The dictionary says that to repent is to “feel or express sincere regret or remorse about one’s wrongdoing or sin.” In today’s society, repentance seems to be more sorrow for being caught doing something wrong.
In the eyes of God, repentance is essential for our salvation. It is not the only thing necessary for salvation, but without it we cannot be saved. In Acts 17:30, Luke records Paul’s statement to the people of Athens. Paul said, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.”
Repentance is a command. Acts 2:38 tells us “to repent and be baptized for the remission of our sins” (ESV). Luke 13:3 tells us that if we do not repent, we will perish.
So we have defined repentance, and we have proof from scripture that repentance is necessary for our salvation, but how do we know we have truly repented?
First, there has to be a willingness to accept the consequences of our actions. In Luke 15, we find the story of the Prodigal Son. This young man took his inheritance and left home for the big city life. There “…he squandered his property in reckless living” (Luke 15:13).
When he had spent all of his money, he found himself alone and without the means to support himself. He took a job feeding pigs, something totally repulsive to a Jew.
The 17th verse says that he came to himself. He realized the error of his ways, and decided to go home to his father. His words to his father were, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before you. I am no more worthy to be called your son” (verse 21).
He went home. He acknowledged his actions. He asked forgiveness, and was ready and willing to accept whatever consequences would follow.
Second, there has to be shame for our sin. Peter had declared at the Passover Feast that he would not even be offended because of Jesus. Jesus predicted that Peter would deny Him three times before morning. In Mark 15:66-71, we find that Peter, true to the Lord’s prediction, vowed that he did not even know the Lord.
The book of Matthew gives us a description of the type of repentance we need to show when we sin. Matthew says, “And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, ‘Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times’. And he went out and wept bitterly” (Matthew 26:75).
Peter was ashamed of his actions. He had deserted the Lord in His time of need, He experienced true sorrow for what he had done.
Third, we need to try to make amends for our actions. The story that comes to my mind is found in the book of Acts. Paul and Silas had been thrown in prison for healing a young woman possessed with an evil spirit. Those responsible for her sad state were upset because their source of income was now gone.
Her masters took Paul and Silas before the rulers of the city, who beat them and threw them in prison. In prison, these Christians prayed and sang. In other words, they worshipped God.
At midnight, there was an earthquake that opened the doors of the prison and loosened the prisoners’ chains. In verse 27, Luke says that the jailer woke up, saw that the prison doors were open, and pulled out his sword ready to take his own life.
Paul stopped the jailer from suicide by telling him that they were all still there, and there was no need to kill himself.
The story continues as Paul teaches this Philippian jailer the gospel. Before the jailer was baptized, the scripture says, “And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their wounds” (Acts 16:33).
Paul and Silas had been abused by soldiers, maybe even this soldier. They then taught him about repentance and obedience to the gospel of Christ. Knowing that he might be put to death for the prisoners being loosed from their chains and the prison doors being opened, he treated their wounds and obeyed the truth.
He was truly sorry for his actions, and he wanted to make amends for his participation in the physical harm that had come to these men.
Paul told the Romans, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death” (II Corinthians 7:10).
When we experience true sorrow for our sins, repent of those sins, and are obedient to God’s commands, we can experience God’s forgiveness just as each of these men did.