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Psalm 51: Repentance vs. Apology

For the choir director: A psalm of David, regarding the time Nathan the prophet came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.

Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins. Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin. For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night. Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight. You will be proved right in what you say, and your judgment against me is just. For I was born a sinner — yes, from the moment my mother conceived me. But you desire honesty from the womb, teaching me wisdom even there.

Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Oh, give me back my joy again; you have broken me — now let me rejoice. Don’t keep looking at my sins. Remove the stain of my guilt. Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me. Do not banish me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you. Then I will teach your ways to rebels, and they will return to you. Forgive me for shedding blood, O God who saves; then I will joyfully sing of your forgiveness. Unseal my lips, O Lord, that my mouth may praise you.

You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one. You do not want a burnt offering. The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God. Look with favor on Zion and help her; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Then you will be pleased with sacrifices offered in the right spirit — with burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings. Then bulls will again be sacrificed on your altar.

~ Psalm 51 (NLT)

I’m in the middle of reading The Five Languages of Apology by Dr. Gary Chapman. It’s an interesting read in some respects. In other respects I think it omits the full impact and importance of repentance. The book suggests that apology is the ultimate communication to restore a relationship. I think that’s misleading and have become increasingly dissatisfied the further I get in the book.

In the jargon of the book, the five “languages” of apology are (1) expressing regret; (2) accepting responsibility; (3) making restitution; (4) genuinely repenting; and (5) requesting forgiveness.

According to the Bible, repentance is the ultimate communication leading to forgiveness and resulting in a restored relationship. Repentance consists of (1) acknowledging your sin; (2) accepting responsibility without defending yourself; (3) understanding the severity and repercussions for what you have done; (4) humbling yourself and requesting forgiveness; (5) knowing that mercy and grace are not deserved; (6) expressing a sincere desire and intention to change your ways (7) doing what you need to do to restore the relationship. [in no particular order] 

Psalm 51 is an excellent example of David’s true repentance for a very specific sin against God. It’s an amazing declaration of his love and devotion to God, as well as an expression of his desire to be cleansed and live as a righteous man. It’s an example of how we should seek to heal and restore our human relationships.   

Repentance is so much more than an apology. It’s completely turning away from the course you are on and committing yourself to God’s ways (or in human relational language: committing yourself fully to the relationship you are seeking to restore). Repentance is not something that works by picking and choosing elements that suit you – as The Five Languages of Apology suggests.

2 thoughts on “Psalm 51: Repentance vs. Apology

  1. “Repentance is … completely turning away from the course you are on and committing yourself to God’s ways”

    I don’t know about this…Jesus said “…if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” Does that indicate that someone completely turned away from the course they were on?

  2. I think it can mean that a person turns completely away from their former course – for that moment (which could lead to a lifetime), if their repentance is sincere. People don’t aways commit the same offenses in a relationship, if they are, I can tell you with near certainty that relationship is not growing. People will normally make a mistake/cause an offense, apologize/repent and be forgiven – and that relationship will be strengthened in that area. Meaning both people learned something about the other that increased their understanding in the relationship. That does not mean that offenses won’t continue to happen in the relationship. This is how and where growth happens in our relationships. We must learn to be accountable for our offenses, repent of our offenses wholeheartedly, ask for forgiveness and accept it when it’s given, then move on within the relationship.

    If someone is committing the same offense repeatedly within a relationship, there is no respect for the relationship or the other person. They can be forgiven, but if the same wound is being torn open over and over again healing and growth are not happening on any significant level.

    God gave Ezekiel the following message:
    10 “Son of man, say to the Israelites, ‘This is what you are saying: “Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them. How then can we live?”’ 11 Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’

    12 “Therefore, son of man, say to your people, ‘If someone who is righteous disobeys, that person’s former righteousness will count for nothing. And if someone who is wicked repents, that person’s former wickedness will not bring condemnation. The righteous person who sins will not be allowed to live even though they were formerly righteous.’ 13 If I tell a righteous person that they will surely live, but then they trust in their righteousness and do evil, none of the righteous things that person has done will be remembered; they will die for the evil they have done. 14 And if I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ but they then turn away from their sin and do what is just and right— 15 if they give back what they took in pledge for a loan, return what they have stolen, follow the decrees that give life, and do no evil—that person will surely live; they will not die. 16 None of the sins that person has committed will be remembered against them. They have done what is just and right; they will surely live. (Ezekiel 33:10-16)

    Applying this word to relationships, tells me that a relationship will live when the offending party repents of their offense.

What do you think?

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