Moving Beyond “I’m Sorry”

Embracing Repentance that Leads to Spiritual Growth

By Debbie Young — Study Content Specialist 

As a young Christian, I constantly strived for perfection. My Sunday school perfect attendance pins and avoiding “the big sins” shaped my definition of success. 

Somewhere along the way, however, I discovered the ugly truth. My perfectionism and performance-based evaluation of myself was rooted in pride. In fact, underneath my selfish ambition lurked a host of sins I could not deny.  

Maybe you can relate. Take a moment to identify your own struggle. What sin just will not go away? Today, 40 years later, that same need to be perfect still surfaces in many ways. I continue to discover new inroads of the sin lodged in my heart. 

This ongoing struggle with sin can be so exhausting that we either ignore it or feel paralyzed by its grip. But in His mercy, God persistently offers a path to freedom from sin. 

The path to spiritual growth 

The People of the Promise: Kingdom Divided study echoes with the consistent sin of God’s people. However, just as perpetually, God offers His path to freedom in a single word — “repent.” 

What comes to mind when you hear that word? We may picture an angry street preacher or an endless string of apologies. But what if I told you repentance is more? 

Repentance is a Holy Spirit-driven response to sin that restores and transforms a whole person – our minds, our emotions, and our wills. Repentance is God’s invitation to return to Him. 

Repentance is God’s invitation to return to Him.

For years, I viewed repentance as a duty. With a few quick words I could cross “repentance” off my spiritual to-do list. The confession and repentance God desires is much more – the heart-wrenching practice of turning away from sin and back toward God. Joel 2:13 gives us a vivid picture:  

“Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.” 

Through the Holy Spirit, God uses repentance to uncover the root of our sin, not just the fruit of our sin. To “rend our hearts” means allowing the Lord to expose the underlying motives that drive our behavior.  

God uses repentance to uncover the root of our sin, not just the fruit of our sin.

Like a surgeon wielding a scalpel, the Holy Spirit’s conviction cuts deep. He slices through our excuses. True repentance involves a God-inflicted wound designed to bring spiritual health and healing. He exposes and extracts our pride, our greed, our selfishness, and our doubt. He lovingly binds our wounds and heals our hearts. 

Repentance represents so much more than a painful duty; repentance paves the pathway to spiritual growth. As we regularly respond to the Holy Spirit’s conviction and turn from our specific sin, we experience fresh doses of God’s redeeming grace. 

The comfort of a guiding hand

This comforting truth helps when we feel discouraged by the magnitude of our sin: God relentlessly pursues our wayward hearts. Instead of running from conviction, we can run into it knowing we will always land in Jesus’s outstretched arms. 

God never exposes all our sin at once. We could not bear that. With intentional grace, He opens our eyes to recognize specific sin, at specific times, and in specific ways. When God does this, how do we respond? Do we rend our hearts, giving Him access to the hidden darkness within us?  

God wounds us to heal us. When His conviction cuts deep, we can lean into the growth He intends through the pain. We confidently lay our sin before the One who bears the scars that purchased our freedom. 

God wounds us to heal us. 

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). 

My battle with sin continues. I long for the day pride and performance no longer dominate my motives and sin’s discouraging remnants are abolished. But until then I will trust my tender Savior to expose and extract my sin as He deems right. The conviction proves His relentless love for me. Repentance is an act of worship.

Debbie Young

Study Content Specialist

Debbie Young currently serves as Study Content Specialist at BSF. As a young mom, Debbie realized that her heart had found a home in studying God’s Word through BSF. Through the years, she has served in various roles in the organization, from leading in a local class to celebrating God’s work in His people around the world. Debbie and her husband Larry have three grown children and six grandchildren. 

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166 Comments

  1. Thanks Debbie, your blog relates to me.

    I have understood in a new way what Obadiah 1:12 means; that I should not gloat over my brother in the day of his misfortune, nor rejoice over the people of Judah in their day of destruction, nor boast so much in the day of their trouble.

    It has opened by a new way to be my sister’s/brother’s keeper.

    Reply
    • Mercy – may God use you as an instrument of His grace.

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  2. Hi Debbie thanks so much for being A mouth piece for our LORD I realized that I dont want to decieve myself and Im praying the HOLy SPIRIT to get to the bottom of my sin and that ilearn true repentance !

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    • A battle worth fighting – on our knees and in dependence upon the Lord!

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    • God bless you, Roxana!

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  3. That repentance is a gift from God and act of worship – this is so so amazing.
    Thank you Debbie.

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  4. I have found that daily confession and repentance is ongoing! The minute you know the sin it’s best to confess and ask for forgiveness! Thank you for your article! It just reaffirms what I know to be true!

