The previous post focused on repentance as a grace...that is, a gift from God to the sinner. But repentance is also a command. What is it exactly that we're supposed to DO?
It seems to me that in the Bible, there are at least 4 types of action commonly associated with repentance: confession, turning, humility and fruit-bearing. I maintain that the presence of any one of these indicates that the process of repentance has begun and we should acknowledge it as such. Depending on the nature and severity of the sin, these may not all be present, or may become evident over a period of time.
Confession involves a recognition that I have violated my duty to God and/or my fellow-man, and is followed by an acknowledgement (or admission of guilt) before God and to the offended parties. This is often, though not always, one of the earliest manifestations of repentance.
Turning is inherent in the idea of repentance and includes both a turning to God as well as a turning from sin. When a sinner turns to the Lord and calls out for mercy, he has been gifted with and has obediently entered into repentance. The turning from sin may be immediate and complete, or it may require a steady, ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. There is such a thing as besetting sin which demands a perpetual crying out and repeated turnings. But such is the nature of the Christian life, right? William Bridges, in A Lifting Up for the Downcast, reminds us that Christians aren't punished for their sins or moral failings (God would not exact double payment!), but for failing to repent and we must therefore constantly maintain a "turning disposition." We never cease to need deliverance. Repentance is not a one-shot, do-it-and-be-done-with-it deal. The first of Martin Luther's 95 Theses: "When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, 'Repent' He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance."
Humility: True repentance will produce humility in the sinner, which might work itself out in a variety of ways: Meekness. Shame. A softened or broken heart. Regret. Sorrow. Contrition. Mourning over one's sin or its consequences. By the way, I would argue that grieving over the consequences of sin, for oneself or for others, is not a pseudo-repentance, but a very real and legitimate manifestation of repentance. Afterall, sins are not deemed such by some arbitrary moral standard, but because they are actions which rebel against or violate the loving, sacrificial, self-giving nature of God...and they violate this nature precisely because of the pain, harm, brokenness, and division which they bring to to others (AKA: consequences), and we ought to grieve over these things! Yes...we ought also to have, as our first parents did, a sense of shame as we stand exposed before God, simply because we have disobeyed Him. But He is quick to remove our shame by clothing us in the robe of Christ's righteousness.
Oftentimes, the horizontal shame and consequences are not so easily covered and thus lead to a holy grief which may be prolonged and gut-wrenching. Although the sinner must not remain in this sorrow forever, the Psalmists make it clear that the penitent sinner may suffer long and severely. Their words provide for us a Divinely-inspired voice for our laments.
Finally, true repentance will ultimately result in the bearing of fruit...eventually. Consider the analogy. Within the realm of nature, every plant, shrub or tree comes to fruition at various stages. All fruit-bearing plants begin as a mere seed...a seed which falls into the ground and dies before it begins to manifest any life. If it is buried in the winter (and a time of overt sin is certainly a typological winter), it will require even more time before life begins to emerge. Likewise, some trees require years of nourishment, setting roots and maturation before they produce fruit. Weeds, on the other hand, grow quickly and make an early, albeit temporary, show of fruit. My point? The process doesn't always look the same or happen in identical timeframes for everyone, so let us be quick to encourage our own and each other's hearts. Even when this process happens slowly - whether on account of pride, stubbornness, fear, ignorance or weakness - we must give thanks for the work that the Lord has begun and beseech Him to continue granting a genuine and complete repentance unto life for both ourselves and our "shipmates".