Why did you obey the gospel? Was it due to genuine repentance, or was it due to the fear of hell? There are some who obey the gospel for the latter reason and thus remain unconverted; they change their beliefs but there is no change in their behaviour. How then do we demonstrate true repentance?
Change in action
In order for one to show his repentance, he has to change his action. This means that he has to refrain from doing what is wrong. In the account of the two sons, the first son demonstrated his repentance by changing his action – “he regretted it and went [change in action]” (Mat 21:28-29). This change in action is necessary for repentance, otherwise the repentance will not be genuine (Mat 3:8; 7:20).
Change in mind
But in order for one to change his action, he has to change his mind. This means that he has to resolve not to do what is wrong. In preaching to the Gentiles, Paul called on them to repent by changing their mind and action – “turn to God [change in mind]… do works befitting repentance [change in action]” (Act 26:20). This change in mind is necessary, otherwise the change in action will only be temporary (Rom 12:2).
Change in heart
But in order for one to change his mind, he has to change his heart. This means that he has to be remorseful for what he has done wrong. In writing to the Corinthians, Paul commended them for their repentance in changing their heart, mind, and action – “godly sorrow [change in heart]… what diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication [change in mind]… in all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter [change in action]” (2Co 7:10-11). This change in heart is necessary, otherwise the change in mind will only be temporary (Exo 14:5).
Change in attitude
But in order for one to change his heart, he has to change his attitude. This means that he has to recognize that he has done wrong. In the account of the prodigal son, the son repented by changing his attitude, heart, mind, and action – “he came to himself [change in attitude]… father, I have sinned against heaven and before you [change in heart]… and I am no longer worthy to be called your son [change in mind]… make me like one of your hired servants [change in action]” (Luk 15:17-19). This change in attitude is necessary, otherwise there will be no impetus to change at all (Rom 2:4-5).
And so we see that true repentance is a changed way of life resulting from a change in attitude in recognizing that we have sinned against God, which leads to a change in heart in being remorseful for our sins, which leads to a change in mind in resolving not to sin anymore, which leads to a change in action in refraining from sin. How is our relationship with God today? Have we drifted away from God and lost our first love (Rev 2:4)? Have we allowed the deceitfulness of sin to harden our hearts (Heb 3:13)? If so, let us confess our sins to God. ask Him for forgiveness, and demonstrate true repentance with a change in attitude, heart, mind, and action (1Jo 1:9).