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  5. Debbie, thank you. I sincerely appreciate your insight to this passage and study. I never really thought about repentance as an act of worship! Thank you for opening my heart and spiritual eyes to see the truth! Blessings love 🙂

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  6. I just clicked on this blog to see what it was about. I appreciate your willingness to share. I enjoy the BSF format.

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  7. Blessed, helped, encouraged by these reflections. Thank you Debbie for being God’s mouthpiece.

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  8. I also have been on a 40 year journey with Jesus as my Savior. At first I rebelled when the Holy Spirit revealed one of my sins. I thought, well that’s not as bad as…….
    It took years to understand the freedom of conviction that comes with true repentance and surrender to the Holy Spirit’s leading. I am thankful for the last 12 years of attending BSF for a deeper understanding of my sanctification. Now I welcome conviction, even when it hurts.

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    • JoAnne – it is so easy to justify our sin as an inherent weakness or personality flaw. There is so much more under what I do habitually and intentionally. God is faithful to move us forward!

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  9. Thank you for sharing. Our Jesus and The Word matters greatly. The ministry of Bible Study Fellowship truly changed my life by teaching me how to truly open my eyes, my heart, and my mind to surrender my all to our Jesus through the love and reverence of His wondrous Word.

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  10. Thank you for your testimony sister in Christ!
    I’m grateful for BSF!

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  11. Thank you Debbie, loved loved your insight to repentance.
    It is so simple, yet like you said it seems like a duty instead
    of the expection of freedom & transformation. I am going to
    share this with our class. Thank you for your honesty that
    will help me & others.

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    • Simple in concept, though living it takes commitment. Thanks for your encouragement!

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  12. Thank you Debbie for your BLOG, hit the mark with me. This study of Joel and Obadiah showed me the root of my sins, those sins that keep coming back. I also wondered why, if I know what I am doing wrong does it keep happening over and over again. Through this study, I realized God does reveal my sins little by little, and the Holy Spirit takes my hand and we take baby steps to receive release from the holds of those sins and root of those sins. And I can lean into the growth our Father intends for me. Thank you and God’s blessings on you and other BSF staff for your hearts and love for others to know our Lord and Savior.

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    • I join you in gratitude for God’s persistent kindness to work on me. He doesn’t let go!

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  13. Thank you for reminding us that no matter how long we have been Christians, no matter how dedicated our walk, we still need to acknowledge our sin patterns, confess them, and repent of them to receive times of refreshing as well as growth in both character and relationship with our Lord.

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  14. What I am experiencing this very moment. Thanks for a way to freedom .

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  15. I can relate to your revelation of pride and the need to “try” to be perfect. It’s mind boggling to believe that God loves me as I am, I feel so unworthy of his love. I pray he helps me to let go of the doubt and trust him implicitly. Thank you!

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  16. Thanks for the encouragement. I am also guilty of self perfectionism evaluation of myself. Your sharing richly blessed me to rend my heart, not my garment to the Lord.

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  17. I love that thought, that repentace is an act of worship! It is so much easier to “rend your garments”, than to expose my heart motives to God’s cleansing and healing touch.

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  18. Very relevant to the study and new year.

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  19. Thank you for all the insight in which I have gain since I have been studying with BSF. My knowledge of the bible is not in any way where I wish to be, but my continuous study will get me there. I love the study and all the help that I get. I wish I had found BSF sooner…

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  20. Thank you for this helpful blog post. I also struggle with perfectionism and pride. I am on a lifelong learning curve to trust in God’s transforming grace instead of my own self effort to overcome sin, Satan, the world and my own old sin nature. How I rejoice in my New Nature and my Justification in Christ’s finished work on the cross alone!!

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  21. Beautiful writing. “Return to me” was exactly the call from God for me in 2019. After spending 30+ yrs in the Electronics Industry with all my heart, mind and soul, all of a sudden, my career was over in a certain circumstance at the peak of my career as a VP of a company. Though it was really unpleasant experience, I experienced His gentle healing and calling. Now I view all the accomplishments including 40+ patents globally hanging on the wall of my office, as rubbish. I realized there is a true LIFE outside the workforce. Nothing can satisfy me but my dear Lord, Christ Jesus. This triune God is AWEsome. His thought and His Way are beyond I can fathom.

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  22. I have moved from Calgary to a smaller town. I would like to re- connect with BSF.How can I do this?
    Norma Larsen

    Reply
    • Hi Norma! We would love to have you back in BSF. You can find a group near you at https://join.bsfinternational.org/. If there is no group near you, you may also search for a BSF online group! Thank you for reaching out.

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  23. Thank you for sharing your story Debbie. I appreciate your honesty. I too suffer from perfectionism and pride. It’s refreshing to know there are others out there who can share my pain. I do take comfort in knowing that God is stripping me of all the ugly character defects which I have allowed to govern my life for far too long, so He can build me up to be the servant He needs me to be for His kingdom. Praise Jesus!

