For many Christians repentance is connected with weeping and almost pulling out one’s hair. To some extent this is correct, because godly repentance is a result of godly sorrow that in the end leads to life (2. Cor. 7:10).
When David sinned, the cry of his heart was “…take not thy Holy Spirit from me…” (Psalm 51:11). When Saul had sinned, he repented in front of Samuel, but thought more about his position and what others might think of him (1. Sam. 15:24,31).
The result was that we don’t read about David having another affair with any other woman, but we see Saul again and again breaking God’s commandments.
David’s sin was no minor mistake, but when God confronted him, he did not make any excuses nor did he try to save face. When he asked forgiveness, he understood that the most important thing that was on stake there was his relationship with God. So he cried out to God “…against you and you only have I sinned…” (Psalm 51:4)
The sad fact is the most Christians don’t really repent. They just try to convince themselves how bad they really are; and then they try to gather together all the will power they’ve got because they don’t want to go to hell. They strive for holiness out of fear of God and not out of love for God.
I do believe that the fear of God is a good and right attitude to have. But there is a fear of God that makes you run away from God; like Adam and Eve in the garden. And there is a fear of God that makes you run away from sin; like Joseph when Potiphar’s wife wanted to sleep with him. Proverbs 8:13 says that the fear of the Lord is to hate evil - not punishment.
The reason why many Christians are falling into the same sins again and again is because they don’t have the right kind of “fear of God”. They don’t really fear God, what they fear is punishment.
It’s like someone who gets pulled over by the police because they have been driving too fast. When they roll down the window, there is humility and repentance in the air. But this repentance usually doesn’t last so long. But if they ever see a police car, then no matter how slowly they are driving they still slow down, check that their seatbelt is fastened and that the lights are on. What happened? The fear of punishment kicked in.
Developing a relationship with God, so real that it’s almost tangible, is a great way of defeating sinful habits. When you then fall, your fear is not the punishment, but losing the relationship you have developed with God. Sin will also lose its attractiveness because the more God is revealed to you, the more all other pleasures fade away.