Repentance is not merely a changing of one’s mind toward sin, but a turning completely away from sin with all of one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength, to receive God’s forgiveness in Christ by faith. True repentance is seeing the ugliness of sin, of our particular sins against God and others, and turning away in abhorrence to see the beauty and glory of Christ who receives sinners!
We should remember that faith and repentance are two sides of one coin. You cannot have one without the other. Repentance is always a believing repentance; faith is always a repentant believing. Bringing these two aspects of our walk before God together, our forefather Thomas Watson wrote: “Repentance is a grace of God’s Spirit whereby a sinner is inwardly humbled and visibly reformed.”
As our forefathers, Martin Luther and John Calvin pointed out, repentance and faith are the Christian’s life-long work. As we repent, we learn to grow in our faith; as our faith grows, so deeply do we repent. J. Gresham Machen described Christianity well as the “Religion of the broken heart”. This is true. As we become more aware of the righteousness of God, God’s grace in Christ, we often experience deep brokenness of heart before we enjoy the deep joy that Christ has promised to believers (John 15:9-11). This does not occur one time only, but will be a pattern as we die to sin and live to righteousness by His grace and Spirit. Thomas Watson noted six very important ingredients of true repentance by which we may test ourselves: 1) Sight of sin; 2) Sorrow for sin; 3) Confession of sin; 4) Shame for sin; 5) Hatred for sin; and 6) Turning from sin (His excellent book on repentance bears reading and re-reading. Available as a Banner of Truth Trust Puritan Paperback).
At this time of when many think of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, perhaps it would be good to see a model of repentance in inspired Scripture. Psalm 51 is helpful in this (as well as Psalm 32). Let us note a few things about Psalm 51 that can teach us about growing in repentance, and thus our faith, and especially our joy of the LORD!
Let us read prayerfully together Psalm 51, then I invite you to use this portion of Scripture to repent before God:
Psalm 51: Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! 3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. 4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. 5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. 6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. 7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. 8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. 9 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. 11 Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. 13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. 14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. 15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. 16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. 18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem; 19 then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.
- “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions” (51:1) The God we approach in repentance is full of steadfast love and abundant mercy, and willing and able alone to blot out our transgressions, or our sins against His holy commands. God’s steadfast love is His covenantal faithfulness to all in Christ Jesus, and so our repentance is particularly in Jesus’s name. We approach as those who have sinned against God’s law and more fully His love revealed to us in Christ. But we approach with great hope (cf. Heb. 4:14-16). Prayer: Father, forgive me for Jesus’s sake.
- “…Cleanse me from my sin” (51:2): It is particularly “my sin” that is in need of cleasning. God is willing, and able to cleanse us from our sins. We can avoid our sins, we can act as if we do not have sins, but because sin is ultimately a sin against God, only God can cleanse us. But cleanse us He will when we approach Him in Christ’s name! Prayer: Father, I am unclean, make me clean from the heart. Make me like Christ.
- “I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me!” (51:3). True repentance acknowledges openly and honestly before our God that we have sin, and that our transgressions against God’s righteous law are real. Prayer: Father, I have broken your laws, forgive me, and restore me.
- “Against you, and you only…so that you may be justified in your words and…judgment…” (51:4). This acknowledges our sin as being not first and foremost against others, but offensive against God. All sin is first of all “against God” and God “only”! This helps us to cultivate a true and healthy spiritual fear of God (“The end of the matter: fear God and keep His commandments…” – 12:13). We acknowledge that we have nothing to defend ourselves with before God, no one else to blame; we have really sinned, and against such a holy and kind God! True repentance acknowledges that God is just if He did indeed condemn us for our sins. He would be just. This removes from us any blame on others, or making excuses for our sins before God. Making excuses and blame will never bring out true brokenness and sorrow for sin, and will make us self-righteous before God. It will tempt us to take God’s grace for granted. Prayer: Father, you would be altogether just in judging me, but you have provided a substitutionary sacrifice in Christ on my behalf. He who knew no sin became sin for me so that I might be covered in your righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21).
- “I was brought forth in iniquity…” (51:5). This acknowledges that we are sinners by nature undeserving of God’s mercy and grace. Prayer: In myself there is nothing good, but all good and grace and truth in abundance found in Christ! (John 1:16).
- “…You delight in truth in the inward being, and teach me wisdom in the secret heart” (51:6). God knows our hearts, and repentance is the ability to be honestly self-aware of one’s own heart. As we grow in the Christian life, we grow in our appreciation of the depths of God’s mercy, His lavish love, and unimaginable grace that He gives to sinners in Christ (Eph. 3:17-19), but we also become more aware of our “inward being”, or our “hearts” and how desperately sinful they are. True repentance is being honest before God and man. God teaches us wisdom in the “secret heart” so that we might have wise hearts, and be watchful over our hearts (cf. Prov. 4:23). Prayer: Father, make me rich with the wisdom and riches of grace found in Christ.
- “Purge me…wash me…whiter than snow….Create in me a clean heart…” (51:7, 10). Our Heavenly Father purges us from the taint and evils of sin through the precious blood of Christ our Lamb. Jesus Christ died for us on the cross to take away the penalty of sin which was death and hell, to free us from the power and dominion of sin, to heal us from the pollution of sin, and to change our course in life from the imminent punishment of sin. We are complete purged of our sins when we approach God in Christ. By His blood, we are washed, cleansed, made pure, and before God we are “whiter than snow”! From the center of our beings, our persons, “from the heart” we are made clean. Prayer: Thank you for the precious blood of Jesus that makes me pure and clean and holy.
- “Let me hear joy and gladness….Restore to me the joy of my salvation…” (51:8, 12). True repentance reconciles us back into our fellowship with God. As our sins break our fellowship with God that we enjoy in Christ, true repentance returns us to fellowship, and the joy and spiritual health that comes from that fellowship! Prayer: Father, I want to live in close fellowship with you all of my days: “Whom have I in heaven but you, and who on earth do I desire but you…For me, it is good to be near to God” (Psa. 73:25-28).
- “Then I will teach transgressors…” (51:13). True repentance displays an example of God’s love and power before the world. Repentance is clearly displayed so that all may undeniably see God’s goodness and power in the sinner saved by grace. Only God can save us—only God can truly sanctify us and heal us from sin. Prayer: Let me be a light to shine before others in a dark world: in my home, my workplace, my neighborhood, let me shine, kind king!
- “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit…” (51:17). A broken and contrite spirit is pleasing to God (cf. 2 Cor. 7:10-11). There is a worldly repentance that leads to death; there is a true repentance that leads to further life, and life more abundantly before God and others. The Christian life is a life of being broken before God, knowing that God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). Thomas Watson said: “The mourner’s heart is emptied of pride and God fills the empty with His blessing.” The best and most mature Christians are not those who on the one hand merely talk about or feel sorry all the time for their sins, self-centeredly focused on themselves and their problem of sin. Neither are they those who are presumptuous of God’s grace, and live outwardly joyful, but thinly spiritual lives with a mere smile. Rather, the best and most mature Christians are those who most of the time feel broken and humbled by their sins and lack of fruitfulness and prayerlessness, yet their constant need makes them more wisely watchful over their own hearts, and more fully focused and dependent upon Christ and His grace, so that they are at the same time full of joy and wonder of God’s goodness and kindness, and mournfully crying out: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!” Prayer: Father, let me live a broken-hearted, yet joyful life remembering always: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
Amen, and amen!
In Christ’s love,