1. Recognize Your SinA true recognition of how we’ve messed up requires the work of the Holy Spirit, not merely to prick our conscience but to align our conscience with the will of God. As Christians the Holy Spirit dwells within us (1 Corinthians 3:16), but even then we can deny the work of the Holy Spirit and turn a blind eye to what we know is wrong. It is also possible that we are ignorant of what is wrong, and increasingly this is not unusual in a society whose prevailing ethics are in complete opposition to the ethics of the Gospel. When we recognize our sin we recognize the fact that the way we are living is in opposition to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
2. Confess it to GodSin is a multi-faceted reality, but one of the things sin always does is break relationship. Sin always has a relational consequence, impairing our relationship with God, with others, or even ourselves as we were created to be. Since the Triune God is the source and summit of all relationships, all sin is a direct offense to God. This is why we must confess our sin to God. It is an acknowledgement that we have injured our friendship with God, broken His moral laws, and have willfully chosen to disobey His will.
3. Ask Christ into your LifeSin is not a problem we can out-smart, out-work, or beat to death by ourselves. In the mystery of God’s love for us He sent His only Son to deal with sin so that you and I might be able to overcome it (2 Corinthians 5:21). When repenting of particular sins we should ask Christ to enter that particular part of our lives (i.e., “Jesus, please come into my heart so that I might not be so angry all the time”). Without Christ we will never be able to change our lives in the way that God wishes us to change them. Asking Christ into our lives is our humble recognition of our need for grace, for love, and for help from God (incidentally we also do this every time we put our hands out to receive the Eucharist).
4. Start to Live DifferentlyThe results of repentance are both salvation (a free relationship with God and entrance into the reality that is heaven, which begins now, and echoes throughout eternity) and sanctification. Sanctification is the theological word referring to our growth as a Christian. The Christian life is not to be measured by attendance at Sunday services (though these are essential) but by growth in our character, in our attitude, and in our obedience to commandments of the Gospel. One pastor said that, “Confession without repentance is just bragging.” The point being that repentance is a road way that supposed to lead to a new location, a new behavior, a new life. Yes, we will struggle to repent, sometimes we will fail, but the direction of repentance is always away from sin and toward new life.
Advent is a season for us to repent, to get our lives together, in anticipation of the return of the King (for more on repentance click here).