people “turn from” their sin and wickedness such as in 1 Kings 8:35, 2 Chronicles 6:26, 2 Chronicles 7:14, Isaiah 59:20, Jeremiah 18:8, Ezekiel 18:21, Ezekiel 33:19, and Daniel 9:13.

In the New Testament, repentance was preached by John the Baptist (see Matthew 3), Jesus (see Matthew 4 and Luke 17:3-4), the twelve disciples (see Mark 6:12), Peter (Acts 2:38), and Paul.

In 2 Corinthians 7:10, Paul wrote one of my favorite verses about repentance: “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.” Godly sorrow leads to genuine repentance, and repentance leads to conversion (see Acts 3:19). 

Further, the book of Revelation admonishes us to repent as well (see chapters 2 and 3).

What Are Some Examples of True Repentance in the Bible?

While there are quite a few examples of repentance in the Bible, I want to concentrate on two: King David and the Apostle Paul.   

True Repentance in the Old Testament: King David

God favored King David above all his brothers and anointed him king of Israel. God blessed David abundantly and didn’t hold anything back from David. During the season when the kings went out to battle, David stayed behind and saw a woman named Bathsheba bathing. He sent for Bathsheba and slept with her (this is the most generous reading of the text. Recently, there has been much debate as to whether or not we should consider David’s actions rape). Bathsheba got pregnant and told David. David plotted to have Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, murdered. He then married Bathsheba.

Eventually, God sent the Prophet Nathan to speak with David. Nathan told King Dave a story, and David became angry at what the man did in the story. The Prophet Nathan said King David, “You are that man,” and proceeded to give David a word from the Lord. Didn’t acknowledge his sin until the Prophet Nathan confronted him. We see David confessing his sin in 2 Samuel 12:17, saying, “I have sinned against the Lord.” 

We need to say the same thing. As long as we feign ignorance or blame others for our sin, we will never repent. David penned Psalm 51 out of the grief and sorrow he felt for sinning against God. David asked God to create in him a clean heart, renew a steadfast spirit within him, and not to take him away from God’s presence. He further asked God not to take the Holy Spirit from him (see Psalm 51:10-11). And God in His grace and mercy granted David’s petition. However, David had to reap the consequences of his actions. The baby he had with Bathsheba died. 

This leads me to an important note. Repentance doesn’t always shield us from the consequences of our actions. The wages of sin is death. 

True Repentance in the New Testament: the Apostle Paul

The Apostle Paul is another beautiful story of repentance. Paul was a Pharisee who, in ignorance, persecuted the early church (read his story in Acts 9 and Acts 22). Paul had an encounter on the road to Damascus with the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 9:6), and Jesus told Paul not to tarry but to, “...arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” (Acts 9:16). Yes, even the great Apostle Paul had to repent. 

Although Paul persecuted the church in ignorance (1 Timothy 1:13), he still felt the effects of his previous life when people shunned and distrusted him (see Acts 9:26). 

What Are the Steps to Truly Repent?

Repentance is powerful. It’s a spiritual weapon against temptation. When the devil brings a temptation of something we’ve repented for, we can declare with conviction, “I’ve repented of that. “God healed me, and I won’t go back to it.”

How can one repent for something when there’s no godly sorrow? Without godly sorrow, there won’t be a changed mind, and we’ll commit the same sin over and over again.

Repentance is a serious business and should be entered into gravely, with a sincere heart. You should be seeking a renewed heart and mind. 

The Holy Spirit strengthens us and helps us through the repentance process. But before we can repent, we must acknowledge we are wrong, that we are sinners. To repent, we must:

  1. Have godly sorrow for our sin
  2. Confess our sin
  3. Turn from sin (with God’s help)
  4. Choose holiness every day

Sorrow

Before we can repent, 2 Corinthians 7 teaches we must have godly sorrow. Thus, step one to truly repenting is to experience godly sorrow, grief over our sin. Our sin must become a burden, a weight, we no longer desire to carry. We must see it’s repugnant, a stench in God’s nostrils. Godly sorrow leads to us viewing sin the way God does. 

Confess

We must then confess our sin before God because he is “...faithful and just to forgive us of our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). We can also confess our faults to a trusted friend or spiritual advisor (see James 5:16) so that we can be healed. 

Turn

When we have godly sorrow and confess our sin, we can then repent. Again, repentance is turning our backs on sin. Repentance is stopping whatever we’re doing that isn’t pleasing in God’s sight. Repentance is choosing God’s way instead of our flesh. Regardless of what sin(s) you’ve committed, you can repent right now, if you have godly sorrow for it. You don’t have to wait until the next time you go to church to repent. 

Holiness

The last step in repentance is choosing holiness every day. Just because we repent doesn’t mean the temptation to sin won’t arise again in our lives. Thus, we have to choose holiness and righteousness daily. 

When I repented of my sin, I intentionally decided to walk in holiness daily. That decision required that I change who I saw, where I went, who I invited into my home, the music to which I listened, and the movies I watched. I had to guard my heart, my eyes, my ears, and my mind every day. You may have to do the same. 

A Prayer of Repentance You Can Pray: Praying through Psalm 51

Did you know that you can use the Psalms as prayers to pray for different prayer needs? Psalm 51 is an example of a prayer of repentance, and perfect to pray as part of your confession of sin.

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
    and justified when you judge.

Father, You are gracious and full of mercy.

I come to you now, repenting for the sin(s) that have held me captive. 

Lord, so many times I told You I was sorry for what I’d done, but I wasn’t yet moved with godly sorrow and returned to the same sin(s). 

Surely I was sinful at birth,
    sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
    you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
    wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
    and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
    or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Today, true godly sorrow leads me to repentance. 

I know I need to change my behavior and desire to do so. 

Father, thank you for forgiving me.  Thank you for cleansing me.  Thank you for restoring me.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    so that sinners will turn back to you.
14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
    you who are God my Savior,
    and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 Open my lips, Lord,
    and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
    you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 My sacrifice, O God, is[b] a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise.

18 May it please you to prosper Zion,
    to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,
    in burnt offerings offered whole;
    then bulls will be offered on your altar.

Have mercy on me.  Give me strength to turn from my wicked ways and live a life that’s holy and pleasing to you. 

I love you, Lord and pray this prayer in Jesus’s name,

Amen.

Image Credit: ©Unsplash/AyoOgunseinde

Aretha Grant serves her local church as a bible teacher and elder. She loves writing and is the author of Overcomer: 25 Keys to Walking VictoriouslyAretha resides in Hagerstown, MD with her husband and two youngest children. You can read Aretha’s blog at www.arethagrant.com.

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