Spiritual Growth and Christian Living Resources
Open Enrollment: Medi-Share is your family's answer to rising health care costs. Learn More.

What Real Repentance Looks Like and Why it Matters

asian businessman hands folded in prayer looking up for hope

He (God) is so rich in kindness that He purchased our freedom through the blood of His Son, and our sins are forgiven (Ephesians 1:7, NLT).
It had been a rough afternoon for Hudson, our four-year-old grandson. Dan and I were keeping him and his brother Justus for a few days while our daughter and son-in-law were out of town. I know. It’s a rough job, but somebody has to do it. I had spent a week getting ready for their visit. The checklist was complete!

The refrigerator, pantry, and snack drawer were filled with their favorite foods. 

The toys were assembled and ready for action. 

The bed in our guestroom was piled high with extra pillows, blankets, and stuffed animals waiting to be hugged. 

Favorite books were stacked beside their bed for naps and bedtime imaginations. 

Now all we needed were the boys! When we went to pick them up, they squealed and jumped into our arms. At this point, I’m not sure who was more excited. But it didn’t matter. The adventure had begun!

We had a total blast!

We went to their favorite places … Chuck E. Cheese, Wal-Mart, Build-A-Bear, Lego Land, McDonald’s … to name a few. We raced Hot Wheels and built cars, trucks, airplanes, and castles with Legos. The boys battled alien creatures from the safety of Papa’s fort made with blankets, tables, chairs, and a few secret items that I was told girls simply would not understand.

Bath times were one big splash fest. At bedtime, we snuggled under blankets and read stories accompanied by some pretty amazing shadow puppet shows.

I lay between Justus and Hudson each night and watched them fall asleep as I sang the songs I once sang to their mother. Beautiful boys!

Our grandchildren are my greatest legacy and some of the most skilled teachers in my life. Hudson stepped up to the lectern on the boys’ last day with us.

We spent the morning at the park and had a picnic lunch before a rainstorm chased us home. After naps we had an epic laser light battle in the basement playroom where Justus says it gets “seriously dark” when it rains. Justus was declared the winner, and we raced upstairs to get ready for dinner. 

We were headed to one of their favorite places to eat - Fritz’s--where a miniature train runs around the ceiling of the restaurant and stops at each booth, lowering a tray holding the food you ordered. I know. It’s amazing. The boys love it.

And then it happened!

An Amazing Picture of Repentance

Seriously, Justus and Hudson had been nothing short of wonderful for three days. They listened and did everything we asked them to do. They went to bed like angels without a fuss. They were happy and sweet.

But that invisible switch was flipped, and the battle was on!

Neither boy listened. When we asked them to do something, they looked at us as if we were speaking a foreign language. Hudson blatantly refused to do anything we asked him to do. The final straw was when he punched Justus for no reason and earned a timeout.

Hudson hates timeouts with a passion, but he took it like a champ, apologizing to Justus and to us. I went to grab my purse while Dan helped Hudson get his shoes on so we could go eat. When I walked back in the room, Hudson’s eyes met mine, and his precious little face crumbled as he burst into tears.

Dan and I were stunned!

I grabbed Hudson in a fierce hug and held him until he stopped crying. I wiped away the tears and kissed his scrumptious cheeks. “What’s wrong, buddy?” I asked. With tear-filled eyes and a trembling lip, he said, “Mimi, I twy so hard to make good choices, but sometimes I just can’t!” My heart broke, and I began to cry with Hudson. I knew exactly how he felt.

I told him how much Papa and I love him.

I told him we would always love him, no matter what he does or doesn’t do.

I told him how special he is to us … and to God. 

And I caught a glimpse of the Father’s heart when we come to Him in genuine repentance. Not sorry we got caught in our sin, but truly sorry that we have sinned.

The desire of God’s heart is always restoration--not condemnation. When we truly repent, God will truly forgive us.

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:8-9).

