16 Jan 2012

Repentance: Can We Really Change?

Submitted by Stephen Winters
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It may be hard for a young person to truly understand what repentance is. It's common for many people to think "I'm not all that bad. I don't need to make changes in my life. For the most part I'm really OK. I just did this one wrong thing.

Some people's view of repentance and forgiveness could be something like, "I said that I was sorry and I won't do it again. Now can I go back to what I was doing before?" The focus is on getting back to what he was doing before, rather than realizing that he was on a wrong path and needs to make some major changes. He needs to change the way he thinks as well as his behavior.


Another variance is saying, "I decided to change. That was the way I used to be. I'm not that way any more." Are permanent changes made in our lives that quick and simple? Yes, and no. Yes, it is simple, but it's not easy. More to follow.

How can you tell if someone's repentance is real or not? To put it simply, they are thinking and acting differently than they used to. They have closed the door on their previous life.
Look at the Four R's of Repentance down near the bottom of this page. Now, let's look at the mechanics of successfully making changing in one's life. Let's first look at habits. Our dailly behavior is largely directed by our habits. We may think or hope that we only have good habits. But what do we do if we have a bad habit?


We'd all like to think that we can instantly stop a bad habit. Author Gretchen Rubin says, 

"First, when it comes to developing a bad habit, two repetitions is probably enough. Order a doughnut with your coffee on Monday morning and Tuesday morning, and you’ll probably find it very hard to resist ordering a doughnut on Wednesday."1

It seems that it's much harder to start a good habit than to stop a bad habit. About starting a good habit "The Guardian" feature writer Oliver Burkeman makes this assessment:

"Everyone knows that it takes 28 days to develop a new habit, or perhaps 21, or 18, depending on who you ask; anyway, the point is that it's a specific number, which makes it sound scientific and thus indisputably true. We probably owe this particular example of pop-psychology wisdom to Maxwell Maltz, the plastic surgeon who wrote the 60s bestseller Psycho-Cybernetics. ....

This is, of course, poppycock and horsefeathers, as a new study by the University College London psychologist Phillippa Lally and her colleagues helps confirm. On average, her subjects, who were trying to learn new habits such as eating fruit daily or going jogging, took a depressing 66 days before reporting that the behaviour had become unchangingly automatic. Individuals ranged widely – some took 18 days, others 245 – and some habits, unsurprisingly, were harder than others to make stick: "2


How do we change a behavior pattern?

An event is a one time thing. A pattern is someting that we do repeately, it has become a part of who we are. It controls our thinking and behaviors.

In order to change a pattern we must identify and confess what the pattern is. Confession is NOT just at token "I did something wrong here and now I need to change it."

One of the huge struggles that people go through is they don't want to look deeply at their sin. What must be realized is that our destructive or inappropriat behavior pattern, which I'll call sin, is the enemy.

there are three parts of sin that we must recognize. Part one is the"act that we did". This is the easy part. This the part that most people can admit to.

The second part is the reason that we did the act. For instance, we were hurt earlier in our lives, so we want to hurt others. Or we were lacking something and now we want an excess of that thing. For instance, some people barely had enough food and went hungry many times as a child. Now, as an adult they hoard food and may overeate and become obese. This is inappropriate desire that is a part of who we are.

The third part is our self-centered core, our "sinful heart". A sinful heart means that we desire to do what is sinful, self-centered and prideful. We want what we want, and we want it now. This is the part that is hardest for people to admit, even to themselves. This is the part that we keep covered up and don't want anyone to know about. It often takes a lot of growth for people to begin to open up and confess, "yes, I am immature, self-centered...."

How do we change?

Although the follow process is laid out sequencially, it is really cyclical. For example, we first get a little bit of awareness, ususally through the consequences of our behavior. As we begin to see that we are loved (which stays with us through the entire process.) We see with that love a new way of living. We begin to compare that love and the new way of living with our own lives. We begin to be aware that we haven't been behaving correctly. If we are genuine about the process, that should lead to self-disgust.  Then that should lead to confession, and then to genuine repentance. At each stage we look back and look deeper into the previous steps, which lead us deeper.

Experience True Love and Acceptance

Without true (Agape) love we bawk at the process of change. We are afraid we will be condemned and cast out.


Many people have a realization that they need to change. They may even say, "I need to change this". But they are stuck in their destructive cycles. They keep doing the same things over and over again.

For example, If you a driving to visit someone and are going the opposite way as you intended, you won't want to change directions until you realize that you are going the wrong way.

