How do I repent over past sins?

By believing the gospel. The gospel tells you that Christ’s death satisfied God’s righteous demands against your sin, and that God raised Him from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:1-3). If Christ died for our sins, that means we are sinners. It means the penalty we deserve for our sin is death (separation from God). Fortunately, it also means that Christ has paid our death penalty. If God raised Christ from the dead, He shows us that He has accepted Christ’s atonement as payment for our sins.
Relying on the atonement Christ made for your sins, constitutes a 180 degree change of mind. Before, you didn’t see yourself or your actions as sinful. Now you agree with God your sins deserve the death penalty. Before, you may have thought you could somehow atone for your own sins. Now you understand that Christ has already rendered the only payment God can justly accept for your sin (Romans 3).
Repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin. 2 Corinthians 7:10 says “godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation”, but that worldly sorrow “brings death” (NIV). It’s important to know that while repenting may include being sorry for your sin, sorrow itself is not necessarily repentance. Repentance means a 180 degree change of mind. As a result of your changed mind, you go the opposite direction. Before, you didn’t see your action as sin. Now you agree it is sin, and you want to go the opposite direction. The single act of relying on Christ’s atonement for your sin, constitutes a 180 degree change of mind about your sin.¹ 
2 Timothy 2:24–26 says that God grants people repentance. It’s not something you can conjure up on your own. It comes through hearing about Christ’s atonement for your sin (Romans 10:17). Paul instructs Timothy not to be quarrelsome, but to be kind, able to teach, and not resentful. He says to instruct his opponents “gently”, in the “hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.”
For someone who believes in Christ’s atonement, however, God’s instruction is that, “If we confess our sin [agree with God it was sin], He is faithful and just to forgive our sin, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9). This is only possible because Christ “is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world...²
1. Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1993), 372.
2. The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 1 Jn 2:2.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

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