What Sin Does to Us Over Time

When my husband was a church pastor in South Florida, one of our favorite traditions was the Thanksgiving Day breakfast. Even our kids got in on the action. We woke while it was still dark and headed to the church to help dozens of volunteers prepare pancakes, bacon, eggs… the works.

After breakfast, Dan shared a brief message, and everyone headed home to enjoy the rest of their holiday.

Then the cleanup began. We all shifted into high gear, breaking down tables, washing dishes and getting the buildings ready for the weekend services. The kids quickly completed their assigned tasks and disappeared to play until it was time to head home.

I was finishing up in the kitchen when our daughter came running in, crying and holding a paper towel over her eye. “What happened, honey?” I asked.

“I don’t know, Mom. We were playing and something flew in my eye. It really hurts!” she cried. I looked at our son who explained, “We were having a mulch war and Danna got some in her eye.”

Since I wear contacts, I always carry saline solution and thought that would take care of the problem. I couldn’t see anything in her eye, but after washing it out, she said it felt better.

As the day wore on, it was obvious that something was still in her eye as the pain increased and her eye began to swell. We called a friend who is an optometrist. He dropped by to take a look at Danna’s eye.

After a quick exam he said, “She does have something in her eye, but I’ll need to see her in my office to remove it.” He applied numbing drops, an eye patch, and said he would meet us at his office in the morning.

When we arrived at the doctor’s office, he went to work and within seconds handed me a tiny speck of mulch nestled on a tissue. I could barely see it. But Danna blinked a couple of times and grinned. “It doesn’t hurt anymore.” I remember wondering how something so small could cause so much pain.

Sin is like that. We may view it as nothing more than a little lie or an insignificant transgression, but it was enough to send Jesus to the cross. If we refuse to deal with sin, it will cause great pain and damage in our lives.

What Is Sin and How Can We Rid Our Consciences of It?

The word “sin” comes from an old archery term that means to “miss the bull’s-eye” or anything other than the dead center of the target. When sin is not confessed, it is a slow but steady drain that sucks the life out of us.

Sin erects a wall between the Father and us. We have to get rid of that sin and eliminate the spiritual garbage in our lives if we really want to be free in Christ.

We are not perfect--just forgiven. To experience that forgiveness fully, we need to constantly eliminate the spiritual junk in our lives. I call it a spiritual detox.

One of my favorite spiritual disciplines to get rid of sin is to use what I call a Sin Sheet. 

I take a blank sheet of paper--or two. I pray and ask God to help me remember any sin I need to confess.

I then write down every sin that comes to mind on that sheet of paper. And I do not mince words. If I have lied, I write, “I am a liar because I lied to Sally.” When no more sins come to mind, I confess each sin one-by-one. If that sin is between God and me, I then mark through it with a permanent marker. Done.

If I have sinned against someone, I must not only confess the sin to God, but I must also make it right with the person I have sinned against. I must go to them and ask their forgiveness. I know. It is hard. But in order to be right with God, we must also be right with each other.

Repentance literally means to change your mind, turn your back, and walk away from sin. Because we are frail humans, chances are we will commit that sin again. Thank goodness for God’s mercy and grace, and for His unending love and forgiveness.

Confession is not for God to find out something He already knows. Confession is for us to be made whole and fit because we have dealt with the sin.

It is for us to eliminate the junk in our lives. It is our spiritual detox and the starting place for a powerful life of freedom. 

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/imtmphoto

Mary Southerland is also the Co-founder of Girlfriends in God, a conference and devotion ministry for women. Mary’s books include, Hope in the Midst of Depression, Sandpaper People, Escaping the Stress Trap, Experiencing God’s Power in Your Ministry, Fit for Life, and 10-Day Trust Adventure, You Make Me So Angry, How to Study the Bible, Fit for Life, Joy for the Journey, and Life Is So Daily. Mary relishes her ministry as a wife, a mother to their two children, Jered and Danna, and Mimi to her six grandchildren – Jaydan, Lelia, Justus, Hudson, Mo, and Nori.


Follow Crosswalk.com