How to Repent (Surprise: Many Do Not Know How)

I learned the biblical concepts of repentance, but even after months of study I knew nothing of how to repent as a regular part of life with God.

how to repent

It’s confession time: the more I prepared to write Deeper Change the more I discovered I knew little to nothing of repentance. I understood that in order to “become a Christian” I needed to admit that I was a sinner and rely on Jesus’s sacrifice to take away my sins. As I studied about repentance I learned the Old and New Testament concepts of repentance (retrace and rethink). But even after months of reading and study I knew nothing of how to repent as a regular part of life with God.

Then one morning, in my daily reading of scripture, a thunderbolt from heaven leaped from the pages of Matthew’s gospel! I looked at the page again, just to be sure the paper had not been singed by the lightning (It hadn’t been burned, but I was on fire from the spark.) Be careful now before reading these verses; they are capable of changing your life:

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Mathew 16:24-25)

I know. The word repentance doesn’t appear in the text, but believe me: it’s there—especially for those of us who long to learn repentance as a lifestyle.

Perhaps you’ve thought of repentance as an after-the-fact maneuver, something you do when you realize you’ve messed up. Indeed, this is true: we should repent whenever we realize our failures. But what if repentance could keep us from sin? What if there was a daily habit that could help us continually by keeping us from foolish choices and errors? If you have thought of repentance as a bedtime exercise, there’s good news: repentance can also be morning devotion.

Jesus provides three daily choices; each morning they help us repent of the illusion that our life is our own. Every follower of Jesus must choose the way of Christ again and again. Take my friend, Lydia (who doesn’t really exist, but provides an excellent illustration of what it means to repent early):

Each morning Lydia opens her eyes to see the same ceiling, the same room, hearing the same sounds, and immediately her mind runs toward the new day: there are tasks to be done and appointments to be kept. But before her feet swing over the side of the bed and touch the floor there is a struggle to be met—and won: does this day belong to her, or Someone else? Lydia fights the most important battle of the day before any action is ever taken. Every single morning she rethinks her life in light of God’s kingdom. She is reminded of the three choices facing every disciple, every day:

     Deny ourselves.

     Take up our cross.

     Follow Jesus.

Lydia must decide each day whether she is really willing to yield her priorities, tasks, and schedule to the Lord. For her (and us) it’s not a matter of doing different tasks or changing careers—it’s a matter of deciding who is boss again today, of repenting from the universal tendency to think we are the masters of our fate.

Three choices, made each morning, can grow us into mature disciples, capable of experiencing the with-God kind of life. Settling these questions each morning is a way of repentance, of rethinking our life in light of the King and his kingdom.

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Ray Hollenbach helps pastors and churches navigate change. He's the founder of DEEPER Seminars, weekend leadership retreats focused on discipleship in the local church. His devotional book "Deeper Grace" is available at He currently lives in central Kentucky. He's also the author of of "The Impossible Mentor", a deep dive into the foundations of discipleship.