“Repentance means turning from as much as you know of your sin to give as much as you know of yourself to as much as you know of your God, and as our knowledge grows at these three points so our practice of repentance has to be enlarged” (J. I. Packer).
That’s it. I think for the longest time I figured that repentance was turning away from what I was doing wrong. It was ceasing to sin.
That’s only half the story. As a friend of mine once told me, you turn away from a sinful behavior, but you also turn toward something positive to replace the old bad habit.
Otherwise you end up like the man in the parable told by Jesus who had been possessed but did nothing to fill the void. He ended up worse off than he was before.
If you don’t replace the sinful behavior with a good and godly discipline, you will simply replace it with another bad or worse habit. The best example that comes to mind is the people at an AA meeting who are chain-smoking. They gave up one habit only to replace it with another.
As my pastor says often, repentance isn’t beating yourself up. It isn’t feeling bad about what you’ve done. It’s like driving in your car one way, doing a 180, and driving the other way. You turn from sin to God.
The older I get, the more I see how much I need to repent from. I also see that even my repentance is a gift from God. I see that God isn’t hovering over me, ready to berate me for my foolish behavior and poor choices. He’s wanting me to claim my true identity not as a sinner but as a child of God.
The more I see myself the way God does, the more I live out of victory instead of defeat. The more I live out of grace and obedience instead of sin and despair.