Repentance is a word that has picked up baggage over the centuries and today many Christians use the word without ever asking whether they even know what it means. The common idea of repentance today actually has its root in Roman Catholic penance rather than in the New Testament. Penance is the idea that one must show God they are sufficiently sorry for their sins by confessing, feeling remorse, making restitution and doing good deeds in order to enable God to forgive them. People have always naturally felt the need for penance because we have such a difficult time believing that God can forgive and accept us freely as ungodly people through Christ alone. We think we must, to some measure, make ourselves acceptable to God. This idea of penance is simply another branch of works-based righteousness that opposes the only true righteousness - the righteousness of God that comes to us by faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:21-24).
The Bible teaches us that God justifies the ungodly through faith in Christ. "Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted unto righteousness." (Rom. 4:4-5) It is the man who does not work, but rather believes that God will justify him through Christ in his presently unacceptable state, who is justified. This is because it is not on account of our own worthiness but on account of the death of Jesus Christ that God is enabled to justify sinners. We place our trust in Christ alone and not in ourselves for our justification. As long as someone is trying to work (which means anything, including remorse, restitution, etc.) to enable God to forgive them, they are not trusting that what Jesus Christ did for them on the cross is enough to enable God to forgive them.
The Bible also show us how thousands were saved simply by believing the message of this gospel of the grace of Christ (ex. Acts 4:4, 13:43). There isn't always great sorrow for sin that accompanies their faith. For some people, believing in Christ can be a deeply emotional experience, but for others it is not, nor is it ever said that it has to be. Remorse and restitution for sin are not bad things, but they are no grounds for justification, and they become bad things when men seek to be justified by them. It is simple faith in what Jesus has done that justifies, and God is completely enabled to legally justify any ungodly person who trusts in Christ because Jesus died on the cross for that person's sins. This is the point of Romans 3:26: "That God might be just, and the justifier of him who believes in Jesus." According to this verse and many others like it, if you believe in Jesus then God is just in justifying you. If you think you have to first contribute a measure of righteousness or offer some token of sincerity or emotion before God can be enabled to forgive, then you are placing the enabling of God to be just in forgiving on yourself rather than on Christ. Christ's death has done it all! He alone has accomplished that which was necessary in order for God to forgive all who believe! Do you believe this? Do you believe that what Jesus did is enough? If so, simply trust in what He did for you and the Bible declares you are justified. God cannot lie. It would be absurd to think that a person who is trusting in the sacrifice of Christ would hear from God when he dies: "I'm sorry, I know my Word said that whoever believes would be justified, but you weren't sufficiently worthy. You should not have thought that the sacrifice of my Son was enough. You should not have trusted so fully, so exclusively in Him." That is not only absurd, but God would be a liar, and that can never be since His glory would be lost forever!
The gospel message is the good news of the grace of God. It is the message that God has accomplished something on the behalf of a hopelessly unworthy humanity that enables reconciliation. It is not a message that man must accomplish something for God but that God has accomplished something for man, and now all man must do is believe in what God has done. Believing is not a work nor a worthy deed. It is trusting in the finished work of Jesus Christ on our behalf. It is trusting that what He alone did on the cross reconciles us to God. All the righteousness that we as sinners need is provided for fully by Jesus Christ. "For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Cor. 5:21) Everything God requires is fully provided for in Him. This is the Biblical gospel.
And why did God do this for us? Because He loves us! "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16) God's love for us is not dependent upon our penance nor our tears nor our emotional responses, nor any ounce of worthiness that we might try and offer to Him. "For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom. 5:6-8) God has already demonstrated how much He loves us by sending His Son to die for us in our totally sinful state. God, who knew our past, present and future, chose to do this for us because He loves us. He does not demonstrate His love for us by forgiving us of our sins after we are sufficiently penitent. He has already demonstrated His love for us even before we knew Him at all. God's love is not something that we are trying to obtain, but something we discover has been there for us all along. Forgiveness is not something we must earn, but something we receive from the God who is already willing to forgive. Christianity is not about trying to convince God of our worthiness so that He will forgive us, but about believing the good news that God is forgiving toward us because of Christ Jesus, though we are unworthy. By faith we simply receive the forgiveness of sins that is being offered to us through Christ. That's what the gospel is all about! "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." (1 John 4:10)
And that is all that repentance is. It is changing your mind. It is changing your mind from thinking that you must try to establish your own righteousness in whatever degree or form before God, to believing the good news that God is gracious towards sinners through His Son, Jesus Christ.
If the Holy Spirit causes what I have shared with you to resonate in your heart, then just believe the good news with simple faith. You don't need to work up an emotional experience. If that comes, great. If it doesn't, that is great too, because the power of salvation is in the finished work of Jesus Christ and not in our fluctuating, ongoing experiences. May you see that Jesus Christ alone is all that you need.
Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.