“And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 3:2) Some of the first words of John the Baptist, some of the first words of Christ, “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 4:17)
Nothing happens until we repent, nothing. We are called while yet in an unrepentant state, we are not chosen until we repent, at the cross there are none who have not yet repented. There are no further instructions until we repent, there is no knowledge of righteousness, of salvation, of grace, of anything of God given to those who will not repent, only the fact that they are wicked, and the wrath of God abides on them, (John 3:36) and this they will deny.
It is why I have so much difficulty with the title “Carnal Christian,” for one cannot be born-again and then return to the world as if nothing happened at that moment, yet there are many who have come before us that were truly men and women of God who will profess a desire at times to return, or at least taste the world they once knew. These are not always temptations from the devil, but are done so out of our own accord, we willingly search out what we once desired and now abhor, whether it be in thought or deed, yet they are not a constant struggle, but instead are those moments in time that appear occasionally.
We have repented of them, our attitude towards them has changed, turned 180 degrees, but they are like the crumbs on the table after we have thought that we have swept it clean. To those who have truly repented and are following Christ they are unnoticed, to those who have only professed the Lord with their lips, they are left there on purpose, a small tidbit to return to occasionally.
There is a big difference between repenting and feeling sorry, for the latter inevitably leads one to some form of personal penance, either prescribed by a religious organization, or self-imposed, and this routine is repeated regularly throughout their lives. Repentance requires our emotions, our thoughts to be held in subjection, (1 Cor. 9:27) but above that it demands an action, not one of replacing that sinful act with what could best be described as a good, or even supposed holy one, but a complete turning away from the deed, it is dead in our eyes.
Those who still perform whatever act they claim to have put behind them are deceiving themselves, they have not repented, but instead are living a life filled with excuses because of the possibility of chastisement from the Lord, it is a form of forced attrition, they continue to perform the act they say they detest, and then perform another deed after the fact hoping to appease God with their so-called weak faith attitude towards themselves. They live a lie, they know it, and they continually pray that God will be merciful.
True repentance recognizes oneself as vile in the eyes of a Holy and Righteous God, it sees within itself no good thing, and no work, deed or words are going to change that fact until we truly repent, until we call upon the Lord in repentance. At that exact moment faith arrives, the Holy Spirit of God enters into us, and offers us the truth. We learn to hate the world and all that it stands for, (1 John 2:15) we hate evil, (Psalm 97:10) we begin to thirst and hunger for righteousness, (Matt. 5:6) and we begin to apply the teachings of the Scriptures to transform our minds. (Romans 12:2)
You cannot offer a good deed in repentance for an evil one, that is called penance, and that is not repentance, but a manmade ideology meant to appease the Most High by some deed or words that we believe He will accept. He will not accept them. To repent is not to get rid of one thing in your life and replace it with another, it is to cast that thing away as foul, detestable, as dung, and to ask the Lord Jesus to then fill that vacuum with Himself.