A Contrite Repentance

“For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Ps. 51:16–17).

- Psalm 51:14–19

David’s repentance in Psalm 51 is so thorough that he makes sure to mourn every aspect of his sin with Bathsheba. He pleads for God to deliver him from the guilt of his murder at the beginning of today’s passage in verse 14, plainly an allusion to his sin of having Uriah placed where he was sure to be killed (2 Sam. 11:14–15). The king knows he must repent for every part of his sin, and he does so in order to find the full joy of forgiveness.

Jesse’s son also makes several references to his mouth, tongue, and lips as he repents before the Lord (Ps. 51:14–15). We should note how this whole region of our bodies is singled out as an area of defilement in Scripture. Isaiah utters “I am a man of unclean lips” when he sees the Holy One of Israel (6:5). Paul describes the fallen nature of mankind using the image of the throat as an open grave (Rom. 3:13–14). Yet when cleansed, these same mouths can be avenues of cleanliness, as evident in the importance of singing praise to God found throughout Scripture (for example, Pss. 5:11; 13:6). Those who repent gain such purified lips, and this is David’s hope in Psalm 51.

Interestingly, David tells us in this same psalm that the Lord does not delight in sacrifices (vv. 16–17). He is not disparaging the Old Testament ceremonies; rather, he reveals how in and of themselves, the blood offered by the priests avails nothing. Without true sorrow for sin, sacrifices would not cover the guilty person’s transgression. Likewise, Jesus has not made atonement for those who do not exhibit repentance in their lives (Heb. 10:26).

This point shows us how necessary it is to distinguish between true and false repentance. Attrition, or false repentance, is the sorrow we have for the consequences of our sin without being ashamed of violating God’s standards. If we are sorry only because we are being punished, we do not have true repentance. Contrition, on the other hand, is being sorry for sinning against God Almighty. It recognizes our Creator would be just to condemn us and does not try to shift the blame to someone else. God will never despise those who express contrition; He forgives all those who repent in humility (Ps. 51:17).

Coram Deo

As we saw in our study of Psalm 51:4, the wrongs we do are first and foremost sins against the Lord. True repentance realizes our transgressions are heinous because they violate God’s holy character. If you have a contrite heart that recognizes this truth, you can be assured that you have been forgiven. If you are sorry that you might get caught, you are in danger of having false repentance. Ask the Spirit to produce real sorrow for sin in your heart today.

Passages for Further Study

Ps. 38
Isa. 1:10–17
Isa. 57:15
Matt. 5:21–24
Heb. 12:15–17

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.