Learning Repentance from the Psalmist

One of the ways our emotions tell us something is wrong is in the case of our sin

“When the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, we feel the weight of it. It makes us grieve and feel sorrow. We feel anger toward ourselves for what we’ve done. We feel a nagging disquiet in our souls that won’t let go.”

 

I broke my arm two years ago. It was the first broken bone of my life. I thought it would be fun to expose my kids to the joys of roller skating at the local roller rink. I wanted to share the fun of skating to sounds of the latest pop music, eating roller rink fare, and participating in in the Hokey Pokey. After all, that’s what I did most Saturday’s growing up. The only problem was that I hadn’t skated since I was a teen and falling down as an adult brings greater consequences than it did when I was a child.

I knew right away something was wrong. The pain was intense. I clutched my arm close to my abdomen. I had to drive home using one arm. After enduring an emergency doctor’s visit, I learned that I had broken my elbow. Needless to say, I haven’t been skating since.

Psalm 51 and Broken Bones

The excruciating pain in my arm was my body telling me something was wrong. Our emotions function in a similar way for us. They also tell us something is wrong. Whether we are angry at an injustice, fearful of the unknown future, or grieving a loss, our emotions reveal the turbulence broiling in our hearts.

One of the ways our emotions tell us something is wrong is in the case of our sin. When the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, we feel the weight of it. It makes us grieve and feel sorrow. We feel anger toward ourselves for what we’ve done. We feel a nagging disquiet in our souls that won’t let go. We feel broken and realize anew the utter depths of our sinfulness.

That’s how David felt in Psalm 51. He wrote this psalm after the prophet Nathan confronted him for his sin with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12). It is a lament, where he poured out his heart to the Lord, asking forgiveness for what he had done. In this psalm, David described the conviction he felt over his sin like that of crushed bones, “let the bones you have crushed rejoice” (vs. 8). His joy was gone, all he felt was pain and sorrow over his sin.

Such conviction led him to repentance. Paul refers to this sorrow as godly sorrow, “For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death” (2 Cor. 7:8-10).

More Lessons from Psalm 51

There is more we can learn from David’s Psalm about repentance:

Our sin is against God: Though David’s sin was against Bathsheba and her husband Uriah, it was ultimately a sin against a holy and righteous God. “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge” (Psalm 51:4). As R.C. Sproul wrote in The Holiness of God, “Sin is cosmic treason. Sin is treason against a perfectly pure Sovereign. It is an act of supreme ingratitude toward the One to whom we owe everything, to the One who has given us life itself.”

Trust in God’s steadfast love and mercy: When we sin, we have to turn to God in humble reliance upon his steadfast love and mercy. This is a characteristic of God found throughout the Bible, and one which the Lord announced to Moses, “The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Exodus 34:6-7). It was this truth that David rested in as he cried out to the Lord for forgiveness, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions” (Psalm 51:1).

Read More