(Something I wrote a few years ago...) Repentance is generally defined as a change of mind that leads to a change of actions (behavior), but this definition can be somewhat vague. After all, what sort of change of mind is meant? Is it just moving from unbelief to belief in certain facts or doctrines? What kinds of actions does repentance lead to? Does it go deeper than this? Perhaps asking a different question will help: What does real repentance look like? In other words, how would you recognize someone who is repentant? Or rather, how would you recognize it in yourself? The Bible contains plenty of examples of true and false repentance towards God. The following is my attempt to distill what I believe are some of its main qualities - the kind of repentance that God is looking for in each one of us. (Note that this is not meant to be an exhaustive list.) First, when you repent, you cease to resist or defend yourself against God. The essence of repentance is humble and willing surrender - a deliberate abandoning of some personal desire that you have found is in opposition to God. Job is a good example of this. He was a righteous man (Job 1:1,8,2:3), but during his sufferings, he wanted to know why he was suffering unjustly (Job 10), and he desired to confront God to defend his own righteousness (Job 13:3, 23:3-4). But then God confronted him. Afterwards Job acknowledged he spoke rashly. He withdrew his request and said: "...therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes." - Job 42:6 While God was hard on Job, He never accused him of sin or wickedness. God did not tell him to offer a sacrifice for his sins like He told the others. In fact, God still called him righteous (Job 42:7-8). Job had no need to repent of anything his friends falsely accused him of. But he did repent of his desire to defend himself before God and demand a reason for what he went through. Job swallowed his intense longing for a satisfying explanation. Second, when you repent of sin, you fully accept God's evaluation of the state of your relationship to Him, and your personal responsibility for being in such a state. That means no making excuses, and no pointing fingers at the more guilty party, even if they did twist your arm the wrong way. Adam blamed Eve and even God Himself for eating the forbidden fruit, but he was still responsible for making the choice to disobey God. His proper response should have been to swallow his pride and confess what he'd done without dragging everyone else into it. I'm not just talking about an intellectual nod of the head to the fact that you did something wrong, but a heart-felt awareness and shame of having personally offended the Great Creator and Lover of your soul. Sin really bothers a repentant man! It disturbs him that he can't come out from under it. "...my iniquities are gone over my head, as a heavy burden they are too heavy for me" - Psalm 38:4When Ezra heard that some of the remnant of the Jewish captivity had married foreigners, in some cases against the direct command of God (Deuteronomy 20:17, 23:3), he owned the sin of his people: ..."O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens. ... And now, O our God, what shall we say after this? For we have forsaken your commandments ..." - Ezra 9:6,10As priest, Ezra was responsible for the moral and spiritual welfare of his people. Even though he had not taken a foreign wife, he still acknowledged his hand in the sins of his people, as well as his oneness with his people. When someone in the church sins, do you put him or her down? Or do you acknowledge your part in the matter and your unity with the body of Christ, and call upon God saying, "Lord, we have sinned!" This may be difficult to accept, but this is part of what oneness is about - a sharing not only of blessings, but responsibilities and consequences. This is why all of Israel suffered when one sinned (Joshua 7:1). This is also part of our relationship with Jesus. For us to be one with Him, He shared in the consequences of our sin - He became sin for us, so that we could share in His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). Third, if you are repentant of sin, you have become willing to accept any consequences of being found in a guilty state. If then their uncircumcised heart be humbled, and they then accept the punishment of their iniquity, ... - Leviticus 26:41 Why should a living(1) man complain, a man, about the punishment of his sins? - Lamentations 3:39 ...after all that has come upon us for our evil deeds and for our great guilt, seeing that you, our God, have punished us less than our iniquities deserved... - Ezra 9:13 When we sin, we deserve punishment. This doesn't mean it's wrong to ask God for mercy. It just means that when you are repentant, you recognize God does not owe you mercy. If He chooses to exercise justice instead, then so be it - He is perfectly right to do so.(2) After the reading of the Law and the history of Israel's rebellion against God and its consequences, Nehemiah prayed: "... You have been righteous in all that has come upon us, for you have dealt faithfully and we have acted wickedly. Our kings, our princes, our priests, and our fathers have not kept your law or paid attention to your commandments and your warnings that you gave them ..." - Nehemiah 9:33-34 Like Ezra, Nehemiah used the word "we" instead of "they". Nehemiah accepted the consequences of his people's sins. However, he also sought God's mercy - not on the basis of self-merit or downplaying their guilt, but because God is loving and faithful to His covenant: "Now, therefore, our God, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love, let not all the hardship seem little to you that has come upon us, ..." - Nehemiah 9:32 A repentant man ceases to bargain with God, and only seeks mercy as a gift from Him. Fourth, to repent of sin is to be willing to accept and obey whatever God tells you to partake in the restoration of your relationship to Him. John the baptist prepared the way for Jesus by preaching "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near" (Matthew 3:2, Luke 3:7-9). He baptised people as a symbol of their repentance (Acts 19:4). When asked how they were to live, John gave them practical examples: And the crowds asked him, "What then shall we do?" And he answered them, "Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise." Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, "Teacher, what shall we do?" And he said to them, "Collect no more than you are authorized to do." Soldiers also asked him, "And we, what shall we do?" And he said to them, "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages." - Luke 3:10-14 None of these works earned them a place in God's kingdom, but they did demonstrate one aspect of true repentance: the desire to be free from sin. A repentant man is sick and tired of his sin. This kind of repentance prepares the way for God's forgiveness and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" And Peter said to them, "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. - Acts 2:37-38 What does God require of the repentant man to restore his relationship with Him? A simple belief in Jesus, trusting in His completed work (John 1:12, 3:16, Acts 16:31). Notes: (1) Note the grace: A man has sinned, yet God hasn't taken his life. Surely there is no reason to complain! (2) In Luke 16:22-24, the rich man knew he deserved hell as he did not ask to be let out.