I don't believe it is possible for a person to be regenerated until the Holy Spirit has convicted that person of sin. Man can't be moral on his own. Given a choice, we will always choose the sinful way. I thought I was a moral person, but it wasn't until the moral person died that the Spirit of God could come to work in me. I love what William James said: "The death of a moral man is his spiritual birthday.". . .
The conviction of sin by the Holy Spirit is the beginning. Without it, we cannot understand our need for God, and we cannot understand God's grace. We must not ever leave that out of our preaching, teaching, or understanding of Christianity. To omit it is to trivialize the work of Christ on the cross.
. . . If I were asked today to name the one doctrine of the Christian faith being preached about the least, I would have to say repentance. Repentance means change, and we don't want to threaten people with the need for change.
Repentance is commonly though of as breast-beating, but it is not that at all. The Greek word used in the New Testament means simply "change of mind." When you come to God, you have a change of mind, from exalting Christ. Repentance means turning from man's ways to embrace God's ways. It means a desire to be different, to belong to Christ and to live as he commands us to live. Repentance, then, is the longing to turn away from the old self and to live a new life in Christ.
In my own life, repentance meant that I wanted to be forgiven of what I'd done in the past and not continue doing those things, but rather be lead by the Spirit to the kinds of things that God wants from my life. There is a certain sorrow that goes with repentance, a sorrow over your sins, a desire to restore where you have done harm in the past. One thing I did was apologize to some people I had hurt in politics. I went to them to seek their forgiveness because I realized that God had forgiven me and I should seek to restore my relationship with people I had injured. Some of them remained cynical about me. They had been political enemies, and they thought my seeking forgiveness was some sort of ploy. Some did not understand it. Others were deeply affected by it. And some people had trouble accepting my repentance. They would say, "Sure I forgive you,' but they were very uncomfortable because it convicted them as well.
A prime case of repentance leads to restoration is the well-know case of Cathleen Webb, who falsely accused Gary Dotson of raping her. When she came under the conviction of sin--six years later -- she realized that she had to recant her story and tell the truth. You can just imagine the pain that was involved for that young girl coming forward with the truth. I met with her, and I know that her decision was a moving of the Holy Spirit. She was left with no choice but to confess.
That's what happens when the conviction of sin leads to repentance. The yearning for God's cleansing is so strong that we cannot find peace until we have accepted that "change of mind" and being to walk in the new life with the Lord. (From What it means to Repent" by Charles Colson in Practical Christianity)
READ 2 Chronicles 21:4-24:17
SITUATION Under the guidance of Jehoida the priest, Josah restored worship in the Temple and destroyed the altars of Baal. When Jehoiada died, Josah turned his back on God and felt God's punishment.
OBSERVATION Surrounded by company that honored God, Joash made God-honoring decisions. When his counselor died, he failed to replace this voice in his life. When Joash sinned, God gave him many chances to repent.
APPLICATION What would be the hardest part of true repentance for you? What would be the most liberating part? Seek help from Christian friends who will pray with you through the process.
EXPLORATION Repentance -- 1 Kings 21:29; 1 Chronicles 21:8; Ezra 10:2-4,11; Psalm 80:3,7, 19; Matthew 3:1-6; Luke 3:8-9; 19:1-10; Acts 3:19; 2 Corinthians 7:10.
The Devotional Bible - Experiencing the Heart of Jesus, Max Lucado General Editor New Century Version, Thomas Nelson Publishers