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  24. 💜✝️💜✝️💜✝️

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  25. Thanks Debbie! Repentance is definitely a gift from the Lord. Acts 3:19-20 says it well, “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.”

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  26. Recently, I was given this verse by a friend that resonated with me and brought conviction.
    “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
    ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭139‬:‭23‬-‭24‬ ‭NIV‬‬

    It revealed anxious thoughts are an offense to God. Anxious thought are doubts, misplaced trusts. I have been battling with this much of life. This year’s study opened my eyes that God never gives up on His people. He will not relent from pursuing and revealing those hidden sins that hides itself in the crevices of our heart. He is a loving, compassionate God slow to anger but will not leave us where we are. He has given us the Holy Spirit to will and obey. And so, I will pursue His Holiness as He pursues me. To God be the Glory!

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  27. Thank you so much for opening your struggles with us.
    Thank you for pointing out that Jesus grace and love is there for me.

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  28. “Repentance” is the word the Lord laid on my heart for the Advent season for myself, my local church and His global Church! Yes, God loves us so much He wounds in order to heal.

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    • I needed to read this. God’s perfect timing and the Holy Spirit working through your words. Than you.

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    • .My battle with sin continues. I long for the day pride and performance no longer motivates …..
      Classifying sin has always been a problem. Big sins e.g Sexual immorality, murder stealing etc.
      But the realization that sin is sin drives me to repent what is considered “not too bad”

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  29. God’s timing is so perfect and his guidance so loving. I was praying earlier today. An outward sin I have confessed and turned and repented from keeps haunting my thoughts. I have laid the action down before God, and it’s not guilt that is bringing this sin forward. It’s not the enemy either, it’s the Holy Spirit. I asked God can you show me? And minutes later I see this article! and he has, the specific sin needs confession to a person and as I “render” the Spirit showed me my sin root was lack of trust in God. Fear and need for control caused me to do what I did. What a wonderful conversation to have with God! He is intricate and has intimate knowledge of me, he can and does lead me specifically. The specifics in this circumstance may have more to unravel. When I confessed my unbelief, the Spirit of God finished my prayer in my mind “help me with my unbelief” I believe the LORD delights to help his children with their unbelief. His Spirit and His word confirm this to me. Thank you for the nudge to rend and let the LORD lead me to full repentance! I want my faith in God to grow and He does too!

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    • Debbie’s insightful words and your experience Emily was mine too! Proving my worthiness of forgiveness when they are not actually holding any debts against me. A lie I have believed and a root of sin of unbelief that Jesus could/ did forgive. This is a revelation. The truth is now sinking from my head into my heart. I have His approval the same as the one we give to the ‘little ones’ we love no matter what they’ve done – as a child whose face is cupped in His hands, an image shared in BSF LM yesterday.

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      • Praise God!

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  30. Thankyou for this wonderful reminder of renting instead of just being sorry. I find myself stuck in the “I’m sorry”, instead of moving forward, to renting my heart and chande me to conform to His will, not mine.🤓🙏

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  31. Thank you , Debbie. You hit the nail on the head! I can identify with the sin of pride and the trail it leaves with control issues, worry, etc.
    I’m also amazed and comforted that God loves me/us so much that he uses the Holy Spirit to convict and and nudge or push me to identify this sin and to repent, again!
    Evidence that the Holy Spirit is alive and active, God’s grace abounds!

    Reply
    • Lori,

      I love that you said God “nudges” us. Sometimes He has to push, but He is persistent in His pursuit of our spiritual health. I am so glad!

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  32. I too am a perfectionist. This article was very helpful!

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  33. Thank You Debbie . I am so thankful God showed me in very gentle , but unmistakable ways how my life ling perfectionism, that I Christianized , ” for the sake of Gods Kingdom” when I became a Christian at age 29 was a sin and I was able to understand that lie of the evil one and repent.after many years sadly not knowing I was sinning against God in my efforts to reflect Him. Like you , it has periodically crept back into my life with its condemnation of self and others and
    misguided motivations with the need
    to repent in new ways . I am thankful for Gods perseverance in not leaving me to myself and giving me opportunities to repent & the wisdom & strength to do so when needed.

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    • The battle is real. Come Lord Jesus!

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  34. This is amazing! About to lead my BSF group this morning, and puzzled about the truth for me, for us, in Joel. And here it is, tied with a bow!

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  35. I’m so grateful for repentance. Thank you for this reminder and sharing your blog. Looking forward to reading more from the BSF blog.

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    • Amen, Amen, Amen… Joel 2:13 is a standout verse in this year’s study (so far). What an awesome privilege to read your exposition on it — and to be reminded that God actively works in our circumstances to draw us closer to His holiness! Thank you, Debbie!

      Reply

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