So again, lets start with the online, official dictionary definitions.
1. remorse for your past conduct.
Okay, so what the heck is remorse?
1. moral anguish arising from repentance for past misdeeds; bitter/sorrowful
regret for past action.
The way I would sum those two up would be to say, "feeling very sorry for what you have done, so much so that you don't ever want to do it again."
So when I have a truly repentant heart, then it means I am so sad for hurting the Lord's heart by not keeping His law/commandments, that I never want to break that rule again. Inevitably we do break the rules again, even the same rules, over and over again. Ugh.
Yet when we sincerely and genuinely repent over and over again, He keeps forgiving it over and over again.
Let's break down sincerely and genuinely.
1. Not feigned
2. Being without hypocrisy (duplicity/deceitfulness)
1. Truly; actually possessing the alleged quality or apparent attribute or
2. Not counterfeit; but authentic
Okay, so what does all this word defining mean? It means when we repent for something we do wrong, we have to really be sorry. We can't just be sorry we got caught doing the wrong things, we have to never want to do them again and we have to mean every word we say.
So how do we know when someone truly repents?
Well, 'we' don't, but the Lord does and the person who is doing the repenting does. It may take years for their actions to match up with their words of repentance, especially in an area of addiction or bondage to a certain sin, but if they really mean what they say (and the Lord sees their hearts), then in time the fruit of their hearts will show up in their actions.
So where does mercy play into this?
My favorite Bible example of the way true repentance and mercy play together on center stage is the prodigal son. The son went off, made bad choices, did things that were unlawful for good Jewish boys to do and found himself in the depths of despair caused by his own misdeeds.
Then he came to his senses, decided to go home and ask to work in his father's houses as a servant, knowing he did not deserve to be a son any longer because of his actions, but perhaps he could earn his keep and survive a bit longer.
What does his father do though? If you have never heard the whole story, go read it: Luke 15: 11-32.
He runs to the son and hugs and kisses him. The son tries to say his piece about being just a servant, but the father ignores his words and throws a lavish party for the return of his son. He is given his sonship back in a heartbeat. Wow!
That is mercy!
Even in my own weak mind I would hope I could be so merciful, but maybe not all at once like that. I would maybe welcome the son back and say, "hey, I love you son," but then I would probably give it like a trial run or something. To make sure he was actually going to stick around this time. I wouldn't throw a lavish party right away. I might wait a week or two to make sure his words of regret were genuine. See if he really earned his keep around the farm. The Father doesn't do that.
He has the ability to see the heart of his son, even from a long way off and runs to him, seeing the true repentance like only the Father God can and restores fully all the love, joy and emotions of sonship back on this son in lavish proportions.
It isn't fair. Super not fair. Instead it is mercy.
The son gets what he doesn't deserve, but the Father is generous because He sees the heart and sees the true repentance.
That is how God relates to us. When we truly repent for something, God sees it and our son/daughter-ship is immediately restored, no matter how long we have been in rebellion or compromise.
Let's be real for a moment though. That son probably came back with some bad habits from his time away. He might have had a drinking problem, maybe had crude speech, no work ethic, poor manners, etc. Those weren't cured overnight just because he was back in his father's house. His heart is what was changed, and that is all it takes for the Father God to welcome us back into His house.
He sees our hearts.
When our hearts are for God, He is fully for us. Even when we are still weak and immature in that love, and when our actions don't match our hearts, He is still for us. It is His mercy toward us, we don't earn it, and we never can.
There is so much more I could say about this.....it is such a beautiful subject to me. Repentance and mercy.
With repentance there is overwhelming mercy available to us. We are restored to full son/daughter-ship as soon as we repent, nothing is withheld. No probationary period. No outward documentation required. Just mercy.
The reality: God longs to show us mercy, He longs for us to repent so He can show us mercy. The lie of the enemy is that we do not deserve mercy nor will we receive it, but God is watching on the horizon for a chance to show us each the lavishness of His mercy.
Free will comes in though, because He will not force us to repent. He did not chase down the lost son and manipulate him into repentance. So until we return to Him in repentance, He can not show us the full extent of His mercy.
Gonna end this one with a song that I love - called what else but "the Prodigal" by Pas Neos. Beautiful, says it all. Enjoy.