The first word Jesus preached to us in His public ministry was "Repent" (Matthew 4:17).
Repentance literally means a profound change of mind that produces a change in direction. In other words, I don’t just think differently about something, but my mind does a 180-degree turn so that I gladly move to the opposite path.
Paul says that "sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret" (2 Corinthians 7:10). That is, I am so convinced of an issue’s sinfulness that I gladly turn; I see it as God sees it and deal with it as God does.
The Repentant Prayer
As a believer, how do I know if I have come to real repentance? And as a spiritual leader, how do I shepherd others to that point? How do I know when they have completed their repentance?
Psalm 51 is one of the most well known and powerful texts on repentance. It is full-orbed in its illustration of genuine repentance, which is always marked by the following:
The UPWARD LOOK
David is praying to Someone because he believes that One can do something about the awfulness of his sin. He bases everything on the premise of God’s "steadfast [immovable, unchangeable] love" and His "abundant mercy." If it were not for the unchanging characteristics of God, none could be forgiven.
The repentant come to God because they believe that He will forgive. The words purge, clean, and washindicate that David believes only God can do the cleansing necessary.
His further confession, "Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow," indicates that God was working in David’s heart-not only to convict him of his sin, but to convince him of God’s willingness and ability to forgive. Only God can forgive, and to Him we must turn.
The INWARD ADMISSION
Repentance can easily be detected by observing where the finger of blame is pointing. In the first 5 verses, David uses 14 personal pronouns. He is not pitching blame on anyone but is taking full responsibility for his sin. He even goes back to his birth, admitting that he is a sinner by nature as well as by choice.
Lying is a trademark of the unrepentant. We attempt to cover our sin, exaggerating our circumstances and magnifying others’ involvement. Here David says, "You delight in truth in the inward being . . . in the secret heart." He is saying, "God, what you want is gut-level honesty and transparency, and that’s how I’m coming to you." We’re not done with repentance until we’re done with deception.
The OUTWARD MINISTRY
The repentant are happy. They hear "joy and gladness" again in their innermost part (their bones which had been broken). The "joy of [God’s] salvation" is restored.
One of the main reasons many Christians are not joyful is that they are not regularly repentant and are not experiencing regular "salvation" from sin. A repentant man-recognizing his sin and God’s cleansing daily-is constantly aware of and grateful for God, and joyful in the fullness and completeness of God’s salvation.
Repentance brings joy, and joy opens our lips. "Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you."
Repentance = Joy = Testimony = Others’ salvation.
Massive benefits to everyone come for our willingness to genuinely repent of our sin. So, how often should we repent? As often as we sin and long for joy and ministry to others. We should be lifelong repenters!