By Rosie Moore.
As a born and bred sinner, I know that my natural inclination is always to please myself rather than God. I’ve realised that my sin hurts myself and others, but ultimately it offends God, because it is rebellion against His way of living. But as much as I know these things in my head, my heart is still discovering that sin is like an onion that must be peeled away layer by layer, over many years. The Holy Spirit does the peeling, but I need to do the repenting.
Streams of mercy.
Whenever we peel an onion, we cry. Paradoxically, the tears of repentance are like a stream of mercy that cleanses our soul. Like the sinful woman who stood at Christ’s feet, weeping, we go in peace when we have repented of our sins (Luke 7:38; 48; 50). Great joy and blessing follow in the wake of repentance.
Blessed is the one
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
And so, understanding what repentance means is essential to true Christianity and saving faith in Christ. Repentance was the crux of the first sermon in Church history and it is the only way that we will be added to God’s kingdom, as were the three thousand congregants who accepted Peter’s message (Acts 2:38-41). They were cut to the heart by the Holy Spirit and wept for their sin. That is the reason why they turned to Christ for forgiveness.
Today we will be looking at King David’s confession in the light of Thomas Watson’s six essential ingredients of repentance:
- Sight of sin.
- Sorrow for sin.
- Confession of sin.
- Shame for sin.
- Hatred for sin.
- Turning from sin.
All six ingredients are evident in King David’s prayer of confession after he had committed adultery with Bathsheba and conspired to murder her husband, Uriah. Psalm 51 gives us a useful model to follow in our own repentance.
1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.
5 Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
6 Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
so that sinners will turn back to you.
14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
you who are God my Savior,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 Open my lips, Lord,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise (Psalm 51)
Moment of clarity.
In this Psalm of confession, David has seen his sinful heart for what it is (Ps 51:3-5). The scales have fallen from his eyes. He is no longer blind, desensitized or under any illusions as to the evil he has done. He doesn’t use euphemistic language like ‘weakness’, ‘passion’, ‘indiscretion’ or ‘mistake’ to describe his actions.
Moreover, David no longer passes the buck or glamorizes the affair. He doesn’t argue that the culture permitted a king to sleep with any woman or that Uriah the Hittite was somehow killed in a tragic war.
Instead, he offers God his “broken and contrite heart” (Ps 51:17). The word ‘contrite’ is an old-fashioned but pregnant word that means sorrowful, penitent, conscience-stricken, mortified, chastened, humbled and ashamed. True confession doesn’t minimize sin or plead extenuating circumstances.
David uses graphic words like ‘iniquity’, ‘transgressions’ ‘guilt’, ‘bloodshed’, ‘evil’ and ‘sins’ to describe the wicked things he has done. His choice of unequivocal language shows that he hates his sin and knows that even he, a powerful king, is accountable to his Creator. He has no excuse.
But David didn’t always have sight of his sin. Prior to writing Psalm 51, he lived for many months, perhaps years, totally blinded to his sin, thinking that God was blind too (2 Sam 11:1-27). But this chapter concludes with God’s verdict:
“When the mourning was over, David sent and brought Bathsheba to his household, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing which David had done was evil in the eyes of Yahweh” (2 Samuel 11:27).
There is no doubt as to what Yahweh thought of David’s behaviour, but the truth only dawned on David when Nathan the prophet confronted him with a parable. As the prophet peeled back layer after layer of David’s deceitful heart, the penny finally dropped.
Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:7)
You are the man!
David was cut to the heart by Nathan’s words. Exposure is a great gift when prompted by the Holy Spirit, whom God sends to convict us of sin, of righteousness and judgement (John 16:8-15). It is nothing like the false accusations and false shame of Satan.
When David’s eyes were opened, he saw his deep ingratitude to God who had blessed him and installed him as king (2 Sam 12:7-8). He saw that he had despised the Lord’s word, murdered Uriah the Hittite and stolen his precious wife (2 Sam 12:9). He had believed that what he did in the dark was invisible and that the rules didn’t apply to him as king.
There was no euphemistic spin for the evil that David had done. There was no neutral, non- judgmental way to admit his sin. There was no way to suppress the truth. David realized that there was no place to hide when he heard God say to him:
“You did it in secret, but I will do this very thing in broad daylight before all Israel.”
“Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Sam 12:12-13).
I have sinned against the Lord.
David’s simple admission of guilt was like the great moment noted in the prodigal son’s repentance: “He came to himself… Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (Luke 15:17; 21).
David’s confession was voluntary, sincere and went to the heart of the problem, which is the human heart (Ps 51:5). David accused himself and justified God (Ps 51:4). When he compared his own faithlessness to the compassion and unfailing love of God, it only heightened his sorrow and awareness of sin (Ps 51:1). He saw a true picture of himself beside the one true and faithful God.
David’s repentance was far deeper than mere remorse for the messy consequences of his sins, which Nathan laid out for him (2 Sam 12:11-12.) He realized that he had offended a holy and just God who had lovingly cared for him from the womb and taught him what was right (Ps 51:4, 6).
There was no doubt in David’s mind that he deserved to be judged and cast out from God’s presence (Ps 51:4, 11). He knew that there was no sacrifice or bribe that he could offer to buy atonement for his sins (Ps 51:16).
It was a terrifying, shameful, sorrowful moment of clarity for David. All he could offer the Lord was a “broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart” (Ps 51:17). And all he could ask for in return was God’s mercy, compassion, cleansing and deliverance from guilt (Ps 51:1-2; 7; 9; 14). It was a most unequal trade-off, and David knew it.
Five of the six essential ingredients for repentance are well illustrated in Psalm 51. But how do we know that David turned away from his sins? Psalm 51:10-13 gives us a hint of this final trademark of repentance.
Create in me a pure heart.
David knew that he needed God’s Holy Spirit to create in him a pure heart and willing spirit to change. Knowing that his heart would always lead him astray, the king pleaded for a steadfast spirit to sustain him in living a holy life. He asked to be able to lead other sinners back to God and teach them His ways.
Isn’t it amazing that a thousand years before the Holy Spirit convicted a congregation of three thousand on the day of Pentecost, David knew that he needed the Holy Spirit to reform him from the inside? (Ps 51:11) He knew that he needed a soft heart on which God’s laws would be engraved and new desires formed (Ezek 36:25-27; Jer 31:33-34).
What a privilege to have the gift of the Holy Spirit to help us obey God’s word and turn from our sin (Gal 5:16)! True sorrow for sin always results in turning from sin, which is so visible that others will see it (Acts 16:33; Eph 5:8).
The joy of forgiveness.
When I was a child, I had an uncle who suffered from chronic kidney disease and lived in constant pain. He didn’t know the Lord, and from my perspective he was a harsh and grumpy man who didn’t like children at all! I asked my mom what I should say in my prayers for him and she said, “Ask the Lord to open uncle Billy’s eyes to see who he is and who God is.”
So that’s exactly what I prayed every day for the next twenty years. The miracle of sight occurred when my uncle was sixty years old. One day, he came to the end of himself and turned to the Lord Jesus in repentance and faith, with my older sister holding his hand.
I always remember this event as the beginning of the most stark change I’ve seen in a human being, because my uncle’s whole demeanour and purpose changed. He became a kind and cheerful man who quite obviously knew the joy of forgiveness. Five years later, Uncle Billy died, a free and blessed man.
If Psalm 51 expresses David’s depths of sorrow over sin, Psalm 32 expresses the height of his joy at being forgiven. There’s nothing worse than unconfessed sin because it drives a wedge between us and God, but there’s nothing more blessed than the cleansing, liberating, healing power of repentance.
Blessed is the one
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
2 Blessed is the one
whose sin the Lord does not count against them
and in whose spirit is no deceit.
3 When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night
your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
as in the heat of summer.
5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave
the guilt of my sin.
Therefore let all the faithful pray to you
while you may be found;
surely the rising of the mighty waters
will not reach them.
7 You are my hiding place;
you will protect me from trouble
and surround me with songs of deliverance.
8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.
9 Do not be like the horse or the mule,
which have no understanding
but must be controlled by bit and bridle
or they will not come to you.
10 Many are the woes of the wicked,
but the Lord’s unfailing love
surrounds the one who trusts in him.
11 Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous;
sing, all you who are upright in heart!