By Pastor Ian Thomas
David composes Psalm 51 after the prophet Nathan confronts him over his sin with Bathsheba that led to the eventual murder of her husband, Uriah (read 2 Samuel 11 & 12 for the full context & backstory). As I was studying & preparing to preach this text on Sunday, I was convicted over the lack of true repentance in my own life. Repentance is more than merely confessing our sin (though this is important); repentance literally means a “change of mind” or direction. Repentance means we are seeking to put to death the sin that remains in us as we pursue a greater worship of Jesus in response to the grace shown to us in the gospel. Repentance means turning away from this sin & turning to Christ, as we are being transformed from one degree of glory to another into his image (2 Cor. 3:18).
So how do we truly repent of the sin in our lives as we operate out of the grace shown to us in the gospel? Psalm 51 instructs us on what this looks like. First of all, in vv. 3-4 David takes full ownership and responsibility over his sin. Notice the personal pronouns as he confesses & owns his sin before God: “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.”
Rather than following in David’s example here in taking full ownership, we are prone to other responses such as:
- Hiding. (We don’t let anyone see our sin; we cover it up & keep it all in the dark.)
- Minimizing. (We say things like, “It’s no big deal.” “I’ll get this turned around…this was just a one-time thing.” “I was just joking around.”)
- Rationalizing. (We add a “but” after our confession of sin. “Everyone else was doing it… I was really tired… I am really hurt.” Etc. )
- Comparing. (We compare our sin to others around us, trying to find someone “worse” than us in our minds to feel better about our own sin.)
Each of these responses fails to recognize the severity of the sin in our lives. As John Owen warns us in his work The Mortification of Sin: “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” Hiding, minimizing, rationalizing, and comparing fails to “kill” the sin in our lives.
We must fight against these false tendencies by following the example of David in verse 4, as he cries out to God: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what was evil in your sight…” One of the marks of true repentance is recognizing that our sin is first and foremost against God. This is what actually makes something sin. In his wrongdoing, David sinned against a number of people, and even against the nation of Israel as her king. However, repentance for David began by identifying how he specifically grieved God in his rebellion. By the end of this psalm, repenting of his sin vertically (towards God) propelled him horizontally outward to seek reconciliation and restoration in the lives of those he harmed.
Because we worship a God of “steadfast love” and abundant mercy,” (51:1) may we be quick to put down our defenses & own our sin before God, repenting specifically of how we have grieved our loving Creator. May we be a people who truly repent of our sin and experience again the endless mercies of God! After all, it is the kindness of God towards us in Jesus (Romans 2:4) that leads us to repentance. Let’s turn away from sin today and run to our merciful Savior.