When he came to his senses, he said, “How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!” Luke 15:15
The younger son’s motivation for going home was hunger, not repentance. The woman at the well didn’t come for forgiveness she came for water and the woman caught in adultery didn’t even come to Jesus voluntarily. However, Jesus (and therefore, God) accepted them and showed them love before they even thought about repenting.
It seems that God is pleased when we just show up before we actually do anything. He’s so keen to shower us with his love that he doesn’t wait for our rehearsed lists of sins and perhaps with good reason. True repentance happens when we realise the extent to which our sins have hurt the one we love and the realisation that we never want to hurt them again. It wasn’t until after the people were “cut to the heart” that Peter said, “repent” (Acts 2:38). It’s not until we have encountered the love of God in the depths of our heart that we can truly love him in return and then we want to live differently.
How do we encounter God’s love? By allowing God to pour his love into our hearts (Romans 5:3). Graham Kendrick and others wrote a song called, O Lord Your Tenderness. It encourages us to receive God’s love and allow his love to change us from the inside, out.
When we become recipients of the love which God has poured into our hearts we respond by leaving behind our past life with all its sin and we are changed, not by the threat of punishment, but by an overwhelming sense of gratitude.