By the power of the Holy Spirit through the gospel of Christ, God grants repentance to wicked sinners (Romans 2:4). Repentance is not a one-time action. It is a lifestyle.
What does repentance look like? In The Doctrine of Repentance, Thomas Watson says there are six elements necessary for biblical repentance:
1) Sight of sin
Sin must be seen for what it is, a deadly plague of the heart. This insight must humble the person.
2) Sorrow for sin
Psalm 51:17: The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. God works to create heartfelt repentance and obedience, not just outward behavioral change. Repentance is not worldly sorrow (sorrow because you got caught), but rather it is godly sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:9-10).
3) Confession of sin
In confession there is a deep resentment for one’s sin as an offense against a holy and righteous God. Psalm 32:5: I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.
4) Shame of sin
“That which would make Christians blush is that the sins we commit are far worse than the sins of the unbeliever. We acted against more light….the Christian sins against clearer conviction!”
5) Hatred of Sin
“How far are they from repentance who instead of hating sin, love sin!” “To the godly sin is a thorn in the eye; to the wicked it is as a crown on the head.”
6) Turning from sin
True sorrow for sin is eminently practical. Nobody can say they hate sin if they live in it. Repentance makes us see the evil of sin not merely as a theory but experientially as a burn victim dreads fire (Spurgeon).
Turning from sin looks like this. A husband says to his wife: I have sinned and committed adultery. I have sinned against God. I want to follow the will of God by not sinning anymore against you and the children. I want to live a holy life before God by being a faithful husband and devoted father as God enables and empowers me by the Holy Spirit through the gospel.
Thanks be to God that “He preserves in us the incorruptible seed of regeneration1 from perishing or being totally lost; and again, by His Word and Spirit He certainly and effectually renews us to repentance, to a sincere and godly sorrow for our sins,2 that we may seek and obtain remission in the blood of the Mediator,3 may again experience the favor of a reconciled God, through faith adore His mercies, and henceforward more diligently work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.4” (5th Head of the Canons of Dort)
1 1 Pt 1:23; 1 Jn 3:9; 2 Ps 32:5; 2 Cor 7:10; 3 Ps 51:19; 4 Php 2:12