First, I need to expel two myths about God's forgiveness; each the extremes on the spectrum yet both widely believed and accepted.
1. God cannot forgive you for certain sins, and even after you confess your sins He is still angry.
2. God doesn't really care about your sins.
The first one is kind of a fire and brimstone technique. There are kind of two parts to this side of the spectrum: the Evil and Controlled God spectrum. The first assumption is that God can't forgive us for certain sins. The "bad" sins. But the Bible makes it clear that no sin is over another sin. "For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it." (James 2:10 ESV) So if we tell a "little white lie", we are guilty of everything else; murder, slander, etc. So how could God forgive a "small" sin but not a "big" sin? And if He CAN'T forgive your sins, that means your sins are more powerful than God, making your sins god. And it also makes Jesus' sacrifice on the cross not enough to cover all your sins. And if He WON'T forgive your sins, the Bible is false, and He isn't a loving God. He doesn't love us, because He won't forgive us. It also goes against the Bible because the Bible says He forgives ALL our sins. Obviously, He forgives whatever you've done. And He's no longer angry over it, or it goes against "forgiveness" as a whole. “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins." (Isaiah 43:25 ESV). If He's forgotten them, and blotted them out, how could He be angry at us? No, but when we are forgiven, we are forgiven, and our sins are forgotten, and God once again shines His face on us.
Then there's the other side of the spectrum, with the God I like to call the Hippie God. This is the side proclaimed more often among teenagers today, and I kind of imagine this theory as a hippie (complete with glasses, guitar, and all) smiling down at me. "No, it's totally fine dude! Peace, you know? We all screw up. Not like I'm angry at you or anything. If you made a mistake, you made a mistake. It's totally fine." That's not right either. God IS upset about our sin. But not so upset as to immediately fry us, because He is merciful. Yes, our sins are covered forever in Jesus' sacrifice. But we still have to confess our sins to God-and often to others. (Yes, I know that THAT can be the most challenging. But I recommend you read my friend's blogpost on confessing sin to others, I can't top it. :) sharpenothers.blogspot.com/2011/11/your-sin-will-find-you-out.html ).
Also, if you haven't, read my last blog post on how to live with regret, not guilt.
But once we realize we are in the wrong, there is a series of steps that we must take to confess our sin and repent. Confessing sin and actual repentance are two different things, as I will show you.
1. Tell God about your sin (Yes, He knows, but it's like saying "Hey! God! You're right, I'm wrong!")
2. Ask for His forgiveness
3. If there are people that were harmed, or if there is a practical way to keep this sin from entering your life again, ask God to show you these things, and whatever He moves you to do-DO IT.
4. (And THIS is the repentance stage). RUN in the other direction. Set up roadblocks for yourself. Find someone who will keep you accountable, and make sure it is an object of your prayers to keep yourself from it. But the main point is, try your hardest to stay away from your sin. (Some sins, like getting angry at your siblings, etc, are not sins that give you much forewarning and are usually driven deep into your habits. These kinds of sins especially will often not go away the first day-or even the first month. But with persistance, they will disappear.)
One of my favorite things to do when I confess sins is to read Psalm 51. It is the blueprint of what our confessions should sound like, the crying out of our heart for forgiveness.
But a main point that I must stress in conclusion is that once you confess your sins, you are FORGIVEN. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9 ESV). Jesus died, and His actions are what saves us, not by our own works, but by His blood. We are insufficient, so or our own power we can never save ourselves. But God, in His holy love and mercy, He can. And He does. And if you turn to Him, broken and flawed, He will smile on you-and make you new.
“Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.
(Isaiah 1:18 ESV)
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
build up the walls of Jerusalem;
then will you delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.
(Psalm 51 ESV)