How does one repent of their sins? What are the steps?
Repentance occurs when a person realizes that he or she has sinned and actually turns away from that sin. A person who is truly repentant will experience sorrow and a strong sense that they did wrong (2 Corinthians 7:8-9). The Q&A “What is the meaning of the word repentance in the Bible?” provides a good explanation of the meaning of repentance.
Repentance is the Work of the Holy Spirit
Some people teach that a person can come to a point of repentance by following a series of steps. But Scripture is clear that godly repentance (2 Corinthians 7:8-9) is the work of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8-11) and not the result of human self-effort. John 16:8-11 is one of the clearest passages in the Bible that teaches us the Holy Spirit convicts of sin, righteousness, and judgment both now and in the future.
And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. John 16:8-11 (NASB)
This means the Holy Spirit helps a person, non-Christian and Christian, understand that they have sinned, and then He convicts the person that their action or words were sin. That is also the message of Acts 11:18.
When they heard this, they ceased their objections and praised God, saying, “So then, God has granted the repentance that leads to life even to the Gentiles.” Acts 11:18 (NASB)
Jude 15 provides us an application of the principle.
. . . to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds . . . . Jude 15 (NASB)
These verses reveal that true repentance is the work of God and not human effort. He convicts and people repent.
Illustration of True Repentance
Now let’s examine an illustration of biblical repentance. On the day of Pentecost, the apostle Peter preached a message to an enormous crowd and after he was finished, we are told that the crowd was “pierced to the heart” (Acts 2:37). This reveals that they heard the gospel, understood the gospel about Christ and were convicted by what they heard. They understood the message, and the Holy Spirit convicted them of their sin. Then they wanted to know how to respond. That is the sign of true repentance: when one who is truly repentant wants to change. Therefore, Peter told them to repent and be baptized. That is, they were to stop rejecting Christ and turn to Christ. In this historical account the crowd heard the good news, were emotionally convicted (“pierced to the heart”) and, consequently, wanted to change. As a result, Peter explained that they needed to turn to Christ.
Therefore, true repentance is the result of the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. The convicted person is emotionally affected and desires to change. Repentance is not the result of penance, counseling or self-effort.
How Do I Repent?
Psalm 32 is a prayer of confession of sin offered by King David to God after he committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered her husband. David’s prayer of confession is the response of true repentance. We will study his prayer briefly in order to learn a few important principles.
God Convicted David of His Sin – Psalm 32:3-4
Verses 3-4 of Psalm 32 reveals that God was convicting David of his sins. Notice in the following verses that David says, “Your hand was heavy on me.” That was the convicting work of God the Holy Spirit.
When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away
Through my groaning all day long.
For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me;
My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer. Selah.
Psalm 32:3-4 (NASB)
The beginning process of repentance is described. Clearly David already knew that he had sinned. His emotions are clearly described. It is the result of the Holy Spirit convicting him.
Repentant David Admitted His Sin to God – Psalm 32:5
Then we are told in verse 5 that David confessed his sin. This the response of repentance.
I acknowledged my sin to You,
And my iniquity I did not hide;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”;
And You forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah.
Psalm 32:5 (NASB)
David adds that he did not hide it. He does not say that he described his sin or named his sin to God. He may have, but Scripture does not tell us. 1 John 1:9 implies that true confession names the sin. Finally, notice that David confesses to God. In Psalm 51:4 David says that he sinned against God. Prayers of confession should admit that we sin against God.
David Believed God Had Forgiven Him – 1 John 1:9
Finally, we learn from Psalm 32 that we should trust God to forgive our sins. David did! The message of 1 John 1:9 is that we can trust God to forgive our sins when we confess them.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 (NASB)
This verse should give every Christian great comfort that God does forgive the repentant sinner who confesses his or her sins. The verse does not tell us to beg and plead over and over again and hope that He has forgiven. Many Christians worry that God has not forgiven them because they do not feel forgiven. There are a number of reasons why they may not feel forgiven, but the root problem is that they do not understand the character of God. Notice that we are told God will forgive because of His character. We are reminded that He is faithful and righteous. This means that if God did not forgive us He would not be faithful and He would be sinful. But we know that is not the character of our God. He can be trusted and His behavior is not sinful. Therefore, when we are truly repentant and confess or admit our sin to Him, we know that He forgives. Anything less than believing and trusting Him is another sin.
Important Information About Repentance
It is important to remember that if you are a Christian, regular confession of your sins is not required to go to heaven. At the moment of saving faith, all of a Christian’s past, present and future sins are forgiven. In theology we say that a Christian is positionally perfect even though they still sin. That is, a Christian has been declared to be as righteous as God. That means the person has eternal life and is going to heaven. Because we still sin, Ephesians 4:30 and 1 Thessalonians 5:19 tell us that we grieve the Holy Spirit when we sin, and confession restores that relation. Confession does not “keep me saved.” 1 John 1:9 is about regular restoration of a Christian’s relationship with God and not about maintaining his or her salvation. We encourage you to read, “What is the difference between holy and righteous in the Bible?”
How does one repent of their sins? First, we must realize that God convicts us of sin to bring about repentance. That is the message of Acts 11:18 and 2 Timothy 2:25.
Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life. Acts 11:18b (NASB)
. . . with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth . . . 2 Timothy 2:25 (NASB)
This means that conviction over sin comes through the work of the Holy Spirit. We need the Holy Spirit to 1) help us understand that we have sinned, 2) convict us of our sin and 3) motivate us to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:9-10).
Second, confess or admit your sin to God and tell Him that you sinned against Him. Third, thank Him for forgiving your sins.
Now what should a Christian do if he or she does not feel repentant? David gives us the answer in Psalm 51:10. He asked God to change his heart.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Psalm 51:10 (NASB)
Therefore, ask God to convict you of your sins and bring you to repentance.
Reference Links:What is the meaning of the word repentance in the Bible?
What is the difference between holy and righteous in the Bible?