Let me give you a simple description of repentance. When we are giving our hearts to sin, we are turning our backs to God. Repentance is a 180 degree-turn. We turn our backs to sin and give our hearts to God. You will be doing this the rest of your life.
Consider how Martin Luther began his ninety-five theses, which catalyzed the Protestant Reformation: When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent,” he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance. It’s the ongoing task of the Christian because when you become a Christian, you’re saved from sin’s power (its ultimate control of your heart) and sin’s penalty (its justly deserved eternal judgment), but not its presence (its eradication from your life).
One of the reasons it is so hard for us to deal with our remaining sin is that we think we are on our own. We approach God’s grace more like a bargain. Jesus takes care of two-thirds of the problem (sin’s power and penalty), but we’ve got to take care of our third (it’s presence). We rarely say this out loud, but that’s how we often function.
This mindset is so difficult to overcome because it’s a distortion of truth. We do have to take action against sin’s presence in our life. We’re in a constant battle. All of life is repentance. We’ve got to own our part. But we don’t fight against sin by relying on our own strength. We fight by turning to Jesus—over and over again.
It is Jesus, by the Holy Spirit, that reminds us that sin doesn’t have the upper hand, even when everything in our experience says otherwise. He reminds us that sin does not have as much power over us as we think. He reminds us that the full penalty of sin was paid for on the Cross. And he reminds us that there will be a day when sin’s presence will no longer affect us.
Remembrance is power in the fight against sin. Sin wants you to remember your failure. Repentance is remembering that Jesus’ victory is yours.