Here is a portrait of biblical repentance seen through six stages to equip you to live a life marked by repentance and belief–turning to and worshipping Jesus. It is taken from Mike Wilkerson’s book Redemption.
You have to be convinced by the Holy Spirit working through God’s Word that you are guilty of sin. If you move too quickly past this point, you will spin in the cul-de-sac of self-deception because you will end up telling yourself and others that you are repenting of something that you aren’t even convinced is wrong. We do this often because we love looking repentant more than we actually want to love God or others.
The most common counterfeit for conviction is worldly sorrow, a preoccupation with remorse for all the wrong reasons, such as the fear of consequences, falling short on one’s own idealized self-image, or looking bad in the eyes of others. Our sin is always ultimately before God’s eyes, and that’s where conviction must start. God must be at the center of our attention (see 2 Cor. 7:10). If we do not allow conviction to lead us to godly sorrow over our sin, then our pain-filled cries to God will degenerate into mere begging that he take away bad feelings instead of pleas for him to show his grace and mercy and change our hearts.
You must agree with God about your sin and name it as he names it, specifically. We don’t sin in general; we sin in specifics. So we must confess as specifically as we sin. True confession consists in humbly telling the whole truth about our sin. Counterfeits of confession, therefore, inevitably consist in pride and resistance to speaking the truth (see James 3:14). We mouth cheap, are dishonest, shift blame by saying things like, “I’m sorry it bothered you so much”; or “I’m sorry if it hurt you, I didn’t mean to”; of “forgive me for reacting when you sinned against me.” These are deceptions; sneaky ways of concealing what actually lives in the heart. Confession is not about mouthing words but about telling the truth from a changing heart (see Psalm 32).
To repent is to turn. It consists in a heart turning back to God and away from your idols (see 1 Thess. 1:9; 1 John 5:21). It’s a total change of mind, a replacement of the false god that rules your life. Because idolatry is essentially about what you love, repentance requires changing whom you love. Repentance turns your whole heart—your whole person—to God in love, trust, and obedience instead of to idols. It trades hates and loves, hating the sin you once loved and loving the God you’ve hated by your sin. It trades the lie of idolatry for worship in spirit and truth. Puritan Thomas Chalmers said, “the only way to dispossess [the heart] of an old affection, is by the expulsive power of a new one: (see Gal. 5:16-17). Deep idols must be pushed out by deeper worship. This is nothing short of a miracle and is only possible by the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of a Christian (Rom. 8:13).
God’s grace is free, but our sin takes its toll on others. Restitution is about giving back what you’ve stolen from others by sin. Zacchaeus, the shady tax collector, repented and made restitution by giving half of what he owned to the poor, and by promising to restore fourfold to anyone whom he’d defrauded (Luke 19:1-10). He wasn’t buying God’s grace here; he was responding to it. Genuine repentance is eager to make things right with the people we’ve sinned against.
Sin separates. It puts hostility between God and people, and it drives wedges in human relationships. God’s forgiveness of sin makes peace and reconciliation possible: first with him and then with others (Rom. 5:11; 2 Cor. 5:18-19; Eph. 2:13-18; 4:3; James 3:18). Genuine repentance commits to the hard work of rebuilding relationships broken by sin. Reconciliation takes time, especially when trust has been shattered and wounds are deep.
Like a thread running through each stage of this process or a light that begins to dawn early and grows to full brightness in the end, rejoicing is essential to repentance. As Tim Keller says, “Repentance without rejoicing will lead to despair.” Repentance is the step-by-step walking out of our redemption, the bit-by-bit turning of our hearts from the corruption of idolatry to the sweetness and rest in treasuring God above all (see Psalm 51). Repentance is not limited to a single issue; it becomes a way of life. As Martin Luther famously said, “all of life is repentance.”
Additional Resources: All Of Life Is Repentance, Idols Of The Heart And “Vanity Fair”, Idolatry, Counterfeit Gods