Before we can have progress, we need to be truly aware that what we are doing isn't working and that we need to do something differently.

True awareness will bring about Self-Discust

Self Disgust



Awareness and confession are interactive. The more deeply you confess, the more aware you become, which leads you to an even deeper and more real confession, which brings about a fuller awareness, and so on.

We can only be set free to the extent that we are willing to be vulnerable and true and 

Who should you confess to? If you confess to someone who thinks of themselves as good, who has never admitted that they have done anything bac, then they find your confess repulsive. So they may reject you.

A true confession should be made to someone who is familiar with th...... This could be a trained counselor or an older person who has made mistakes and then made deep changes in their lives. These people will applaud your honesty. The truth is that some of these people already know many of your "secrets" by watching your behavior. They also know what is inside of man. They have been honest with themselves about their own destructive desires, and so can recognize the traits within others.

"there is therefor now no condemnation for those who are in Christ," Rom 8:1



As it has been said by others, repentance means that you have been going one way and you change to go another.

But, until you truly become aware of your ... and you truly and genuinely confess, yoiu can have no true repentance. Your repentance will only be as deep as your awareness and your confession.

True repentance includes,

Removing oneself from bad influences.

Having a plan

Let's look at the term "remorse"

"There’s a big difference between having remorse because you were caught, as opposed to before you were caught.  Most people just say “Sorry,” because they were caught, and not because they have actual remorse for doing something wrong.  In other words, their “Sorry,” actually means “Geez, I’m soooo sorry I was caught,” which is vastly different from “Oh, I’m soooo sorry I hurt someone.”3

DeBorrah K. Ogans is a licensed Pastoral Counselor and ordained minister has this to say about repentance:

"Repentance is when one is truly sorry for a wrong action. Sincere repentance causes one to change their sinful direction. Genuine regret will facilitate a move towards Godly direction. It does not mean to say you are sorry then commence to repeat or express the same previous behavior. ...... True repentance impacts one to the point that the desire to modify their actions overrides the once prescribed behavior.

When one has compulsive behaviors their ability to relinquish such behavior may not immediately manifest. But admitting to oneself that their behavior needs modification is a favorable inception. The process to extinguish compulsive behaviors can sometimes be lengthy. However, the benefits yield self-control. Self- examination is a prerequisite on the road to recovery. Remember nothing is impossible with God."4

The Four R's of Repentance

Dr. Laura Schlessinger has this to say about repentance:

Repentance has four parts:

  1. Taking Responsibility for your actions. We must recognize that we have done wrong. (owning what you’ve done and giving no excuses or blaming others for your own actions),
  2. Feeling Remorse (i.e., being truly regretful for the hurt caused), We must have true remorse for doing wrong and for the pain and problems we've caused.
  3. Do Not Repeat behavior. We must be committed never to repeat the act regardless of the temptations or situation.
  4. Repair: The fourth and probably the most difficult is to repair the damage we've done, or at least do what we can to apologize directly to the injured party. (for example, going to the Humane Society and/or giving talks to change people’s minds and hearts about how they treat animals

  Those are the Four R’s of Repentance."3 

When someone goes through these four R's with sincerity, I believe you have the obligation to forgive even if the trust is not yet re-established. And, as to that trust, there is an old Arabic saying: "Forgive, but tie up your camel."5


The Islamic community says this about repentance

The Conditions for Repentanceare well known:

  • Leaving the sin;
  • Remorse over having committed the sin;
  • Resolve never to return to the sin;
  • (If it relates to the rights of another person, then to) Return the rights or property one wrongly took.6

These conditions of repentance are very similar to the 4 R's of repentance that Dr. Laura mentions above.

Changing One's behavior

When we only change our behavior to get a desired result, it is destined to fail.  Because life rarely goes the way that we want it to. Then, when we don't get what we wanted, we go back to acting the way the we did before. The truth is that we never changed. We were only pretending to change to get what we wanted.

True change is about us realizing that we are the ones causing the problems. We are at fault and we need to change no matter what the circumstances may be.

The first step is, without any prodding from others, admitting to ourselves, and then to others, I was wrong. I was at fault. I will not do that again. I will act differently in the future.

But, just having that realization doesn't not bring about change in us. We must be proactive in our desire to change. We must think deeply about our failure, what caused us to fail, why did we act that way? This is often a deep and painful work, and few people want to be this real. But assuming that we do, then we need to

Unless we understand and experience God's deep love for us, and realize that he doesn't condemn us, then.....


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