Everyone at one time or another faces moral failure. We can choose to ignore it or we can repent. Repentance is an attitude that chooses to confront failure rather than ignore it. And such an attitude choice is absolutely vital to our physical, emotional, and spiritual health.
Repentance is not a popular topic today, because it requires us to honestly confront sin. None of us likes to be reminded of our faults. And yet the failure to confront sin can have a much more severe consequence. What is the result of not repenting? In a word, guilt.
Guilt is one of the most debilitating of human emotions. It wreaks destruction in our relationships and in our spiritual lives. It is also a major cause of depression. The disastrous effects of guilt are demonstrated in the life of King David. David was the most successful of all of Israel's kings. He led the nation to new heights of prosperity and power. And he was a man after God's own heart. But he traded all of those things for one night of passion involving Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:2-5). In an instant he made a wrong choice that led to the sins of adultery and murder.
At this point David could have chosen to confront his sin. But instead, he engaged in an even more elaborate plan to cover his tracks. Although there were no external signs of God’s judgment during the months after David’s sins, God was still dealing with the king internally. David was living under a load of guilt that was draining him physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
If you are tired of the physical, emotional, and spiritual consequences of guilt, these five steps will help you develop an attitude of repentance:
1. Identify areas of your life where you have failed to meet God’s standards (Psalm 139:23-24).
The first step in repentance is an honest evaluation of every part of your life. Are there areas where you have failed to meet God’s expectations? Take a moment to write down specific ways you have failed to meet God’s standards in these areas:
- Your relationship with God (unconfessed sin, unkept promises, failure to spend time with Him)
- Your relationship with your family (parents and siblings)
- Your relationship with your spouse
- Your relationship with your children
- Your relationship with others (immoral relationships, people you have offended, friendships that need to be Christ-centered)
- Your habits
- Your possessions (trusting in money, dishonest dealings, failure to be a good steward)
2. Acknowledge your failure to God (Psalm 51:4).
Whether your guilt involves other people or not, you must realize that all sin is against God. In Psalm 51, David says: “Against Thee, Thee only, I have sinned, and done what is evil in Thy sight.”
Repentance begins with humbling yourself before God by acknowledging your failure and your need for forgiveness.
3. Accept God’s forgiveness (Psalm 32:1-2).
The great truth of the Bible is that when we ask God to forgive us, He always responds affirmatively. And that is the very essence of the gospel. God does not say to us, “I am forgiving your sin, but in case you ever mess up again, remember, I have a list of every sin you have ever committed.” Instead, He says there is no longer any record of our offenses. As Jesus said in John 19:30, the debt has been “Paid in full.”
4. Make restitution where necessary (Matthew 5:23-24).
Sometimes the nature of our sins demands that we do more than simply ask for God’s forgiveness. If we have wronged another person, it is necessary for us to seek that person’s forgiveness. In fact, asking others whom we have offended to forgive us takes precedence over worshiping God.
5. Turn away from known sin in your life (Psalm 51:10).
It is possible to follow the first steps without ever truly repenting. Remember, the word repent carries the idea of turning around. When David asked for God’s forgiveness, he also asked for something else—a steadfast spirit: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”
In the Hebrew mind, the heart was the location of a person’s plans and thoughts. David realized that his previous way of thinking had led him into his present desperate situation. True repentance meant that David would not only identify those areas but would also change them.
You may have been traveling down the road of unresolved guilt for a long time. Don’t be discouraged. There is a way out. Decide you are tired of going in that direction; ask for God’s forgiveness; make any necessary restitution; and turn around.