Learn to Repent

The Big Idea

All of us make mistakes and do things wrong in life, but this does not need to be the end of the story. There is grace and forgiveness for us to turn away from the sin and to turn back to God. This is called repentance and is a key part of the Christian life.

Bible Passage

2 Samuel 12:1-14; Psalm 51

What’s Happening?

David has just committed the darkest deeds of his kingship. He had abused his position, had Bathsheba brought to him and had sex with her, and had her husband killed to cover up the fact that she was now pregnant with David’s child. David was confronted about his sin by the prophet Nathan telling him a story about a rich man stealing a poor man’s lamb and killing it. David became angry at the man in the story, but then Nathan explained that it was a story about him!

What happens next is important. Everybody makes mistakes in different ways, but not everybody responds in the same way once their sins are pointed out to them. David held up his hands and acknowledged that he had sinned against the Lord. He didn’t shift the blame or make excuses. He repented. It is at this moment that he wrote Psalm 51, and this Psalm shows us what true repentance looks like.

It begins with a cry to God for mercy. Sin doesn’t go away on its own. It is only in God that forgiveness and the power to change can be found, and so it is to God that David goes. He asks for his transgression to be blotted out and to be thoroughly cleansed from his iniquity.

It also includes an acknowledgement that sin is primarily against God. Whilst it is clear that David had wronged both Bathsheba and Uriah, he knew that first and foremost his sin against God needs to be dealt with. It is God’s command that he has broken, and he knows that this is not just a ‘blip’, but that even from the moment of conception he was a sinful person.

David then asks for three things. The first of these is forgiveness. He asked to be cleansed with hyssop (a plant with antiseptic qualities, but also a reference back to the passover where hyssop branches were used to apply the blood of the lamb over the entrance to the houses), and for the Lord to hide his face from David’ sins.

Secondly, David craves change. He doesn’t want to repeat the mistakes that he has made and so he asks God to create in him a clean heart and renew a right spirit. He wants the joy of his salvation to be restored.

Thirdly, he wants a second chance. When King Saul had disobeyed God, the consequence had been that God removed the anointing from him and was no longer with him as king. David had been anointed with the Spirit to be his successor. David feared the same thing would happen to him and so he asked that God would not cast him out from his presence or remove his Spirit. Though he had made a mistake, he wanted another chance and desired the help of God’s presence and Spirit for what he had been called to do.

Finally, David states his intention to praise God. He will speak of God’s ways to sinners and transgressors. He will sing aloud of God’s righteousness and will declare God’s praise. He knew that the sacrificial system is insufficient. Dealing with our sin is not a tick-box exercise that can be accomplished through animal sacrifices, but rather is about coming to God with a broken and contrite spirit in genuine repentance.

Taking It to Jesus

Jesus is the only one who has never needed to repent as he never did anything wrong, but he is quick to accept sinners who come to him with a humble and contrite heart. It is because of his death on the cross that we can have the forgiveness, transformation and second chance that David asked for.

Potential Applications:

  • For any in the congregation currently feeling the guilt and shame of sin, come to God in repentance and find forgiveness in him.
  • Do not dismiss or trivialise sin. Realise that it is a big deal, but also that it is not the end of the story.