If you had really repented, you wouldn’t have done it again" is a refrain many tormented souls have heard from well-meaning preachers. We are told that repentance is to "turn around and go the other way," and it is explained in the context of turning away from sin and turning toward a life of obedience to God’s law.
Christians set out with the best of intentions to change their ways. Some ways change, but other ways stick like super-glue. Even the ways that seem to have changed have a nasty way of cropping up again.
And just when we are feeling frustrated and depressed about our failure to measure up to the high standards of God, we hear another sermon or read another article about how "real repentance" results in a complete turning away from sin. So, we crank up the commitment jalopy and go at it again, with the same, miserable, predictable results. And our frustration and despair deepens, because we realize that our turning away from sin is anything but "complete."
We can only assume we have not "really repented." Our repentance was not "deep" enough, or "heartfelt" enough or "true" enough. And if we have not really repented, then we must not really have faith. Which means we must not really have the Holy Spirit. Which means we must not really be saved.
Finally, we either get used to living like that, or, as many have done, we throw in the towel.
"This turning to God means you have turned away from selfish ambition, and instead put your trust in Christ."
Two sides of the same coin
Repentance and faith mark the beginning of our new life in the kingdom of God. But they don’t mark it because we did the "right thing." They mark it because that is when the scales fall off our eyes and we see in Jesus Christ the glorious light of the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:4).
Everything that ever needed to be done for forgiveness and salvation has already been done through the death and resurrection of the Son of God (Romans 5:10; Ephesians 2:1-10). There was a time when we were in the dark about that. But when we turn to God in faith, all that changes.
Faith and repentance go hand in hand. When you put your trust in God, two things happen. You realize you are a sinner who needs God’s mercy, and you decide to trust God to save you and redeem your life. In other words, when you put your trust in God, you have also repented.
Belief, or faith, is part and parcel with repentance. In Acts 2:38, Peter told the crowd, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." By saying, "repent," he was also implying "believe," or "trust."
Later in the story, Peter puts it this way: "Repent, then, and turn to God...." (Acts 3:19). This turning to God is a turning away from yourself. It does not mean you will now be morally perfect. It means you have turned away from selfish ambition as the driving purpose of your life, and instead put your trust in Christ, and your hope in his word, his good news, his declaration in his own blood of your redemption, forgiveness, resurrection and eternal inheritance. Now you begin to live for him, and you begin to put the needs of others ahead of your own (Philippians 2:3-5).
Say "Yes!" to God’s "Yes!"
God has declared an almighty, thundering, eternal "Yes!" to you through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Repentance is your saying "Yes!" to God’s "Yes!" It is turning to God to accept his blessed gift, his righteous declaration of your innocence and salvation in Christ.
To trust God in this redemptive way is utterly life-changing. It frees us for obedience from the heart, obedience rooted in love rather than obedience rooted in fear of punishment. And whenever we fall short, we can rest in his relentless love and get back in the race, knowing he will never let us go.
God is on our side; he’s proven it in Jesus Christ. And because he’s on our side, nothing can come between him and us (Romans 8:31-39).
Trust him. It’s his good news for all of us. He is the Word, and he knows what he is talking about.