© Rosemary Bardsley 2020

A reader asked this question, adding 'we never meet the perfection that God wants, all the time, 100% of the time. So should I just keep saying "forgive me God" every second of the day. Is not that over religious?'

In reply I wrote:

The biblical word 'repent' literally means to change your mind. The Greek word is metanoeo - (meta - change + noeo - I think) - hence - I change my mind, I change the way I think. The popular understanding among Christians is more like saying 'sorry', and has to do with being sorry for our actions, instead of the much deeper biblical meaning of changing your mind.

In the Bible there are two different applications of repentance:

[1] our initial repentance at our point of conversion, in which we change our mind about who God is and take on board the God revealed in and by Jesus Christ. [Any other god-concept is actually an idol.] Included in this is a foundational change of mind about who we are [we are not the boss, God is], and what sin is [it is always offensive to God, and rebellion against God].

[2] On-going repentance, in which we keep changing our mind about God, self, and sin, as the Holy Spirit teaches us more and more. We do not learn everything all at once. We keep growing in our understanding, and hence we keep changing our minds - casting aside wrong concepts that are revealed to us from the Bible by the Holy Spirit. This transformation is a life-long process.

Confession is intimately associated with repentance. However this is not, as many think, verbally making an itemized list of sins to God. The Greek word translated in some English Bibles with 'confess' is homologeo [homo - the same + logeo - I say (or, I put my thoughts into words).] Hence I say the same [as God says]. This word is better translated 'acknowledge'. For example, it is used in the following:

Matthew 10:32: 'Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will aslo acknowledge before my Father in heaven'
Romans 10:9: 'If you declare with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," ...'

Both of the above require repentance - a change of mind about Jesus' claims to equality with God.

1John 1:9: 'If we confess our sins ...'

This verse also requires repentance - a change of mind about sin. Verses 8 and 10 speak of a denial of sin. Verse 9 speaks of us admitting/acknowledging that we are, and always will be, sinners who sin.

This acknowledgement of ourselves as sinners who sins is actually a prerequisite for forgiveness and acquittal. Read Luke 18:9-14. There we see two men: the first, a person who had no awareness of sin and did not acknowledge his sin in the presence of God; instead he listed his perceived virtues to God. The second, a person totally aware of his sinfulness, who entered the presence totally dependent on God's mercy. He did not present God with a verbal, itemized list of his sins, but simply prayed: 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' This man, Jesus said, went home 'justified before God', that is, acquitted.

The most important thing about forgiveness to remember is 'in Christ we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins' [Ephesians 1:7]. Did you notice what Paul wrote? He said that forgiveness is something that we are Christians already 'have'. Forgiveness is our possession. It is not something that is on/off depending on whether or not we have asked for it. In Christ we already have forgiveness. This study brings together the many images of forgiveness in the Bible - .

When we pray the Lord's prayer we ask for forgiveness, but this does infer that forgiveness is something that is on/off, on/off ... Rather in this prayer we express our continuing dependence on God for the forgiveness of sin that he has already given us freely in Christ. There is never a moment when we do not stand in need of that already-given forgiveness.