If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to Him, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that His word has no place in our hearts. ~ 1 John 1:8-10
According to the Bible, repentance is the ultimate communication leading to forgiveness and resulting in a restored relationship. Repentance consists of:
- acknowledging your sin (wrongdoing, transgression, offense)
- accepting responsibility without defending or excusing yourself or your actions
- understanding the severity and repercussions for what you have done and how it affects your relationship
- humbling yourself and requesting forgiveness from the one you harmed
- knowing that mercy and grace are not deserved
- expressing a sincere desire and intention to change your ways
- doing what you need to do (i.e. what’s requested by or negotiated with the offended person) to restore the relationship.
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 relationship with God first, then others.
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. In human relational language: repenting is committing yourself fully to the relationship you are seeking to restore, while staying in alignment with God’s laws. Repentance is not something that works by picking and choosing elements that suit you. It’s other-person centered. It’s an expression of love and appreciation for the other person in the relationship. It’s a humbling of yourself for the benefit of your relationship.
If we love our Christian brothers and sisters, it proves that we have passed from death to life. But a person who has no love is still dead. Anyone who hates another brother or sister is really a murderer at heart. And you know that murderers don’t have eternal life within them. ~ 1 John 3:14-15
When you don’t repent, you’re sowing (planting, giving) hatred and death to the person you wronged. Not only are you killing the relationship, you are killing a part of them. Visualize it this way: whatever part of you overlaps with the person you wronged is now dead in both of you. The only way to bring that part of you both back to life is to repent. The above passage from 1 John 3 states so simply and eloquently, if you love someone, you have passed from death to life, however if you have no love to give, you are still dead. The dead cannot give life; death only reaps more death.
Fortunately for us all, God made a way for us to choose life every day, in every situation, in all of our relationships. We can choose to love and receive love. We can choose to repent and accept repentant acts. We can choose to forgive and accept forgiveness. Those are choices for life. When we choose not to love, repent or forgive, we are willfully choosing death.
David understood this and appealed to God’s love for him when he repented. He sought to restore life to himself through love.
Have mercy on me, O God, because of Your unfailing love. Because of Your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins. ~ Psalm 51:1
Those who love have a desire to relieve the suffering of their loved ones. Their compassion gives them an awareness of the distress their loved one is feeling. Through love, they are able to see the repentant heart reaching out to them, and they are able to reach back to alleviate it. The Word tells us in 1 Corinthians 13:7 that love never fails.
Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
Right there you have it! Love will survive anything and everything. We have to allow it to work when we are given the opportunity to do so. In other words, love is never going to be the issue; how we process it and apply it will determine rather we succeed or fail in our relationships.
Further in his appeal to love in Psalm 51:9, David says,
Don’t keep looking at my sins. Remove the stain of my guilt.
He is asking for absolution. It’s direct and clear. Again, 1 Corinthians 13:5 supports his request,
Love keeps no record of being wronged.
When you allow love to work in your relationships, it is only a matter of time before complete healing manifests. Healing is initiated when the party responsible for causing offense repents for the wrongs they committed in the relationship.
David wasn’t done. He continued in Psalm 51:12-13,
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.
He brings to God’s remembrance their former relationship. He had been happy! He had joyfully basked in the salvation of his Lord. He wanted that back. Give it back to me, please, he’s asking. And he doesn’t stop there. He asks for assistance in keeping on track. He is aware of his imperfections. He’s not trying to act as if he will never be tempted again. He’s asking to be held accountable in a loving manner. Make me willing to obey you. Think about that….
Has anyone ever forgiven you, and then ignored you? Or forgiven you and then treated you harshly? While at the same time expecting you to keep the promises you made to them when you repented? How difficult was it to keep your promise?
Now think of a time when someone has forgiven you and never mentioned your transgression again. The love flowed freely between the two of you. How easy was it to keep the promises you made when you repented?
These are rather simplistic examples, but you should get the idea. Nothing in a relationship is about just one person – though many people go through great effort to make it seem so. Every interaction in a relationship has a double-sided effect. How we respond is equally as important as what was initiated and how it was initiated. In other words, you may not be the cause of a difficult situation, but how you respond will have as much impact on how your relationship survives that difficulty as the person who caused the offense.
David wraps up his prayer of repentance, his direct appeal to God, with:
The sacrifice You desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God. ~Psalm 51:17
Again, what we learn explicitly about love in 1 Corinthians 13:6 is,
Love does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.
