What does true repentance look like?
As I've written before, the idea of repentance gets turned around from what God desires. Too often it's seen as a person's responsibility to change the direction of their life 180 degrees in the opposite direction.
Although there's truth to that, it puts the cart before the horse. It's backward to think a person needs to straighten out his or her life before they turn to God.
The first step of true repentance is turning towards God. This is the change of direction that's needed! When a person turns toward God they turn their back on what they need to repent of and turn to the one Person who can bring real change— God.
The first step of true repentance is turning towards God
This is the essence of the first three steps of the 12-Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). AA and similar 12-step programs are geared towards the restoration of a person's life through freedom from addiction.
The goal of biblical repentance is restoration. It should not be an attempt at restitution. It's not about doing good or making good karma. It's about a restored relationship between a person and God.
The goal of biblical repentance is restoration
A story of lust gone wrong
The story of David and Bathsheba is a classic story of lust gone wrong—very wrong. The gist of the story is King David taking advantage of his role as king of Israel, committing adultery, then trying to cover it up.
David and Bathsheba is a classic story of lust gone wrong—very wrong
But God doesn't let David get away with it all, at all. God sends a prophet to David who tells him a parable with a foil—a trap David sets for himself (2 Sam 12:1-7).
The story goes downhill from this point with a tragic turn and later consequences in David's life—but that's, as they say, another story for another time.
A man after God’s heart?
King David was a great leader as a warrior-king but the example of his personal life wasn’t so good. He was an adulterer and murderer.
He lied and deceived others—even a priest of God. His actions at various points in life brought grave consequences upon the whole nation of Israel—the people who loved him.
And yet, God saw David as a man after His own heart (1 Sam 13:14). What is it about David that God saw as good?
David’s prayer of repentance in Psalm 51—after his grievous sin with Bathsheba and confrontation by Nathan the prophet—reveals David’s heart and gives insight into true repentance.
What is it about David that God saw as good?
A perfect prayer of repentance
A look at David's prayer of repentance in Psalm 51—
- David's plea for mercy—Psalm 51:1-2
- see how David appeals to God’s merciful compassion, authority, and power in his life to forgive and “wash” him on the inside—his heart.
- David's confession of sin—Psalm 51:3-6—
- David expresses his guilt and acknowledges his sin is ultimately against God—even though it effects many other people.
- He also acknowledges God’s righteous judgment of his own sinfulness and wrong—that it’s the opposite of what David knew to be right.
- David begins to request restoration—Psalm 51:7-9—
- David seeks what is necessary for restoration to take place and acknowledges that only God can forgive and restore him.
- 6 elements of true repentance and restoration—Psalm 51:10-12—
- David asks God for a pure heart—a heart free from sin
- David asks God to renew his spirit—to move from brokenness to wholeness
- David wants to maintain access into God’s presence
- David also asks for God’s Spirit to remain with him
- David asks for a restoration of God’s salvation—God’s assurance of His forgiveness and acceptance in David’s life because of God’s mercy and grace
- David asks for a willing spirit—he knows God’s restoration requires a willingness on his part to submit his life to God first
- A glimpse of the benefit of restoration—Psalm 51:13-15—
- David understands that his own life needs to be in right order before he can tell others of God’s forgiveness and faithfulness.
- What God doesn't and does desire from us—Psalm 51:16-17—
- David knows God isn’t interested in what we have to offer Him (sacrifices or offerings) for God desires a brokenness and repentant spirit and heart in us.
- The resulting benefit of things made right with God—Psalm 51:18-19—
- David knows that when things are right with God—blessings will follow and a person’s devotion and service to God are acceptable.
Step by step
What true repentance looks like—
David's prayer in Psalm 51 is what true repentance looks like.
First—to turn to God for His forgiveness and restoration—always the first most important step. Then, accept His forgiveness by faith and allow God to work His restoration into your life.
Can you relate to David's struggle and need?
Are you willing to follow his example of repentance?