Real Change: What Does It Mean To Repent?

What does it mean to repent?
True repentance involves allowing God to transform you from the inside out, and change your life completely.
Listen to this devotional

God gives us the ability to transform our lives in a way that no one else can.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Romans 12:2 NIV

Throughout the Bible, God speaks of transforming and creating change in incredible ways. And when God talks about transformation in our lives, he is really talking about something the Bible refers to as repentance.

Many of us have heard of it, but what does it mean to repent? In this study, we will explore how God wants us to express, assess, and confess so that he can experience real change.

How to change your life completely

Every night, before I go to sleep, I make sure to plug in my phone.

It’s one of the most essential parts of my nightly routine as I need my phone to be fully charged and ready to be used the next day. While I sleep, my phone goes from having very little energy and life, to being fully recharged the next morning.

In order for this to happen, it needs to be connected to the charger and plugged into the outlet. In the same way, we need to recharge spiritually. We need a way to go from having little energy and life to being fully refreshed. The Bible tells us that this kind of recharge or refreshment comes from turning to God through repentance.

I find your lack of faith disturbing…

In this analogy, if we are the phone, and God is the outlet, repentance is what happens when we plug in the disconnected phone. It allows the cord of relationship to connect us to God and his refreshment.

“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord … ”

Acts 3:19 NIV

True repentance is about completely changing ourselves on the inside. Specifically, it is turning our heart and mind away from sins, which are the thoughts and actions that hurt you, those around you, and God, and turning toward prioritizing love and relationships with God and others. When God speaks about transforming our lives, one thing He speaks of is repentance.

What we learn from this scripture is that when we repent and turn to God, we get refreshment from Him. This means we get life and energy back when we reconnect ourselves to God. The following are steps that have helped me to repent and believe, allowing God to transform my life.

Express that you want to get well

The other day, while at a coffee shop with a friend, I watched as a father and his three-year-old daughter walked into the shop together. As they approached the door, the daughter stepped forward, and barely reaching the handle on the door, tried pulling it open.

While she struggled with the height of the door, she also struggled with the heaviness of it. With all her strength, she pulled on the door, and opened it a couple of inches before the door hit her own foot. She adjusted. The door shut.

Immediately, the father stepped forward to help, but the daughter was not happy about it. She screamed and cried at the top of her lungs “I want to do it, Daddy!” She clearly needed help, but she did not want it. Luckily the dad was able to help without the daughter really knowing. Satisfied by her achievement, they were able to walk into the shop together.

Often times I find I can be like that little girl in my life. I can be in much need of help, but I refuse to allow myself to desire or accept it. I can be afraid of being seen as weak or not good enough because I need help. However, the truth is, we all have areas in our life where we are powerless and in need of help.

Below is a story of a man just like this. He was someone who had been paralyzed for most of his life, that is until one day, Jesus was in the area and the two of them met for the very first time.

“Inside the city, near the Sheep Gate, was the pool of Bethesda, with five covered porches. Crowds of sick people—blind, lame, or paralyzed—lay on the porches (waiting for a certain movement of the water, for an angel of the Lord came from time to time and stirred up the water.

And the first person to step in after the water was stirred was healed of whatever disease he had.) One of the men lying there had been sick for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, ‘Would you like to get well?’”

– John 5:5-6 NLT

Just like Jesus here in this story, when God sees us in need of a transformation the first thing he does is ask us a simple question: “Would you like to get well?” The question is simple, and the correct answer may be obvious, but oftentimes we can be stubborn.

When life is crazy, work is chaotic, home is a mess, and/or I am starting to get stressed, my first reaction is to try to solve my own problems. I want to figure things out myself. I want to discover the right answers and solutions to my life. I believe I should already know how to do it all, and the last thing on my mind is my need for someone to help me.

Your Anxious Striving Is Making You Angry

Do you ever feel overly agitated and irritated, but don’t know why? Oftentimes, anger and frustration are masks for unresolved anxiety. We need to discover what is underneath our worry so God can bring us peace.

But there is a reason we get stuck and lost in life. There is a reason we make mistakes and get off track. It’s because at one point we really thought we could figure it out on our own, but we were wrong, and it did not work out.

What we learn in the first part of the scripture above, it appears, is that occasionally this man had chances to be healed. His problem was that he did not build any relationships that could have provided him help with his situation. That changed when he met Jesus.

Ask yourself, do you go after friendships to get the help that you need? Do you express and seek help? This is where Jesus started with the paralyzed man. He wanted to know where this man was at in his desire and need for help. Expressing the desire to get well takes two things: it takes humility to first admit when we are in need, and it again takes humility to then admit that we want help.

Reflection questions

  • In what areas of my life am I searching for hope, feeling stuck, or feeling powerless?
  • What things in my life do I have a hard time believing I can overcome?

Assess (and reassess) your priorities

After we express our need and desire for help we can assess, and then reassess, our priorities. This means first asking ourselves about the priorities we currently have, and then seeking God’s input and influence on these priorities.

“Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. Your eye is like a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is unhealthy, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is!”

– Matthew 6:21-23 NLT

After I read this scripture, it makes me ask myself: what do I treasure? In the pursuit of being trasformed, it is important to assess our current treasures, also known as our set of priorities. This means we need to ask ourselves about our current values, desires, and motivations. Some helpful questions to ask:

  1. What do I think most about?
  2. What do I feel most about?
  3. What gets the most of my attention and focus in the day?
  4. What do I want to change?
  5. Why do I want to change?

As seen in this scripture, we are often stuck in poor patterns in life because of poor patterns of thought. Meaning we spend our time looking at, thinking about, feeling for, and focusing on the things that drag us down and keep us in an unhealthy state.

However, after we identify our current values and priorities, we must then decide to turn our attention and focus on the creator of transformation, God. This means asking similar questions, but in a whole new way (the questions below, along with scriptures, are just examples):

  1. What does God think about in my life? (Example: Luke 12:6-7)
  2. What does he feel about in my life? (Example: Luke 15:10)
  3. What gets the most of His attention in my life? (Example: Matthew 16:26)
  4. What does He want me to change? (Example: Jeremiah 17:5-8)
  5. Why does He want me to change? (Example: Deuteronomy 7:7-8)

As we work through this part, we must study out and learn the truth about God. We cannot simply answer these questions based upon personal thought and emotion, but must answer them by searching to see what the Bible says about these things.

And remember, if you need assistance, don’t be afraid to express your desire for help to a friend.

Confess the truth

Once we have assessed, and reassessed, the priorities in our lives, we are able to confess the truth.

“And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.”

Mark 1:4-5 NIV

In this scripture, John the Baptist speaks about repentance. People in the story come to John so that they can continue to live their lives having repented of their sins, which have hurt God, others, and themselves.

In the process of repenting, they openly confessed their sins. This means they fully agreed with God about what they had done and then spoke about it, without reservation and completely on their own initiative. They did this because, in the moment, compared to their desire to change, they did not care about what people around them thought.

This is the kind of heart that we need to truly repent. So let’s ask ourselves, how hungry are we to change? How much do we desire to transform?

When these people spoke about their sins, it served multiple purposes. One, it showed that they were serious and intentional in their efforts. This wasn’t just a performance, or an attempt to look good. This was legitimate as it was a decision made despite how it would make them look. 

In this way, confessing their sins to others purified their motives. Which is the second purpose this served. Those who confessed their sins did not do it for their own glory. They did it to show the glory and power of God. It was about loving, desiring, and connecting to God. If we care to repent for our relationship with God, we will have no problem confessing our sins out loud to the relationships around us.

Third, it allowed them to be in closer relationships, which could hold them accountable. Their transparency allowed the relationships around them to deepen and form. In turn, these relationships could help bring transformation, since they knew about the person’s decision to change the sins in their life.

Reflection questions

Repent and be transformed

One of the most amazing things about God is that He is the one who transforms us. With God, changing is not something we have to do on our own. In fact, we don’t even really do the heavy lifting. If we humbly decide to submit to God throughout all these steps, we can decide to repent, and God will decide to transform us.

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”

Ezekiel 36:26 NIV

Below are three ways we can humbly submit to God, and take this final step of deciding to repent and live transformed.

Focus on God’s kindness

“Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?”

Romans 2:4 NASB

After we confess and agree with God about the truth of where we are at, we must next see the truth about how God feels about us despite our sins.

Confessing our sin is an opportunity to see and be free from what we have done in our relationships, especially with God. But when we see God’s kindness along with that, we are able to see what God gives us despite what we have earned through our sin.

Seeing the truth of where we are at combined with seeing the truth of God’s kindness and love leads to extreme humility, gratitude, and repentance. Some scriptures that help me see this are Romans 5:6-8, Romans 6:23, and Romans 8:31-39.

Feel for someone else

“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.”

– 2 Corinthians 7:10-11 NIV

Though seeing God’s kindness and mercy is powerful and transformative, it can be hard to see and admit the necessary truth to get there. However, the hardest part for me is being willing to feel more for someone else than for myself.

When I talk about sin I usually am thinking about me. I wonder what others think about me. I wonder if I am a failure or disappointment. I regret doing what I did and I try to figure out how to make myself look better as I talk about it. But transformation and repentance come when we consider and value others more.

Feeling the pain I have caused to others, and to God, is hard for me. But when I make the decision to do this, and care more about others than myself, that is when I can really start to change.

Fight to keep with repentance

“Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”

Matthew 3:8 NIV

When the Bible talks about producing fruit, it is referring to the encouraging and supernatural production of results in our lives from God. This comes when we decide to not only change one time in one moment, but when we truly repent and keep with it.

Lasting transformation can be hard. But it is important to persevere in the difficulty of changing so that we can see real transformation. Ultimately this all comes from God. He will produce the fruit. He will supply the desire and power to continually repent. This is not a journey we need to worry about as much as trust God and enjoy.

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