Why is honesty in relationships so difficult? I don’t know if there’s any one answer, but since Adam and Eve fell from grace in the Garden, people have been hiding their true selves as much as possible, whenever possible. It’s only when we come clean, bare all, open up and be true to ourselves and to others that we experience the true joy of love rejoicing for us. Love is never going to be happy in the midst of wrong. But love will always rejoice when the wrong is made right. David was so secure in God’s love for him that he appealed to that love knowing God would not reject him when he humbled himself completely and addressed all his wrongdoing.
Did you know David was completely forgiven? Not only was he forgiven, but God held him up as an example of what He was looking for in mankind. How is that so? David’s story is full of war and sex and an arrogance that comes from repeated triumphs due to God’s favor. His sin against God was adultery. God had blessed David’s life so much that David got to a point of thinking that God’s laws no longer applied to him. He saw a woman he wanted, took her and had her husband killed. These are the sins David is repenting for in Psalm 51.
David is on God’s list of favorites because he loved his Lord and praised Him, he loved God’s laws, he studied the word, he prayed, he sang, he worshipped. The cherry on top – David repented when he became aware of his sin! Every time. Deeply and whole-heartedly. His intention was to remain in right standing with God all his life. When he failed, he acknowledged his failure and pleaded for forgiveness. We all fall short, it’s in our DNA. The truest proof of our character is how we correct our mistakes.
The prophet Nathan confronted David about his sins against God with a very eloquent parable. David was convicted with awareness of his grievous wrongs and immediately acknowledged his actions as sins against God. Just as quickly, God forgave him. The conversation is in 2 Samuel 12:1-14.
So the Lord sent Nathan the prophet to tell David this story: “There were two men in a certain town. One was rich, and one was poor. The rich man owned a great many sheep and cattle. The poor man owned nothing but one little lamb he had bought. He raised that little lamb, and it grew up with his children. It ate from the man’s own plate and drank from his cup. He cuddled it in his arms like a baby daughter. One day a guest arrived at the home of the rich man. But instead of killing an animal from his own flock or herd, he took the poor man’s lamb and killed it and prepared it for his guest.”
David was furious. “As surely as the Lord lives,” he vowed, “any man who would do such a thing deserves to die! He must repay four lambs to the poor man for the one he stole and for having no pity.”
Then Nathan said to David, “You are that man! The Lord, the God of Israel, says: I anointed you king of Israel and saved you from the power of Saul. I gave you your master’s house and his wives and the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. And if that had not been enough, I would have given you much, much more. Why, then, have you despised the word of the Lord and done this horrible deed? For you have murdered Uriah the Hittite with the sword of the Ammonites and stolen his wife. From this time on, your family will live by the sword because you have despised me by taking Uriah’s wife to be your own.
“This is what the Lord says: Because of what you have done, I will cause your own household to rebel against you. I will give your wives to another man before your very eyes, and he will go to bed with them in public view. You did it secretly, but I will make this happen to you openly in the sight of all Israel.”
Then David confessed to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”
Nathan replied, “Yes, but the Lord has forgiven you, and you won’t die for this sin. Nevertheless, because you have shown utter contempt for the Lord by doing this, your child will die.”
Do you see how God followed His own process? Nathan the prophet was His mouthpiece. Nathan was sent directly to David to confront him with his sin. Isn’t it interesting how David saw the sin immediately when he thought Nathan was talking about someone else? We’re still like that, aren’t we? We can identify everyone else’s faults long before we see our own. But Nathan was emphatic: “You are the man I’m talking about!” Then Nathan proceeded to pronounce God’s judgment on David right there. David immediately acknowledged and confessed his sin against God. Nathan then replied, “Ok, God forgives you and you may live. However, you will reap the consequences of your actions.”
Just because you repent and are forgiven does not mean that there are no consequences. You will still have to face the consequences of your actions. Remember that.
Had David’s punishment been up to him, he would have died on the spot. A sinner’s judgment can be harsh! Thank God for His loving compassion!
The first thing David uttered after hearing Nathan’s story was that such a man deserved to die. Spiritually, he had died because God was not with him in His sin. This is such a glaring example of what happens to interpersonal relationships when there’s a huge offense separating the two parties. Each party is able to see the other person’s transgression so clearly and barely have awareness of their own. Until the person who caused offense steps up to say, “I am the one at fault, what can I do to make amends” the relationship will remain fractured and the parties will remain separated. Repentance leads to life – when you repent in your interpersonal relationships you breathe life into them.
Additional “repentance” posts:
Question: To Forgive or Not to Forgive?
Psalm 51: Repentance vs. Apology
Excerpt: The Psalm 51 Example: Repent and Live (PDF)
Excerpt: What does it mean to “repent”?