03 April 2017


Last summer, I taught my teenage students through concepts, postures, attitudes, and elements of worship found in the Psalms.  We spent one week in particular looking at repentance in Psalm 51, the passage containing David's humble words of contrition, penned after Nathan the prophet confronted him with his sin of adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah.  Recently, in our church family's read-through-the-Bible plan, we covered the pages of 2 Samuel, which brought the conversation to mind once again.

It's an age-old refrain, but the gospel truth is timeless on this issue: if David, a "man after God's own heart," could still be loved by God and considered an esteemed servant even after such an egregious descent into sin, then there is tremendous hope for the rest of us.

So here are my take-aways from studying 2 Samuel 11-12 and Psalm 51.  Entire books could be written about each of these bullet points, so I'll attempt to be brief with each.

True repentance isn't just an "I'm sorry;" it involves a genuine appeal for mercy (51.1).  In order to properly repent of wrongdoing, I must acknowledge that I am weak (at fault), and that God is strong (in the right).  I have been morally compromised, but He remains holy.  In other words, I recognize that I am a sinner who should never assume I deserve coddling from a holy God when what I really deserve is eternal damnation.  What I am saying through the repentance process is, “Father, I am a wicked sinner, and I am so thankful that, because of the blood of Jesus, you have not given me what I truly deserve.”  Grace upon grace, such as God liberally gives, demands my humble and contrite repentance after I've fallen into sin.

True repentance involves an accurate understanding of my sin (51.3-4) -- that is, acknowledging whom it is against and whom it affects (2 Sam 11 ~ David’s attempts to hide his sin).  All sin is ultimately against God Himself: in doing wrong, I violate my relationship with God either by harming others or by committing some act of idolatry.  This doesn't mean I can deny my culpability toward other people, but it does demand that I recognize all sin as being ultimately against God at the most fundamental level.  Most people probably tend to assume they are on “good terms” with God because they think of their sin being principally against other people, or simply because they just don't think their sin is that big a deal.

Accurately understanding my sin also means I must acknowledge that I can’t fix my problem on my own (51.2) -- whether by penance, practical behavior changes, or self-flagellation.  Attempting to do so is simply a legalistic attempt to atone for my own wrongdoing.  Rather, acknowledging that my sin is a violation of God's moral law and a direct offense to His holy character, I should confess it to Him as such and trust anew in the blood of Jesus that has made me new and permanently righteous in God's eyes.

True repentance involves an understanding that God loves me deeply, and that it is through this compassion that He disciplines (51.1).  "How can this be?" cries a generation that equates love with tolerance -- overlooking another's flaws without changing them, citing a self-deceiving rhetoric that assumes love should refuse to acknowledge all failure and all shortcoming in the name of acceptance.

God's love is so much greater than such shallow concepts.

Truth #1: God loves me unconditionally (51.1, 7, 9-11, 14).  That means He does love me despite my failures, extending grace to me through His Son's own death on the cross, because I could never fix my wrongdoing to live up to the standard of holiness.  However, (Truth #2), God also loves me enough to change me (51.8, 10).  True, biblical love wants the best for others -- it does love despite failures (unconditionally), but it also seeks to build and correct (not to ignore).  Absolutely we should love others for who they are, despite their flaws, but we should also love them enough to respectfully confront them when they are engaged in sinful, destructive patterns of living.

True repentance involves a change in heart attitude.  Not just after things get better, but as I recognize my errors and begin to walk through the process of repentance.  That means I should accept the Lord's discipline with gratitude (51.8), because it is intended to produce a change.  This is not masochistic.  This is a deep and desperate desire to put sin to death and live in the way God intends.  When things around me are crumbling -- relationships, job opportunities, physical possessions -- instead of falling into panic and trying to fix everything, perhaps I should recognize that maybe God is attempting to bring my attention to some unconfessed sin in my heart.  What He is allowing to happen in my life is either a test of my faith or a test of my spiritual sensitivity toward my own sin.  Although I cannot damage my eternal security, to live with unconfessed, unrepentant sin in my heart is to quench and deny the Spirit at work within me.  God is willing to break me so that I don't remain in such a cold, disconnected state.

Therefore, repentance also means that my joy in having a right-standing relationship with God is restored (51.12).

Repentance involves transparently instructing others so they don’t make the same mistakes I did (51.13).  Because repentance results in my return to proper worship (51.16-19), I believe Christians are called to exhort one another out of our own experience of failure -- for the sake of conviction and encouragement.  In other words, God didn't allow me to walk through sin and failure just to hedge my own soul against repeating those mistakes; I now have an enormous opportunity (I'd argue responsibility) to address these issues in the lives of others.  When we see in others the same telltale signs of temptation and failure that we ourselves experienced, we should be bold and transparent for the sake of steering that follower of Christ away from the pitfalls we know are yawning hungrily in his or her path.  This, of course, requires us to be intentionally attuned to the lives of others within our spheres of influence, to develop compassionate attitudes toward them, and to practice humility in the endeavor.

To conclude, repentance doesn’t much feel like a posture of worship, simply because I'm content with my life the way it is.  In other words, it's far easier to live like my sin is not a big deal.  Dragging my errors out into the light and addressing them is uncomfortable, and the old sin nature I still battle doesn't like it.  Furthermore, when I honestly evaluate my heart against the truths of Scripture, I’m never as good as I thought I was.  I don't like to be confronted with how much work I still have to do -- especially if I don't make it a regular habit to reflect on what God is currently doing in my heart.

Repentance IS a posture of worship, however, because God is glorified by my brokenness over sin (51.17) and by my ongoing struggle against it (Lam 3.22-23).

By way of encouragement, it's important to remember that experiencing temptation and giving into sin are two different things: Jesus experienced more temptation than anyone, but He did not sin (Heb 4.15).  In other words, to feel temptation and to say "no" is to glorify God.  Even if we feel guilty because our hearts still desire to sin, we are still walking in righteousness when we consciously deny sinful desires and work to replace them with holy desires.  Not every experience of worship is a mountaintop celebration: confessing the sinful tendencies we still possess and working to conform them to the image of Christ is worship in the trenches, and it exalts the name of our Savior.

You and I still have work to do, so let's be about our Father's business.