The first time I heard the word “repent” in church, I wanted to get up and walk out. Just the sound of the word made my stomach turn into knots. Mainly because I thought repentance meant I had to confess all my dirty little secrets and beg forgiveness, and I had a lot of secrets.
What does repent mean? How do I even do that? Why would I ever want to? And what if I repent and I’m not forgiven? Does that mean I’m going to hell?
But I didn’t get up and leave. Instead, I stayed and listened, and I’m glad I did because what I thought repent meant and what it really means are two different things.
What I thought repent meant: feel or express sincere regret or remorse about one’s wrongdoing or sin. Of course, I thought this was true, because when I looked it up in the dictionary, that’s what the meaning of repent is, word for word. But I’m not talking about worldly repentance, I’m talking about repentance in the Bible. Repentance in the Bible is different.
What does repent mean?
It means choosing to change direction, act a new way, turn towards God. Or simply stated, stop what you are doing because you know it’s wrong, and turn towards God with the intention of never doing it again.
An example of repentance
A few years ago, I was hanging out with friends at a local pub. We were having a great time rehashing old stories. I was already on my second beer (OK, it was really a White Claw), getting ready to order a third when I heard this small voice in my head say, “don’t.”
At this point in time in my life, I had started to understand I needed to pay attention to the small voices in my head and obey because 9 times out of 10, it was God. What I didn’t understand is why God was asking me to stop drinking. I’m not an alcoholic. The only time I drink is when I’m out with my husband and/or friends. But I listened to the voice in my head and switched to water.
Over the next couple of weeks, I kept going back to that moment in the bar, wondering why God asked me to stop drinking. One morning during my prayer time with God, I finally just asked God to reveal why he asked me to stop, and then it hit me. I had this lightbulb, aha moment.
When I drink in excess, meaning for me more than 2 drinks, I start to lose all inhibitions. The more I drink, the more my moral compass disappears, and the worse my decisions become.
So what does that have to do with repenting? When I had this “aha” moment, God showed me what I was doing that wasn’t lining up with Him. I had to make a choice that I can either turn towards God or turn away from God. I chose to go after God, which meant I had to turn away from what I was doing. That was repentance.
But it wasn’t as easy as just saying OK, I’m not going to get drunk anymore. I had to come up with a plan. More than that even, I had to share my plan with someone I trust who could hold me accountable, which is my husband, Doug.
My plan became pretty simple. If I’m out in public at a restaurant or bar with Doug and friends, I will only have one drink. If Doug is not with me, I won’t have any. The reason is that I have learned I can’t trust myself not to get drunk without anyone holding me accountable. So instead of risking it, I just don’t drink.
Some people might read this and think, there is no way I’d give up partying for God, and for a while, I was right there with you. When I started on this journey of following God, the biggest fear I had was giving up things in my life that I thought I loved, like partying and going out.
But what God revealed to me is when I partied and got drunk, I not only woke up with a horrible hangover, but I also woke up with shame and regret for the things I did the night before. Giving up partying didn’t hurt my life. It helped me.
6 Steps of Repentance
Repentance isn’t scary. It’s there to help you turn your life to God who wants better things for you. When we understand repentance as a gift that helps us, we can actually want to do it.
So here is my ask. Next time you are doing something, and a thought crosses your mind, God might be calling you to repent (which, remember, simply means to change directions.) If He is, follow these simple steps:
- Process what you heard, write it down somewhere
- Bring it to God and pray about it
- Discuss it with a trusted friend or spouse—someone you know who won’t judge you but will speak truth to you
- If it requires a plan, come up with a plan on how you are going to change directions
- Act on that plan
- Tell someone trustworthy of your plan to have accountability.
How important is repentance? The first words out of Jesus’ mouth when he preaches for the first time is, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’” Mark 4:17
Jesus isn’t saying it to be scary and mean. He is saying it because He wants a relationship with us. In order for that to happen, there might be things in our life we have to turn away from to turn towards God.