Repentance: The Healthy Process of Spiritual Potty Training
Updated: Feb 19
Repentance has gotten a bad rap.
But I’ve learned it is one of the most significant words in any language. Filled with God’s mercy and grace, it is our golden ticket to the fullness of God. My life has been transformed through this simple, gracious act…repeatedly.
Repentance is God’s provision and prescription for amazing change. Learning the process of repentance is the spiritual equivalent to potty training.
What?! I’ll explain in a bit…
Just the word repentance may conjure the image of the wild-eyed street preacher yelling, “REPENT,” at random passers-by on a busy sidewalk. Or you remember that fire and brimstone preacher from your childhood who shouted you down from the pulpit, causing you to shrink back from the verbal assault.
Don’t let abuse of this sweet word color your receptivity to its full value.
Merriam Webster defines repent as, “1. To turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one’s life; 2. To feel regret or contrition, to change one’s mind.” Repentance, therefore, is “the action or process of repenting for misdeeds or moral shortcomings.”
Two things have contributed to the sidelining of such an important word and practice:
The negative legalistic religious image conferred on repentance by the world and unfortunately, even the Church,
The belief that it is a one-time action, taken only when we initially come to Christ.
Medieval images of flagellation (physically hurting yourself) to pay penance for sin may flash through your head. This concept is completely wrong. Nothing could be further from God’s design for repentance. Nothing we can do will pay for our sins. Jesus Christ did it all on the cross. Fact is, the blood of Jesus cleanses our conscience from the sin that would capture our hearts, causing guilt, depression, fears, and every evil thing.
“How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” Hebrews 9:14 NIV
Freedom in Christ is God’s Desire for Us
God wants us to walk in freedom, from sin, and from the weight of that sin on our hearts and minds. This sanctification process begins at salvation and continues throughout our lives on earth.
In the Old Testament, before Jesus came on the scene, the law required the sacrificing of animals in the Temple to cover the sins of the people. Hebrews 9:22 tells us that without the shedding of blood, there is no repentance or forgiveness of sins. This was the standard God ordained from the beginning. Then God sent His only Son to provide the perfect sacrifice.
Jesus gave His own blood – one sacrifice, for all people, for all time.
His sacrificial death on the cross paid the penalty, which was death, for our sins once and for all. His perfect, holy blood provided a better sacrifice and forged a better covenant with God. Now, by believing that Jesus died for us and making Him Lord of our life, our sins are forgiven, and we are cleansed.
Initial repentance is necessary for salvation. But on-going repentance is the key to spiritual maturity, victorious living, and times of refreshing.
When we come to God initially, we experience a supernatural re-birth. We are spiritual babies, requiring God’s constant nurturing! He (often through His people) provides all we need – the milk of His Word, cleaning up after our messes, the security of His nearness, protection from the storms of life. But as we grow, we learn to walk, talk, feed ourselves, etc.
Then Comes Potty Training
Learning to repent is much like potty training. We learn how to cooperate with God to clean up our messes, except that mess is sin. Walking in repentance is the process of getting rid of the sin that needs to be eliminated from our lives.
Potty training is the natural equivalent to the spiritual process of learning how to repent. Repentance is equivalent to healthy elimination, i.e. getting rid of our waste, also known as sin.
Potty training = Learning to repent
Elimination of sin = Repentance
I don’t know if that concept blew your mind like it did mine. I was not a potty-training fan. Hands down, it was my least favorite season of child rearing. I wasn’t very easy-going with my children through this process. Thank God, He is a patient teacher.
But make no mistake, it is a necessary process to learn. You wouldn’t want to be an adult who couldn’t take care of their bathroom needs in private. Likewise, repentance needs to be learned in order for us to mature into spiritual adulthood. The process is simple but it requires practice.
God doesn’t expect us to walk in perfection, but He does expect us to deal with whatever sin issue He puts His holy finger on. Though He is gentle and kind in dealing with us, He expects us to obey when He shows us our sin.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9
Steps to Walking in Repentance
Agree with God’s assessment of your sin. Specifically admit it is sin.
Confess out loud to God your heartfelt sorrow for not living up to His standard.
Submit your will to God’s will. Choose to do it His way.
Accept God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Receive His loving forgiveness, forgive yourself for failing and move in the opposite direction.
For example, perhaps you had an abortion, which was legal under the laws of our government, so you didn’t believe you were doing anything wrong. But lingering sadness, guilt, and doubts consume you. Why can’t you get over this? God’s moral law is a higher standard than the legal laws of earthly governments. Then God’s convicting power shows you that taking an unborn life was wrong.
What do you do?
You come to God and repent with your whole heart. You don’t need to live under guilt or shame. The blood of Jesus covers even our guilty consciences. Forgive yourself and move forward in joy.
“Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?” Romans 2:4
God’s kindness leads us to repentance.
One blog post is so inadequate to deal with all the Bible has to say about repentance. For some additional resources on repentance, please see the links below: