People can change. But two things are always true when it comes to change; 1. Change is difficult and 2. Not many people are willing to do what is necessary to change. The Greek word for repentance is metanoia. Metanoia literally means to turn around, to “pull a 180” and change to face the other direction. Metanoia is a change of mind, a return to right relationship with God.
Repentance is not to be confused with remorse. Remorse is feeling sorry for having done a wrong. While remorse might lead one to make a good confession it is not the same thing. Confession is an invitation to a new life. Christianity asserts that our past can be redeemed and that we can live a new life. Human beings can change even when it seems impossible. For what is impossible for man is possible for God. Jesus surely thought that humans can change. It was He who said, “Go and sin no more.” He must have known this kind of change is possible. And people all around Him were changing. (Think of Zacchaeus as one quick example of change. A tax collector is changed if he is able to give away 1/2 of what he had and promise a 4 fold return to anyone he might have stolen from!) Repentance is the gas that helps us make a pure and holy confession and humble ourselves and change. Confession helps us to become partakers of His divine nature.
Confession reconciles us and reintegrates us into the Body of Christ, which is damaged when we sin. There is no private sin. This is how the Elder Zossimos (in the Brothers Karamazov) can claim that his sin has darkened the whole world. “For if one member suffers all suffer together” (1 Corinthians 12:26). “Therefore confess your sins to one another… that you may be healed” (James 5:16). The priest in the Orthodox Church prays Psalm 50/51 at every liturgy expressing our search for true repentance / true freedom.
The Desert Fathers and the entire stream of Orthodoxy agree that it is always time to repent. The devil, who’s name means to “tear asunder,” whispers that we can take our rest, or that we are not as bad as others, or we are not as bad as we used to be, or it will never happen again, or if I confess it something worse could happen, or we are so bad that we should not confess, or that the priest can’t handle it, or that the priest will tell others, or that the confessor is a impious drunkard who wears short sleeve shirts in summer. The list goes on and on. We need to overcome any and all obstacles and make a pure and holy confession!