A Model of Repentance

“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” (v. 4).

- Psalm 51

Many prayers of repentance are recorded in Scripture, but perhaps the most well known of them all is Psalm 51. For centuries believers have looked to this psalm of David to help them express sorrow for sin and their desire to be reconciled to the Lord.

A quick look at the contents of this psalm will help us see why it is a good model for our own repentance. David begins by first asking for God to show mercy to him (v. 1). Penitent people realize there is nothing they can do to earn our Father’s forgiveness, and so they always look to his mercy, not demanding His pardon but seeking it with humility. This is the only way any of us can be forgiven, and we can be assured that the Lord will cleanse us from our sin when we humbly admit our need of His grace. If we humble ourselves before Him, He is faithful to cleanse us and lift us up (James 4:10; 1 John 1:9).

Note also that there is no attempt on David’s part to hide his sin. He confesses that he knows his transgressions and does not hide his guilt (Ps. 51:3). As fallen human beings we tend to minimize our wickedness or make excuses for it just like our forefather Adam (Gen. 3:11–12). We add to our sin when we do not admit it or when we seek to justify it, for in doing such things we lie about the severity of our evil. No one who refuses to confess his sin can expect the Lord’s pardon, and a sign of authentic repentance is a willingness to come clean about one’s evil before God and before those who have been harmed by it directly.

In repentance we recognize the filthiness of our hands in the sight of God and abandon all efforts to clean ourselves. Like David we ask Him to cleanse us from all iniquity (Ps. 51:7), which the Lord is faithful and right to do when we confess our sins, since He has promised to do so (1 John 1:8–9). Only God can make us pure in His sight, and so we must not look anywhere else for this.

Finally, David tells the Almighty that he will associate with sinners and teach them the ways of God once he is forgiven (Ps. 51:13). A penitent person never thinks he is inherently more righteous than anyone else, and he will not think that anyone is beyond God’s forgiveness.

Coram Deo

Let us all take time this day to consider how we respond whenever we are confronted with our sin. Are we quick to make excuses for our evil or to play down the gravity of our deeds? Are we so proud that we will not admit to others that we have sinned when it is necessary for us to do so? may we abandon any pride that keeps us from admitting our guilt, and may we show grace to those who repent of their sins in our presence.

Passages for Further Study

Leviticus 26:40–45
Isaiah 55:6–7
Micah 7:18–20
Luke 18:9–14

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