The Joy of Repentance

When you talk to someone about their relationship with God it is not uncommon for a person to say, “After everything I have done, I don’t think there is any hope for me.” A variation of this is: “I hope I have done enough good to counterbalance the bad” (to which I always say . . . you have not even come close to evening up the score. . . and neither have I!) That is why Psalm 32 is cherished by so many.

It is reported that St. Augustine had this Psalm inscribed on the wall next to his bed before he died in order to meditate on it better. Augustine believed (and taught) that the beginning of knowledge is to know oneself a sinner. The beginning of redemption is to know that we have found forgiveness through the work of Christ. We find forgiveness through confession and repentance.

This is a Psalm of David. In the Hebrew the Psalm is called a Maskil which most people believe is a term meaning “instruction”. In other words the Psalm is meant to teach us. This morning we will learn about The Joy of Repentance. In verse 1 David talks about the joy of those whose “disobedience is forgiven.”

Where is This Disobedience?

In the Hebrew of verses 1-3 there are different Hebrew words used for sin (sin, iniquity, disobedience, guilt and so forth depending on your translation). These may just be synonyms but I believe they remind us that sin comes in many forms.

  1. There is inadvertent or accidental sin. For example: we say or do something that hurts another person by accident.
  2. There are sins of omission. It is not what we did but what we should have done but didn’t do it. For example we sin when we have the opportunity to share the gospel with someone or encourage someone and don’t do it.
  3. There is deliberate sin. This is reckless sin. It can be reckless (like abuse, murder, destructive) or it may be times when we know what we are supposed to do (or not do) but we ignore this and do our own thing. When David invited Bathsheba (whom he knew to be a married woman) into his home he was deliberately ignoring or rebelling against the authority of God.
  4. There is more subtle sin like idolatry. There are many well-behaved people who are still guilty of this sin. Anytime we serve an idol we are giving our loyalty to someone other than the Lord. It is treason against the Lord God Almighty. An idol is anything that motivates, leads, and controls us other than the Lord. Power, Peace, Family, Job, Possessions, A Desire for Approval, and even hobbies can be idols in our lives because they have more influence on our thinking, heart, and actions than God does. Whatever is “most important” to us is either the Lord or it is an idol. Let’s face it, most of us battle some kind of idolatry.

We have this notion that basically most of us are good people. The Bible tells us that this is not true. We have all sinned or fallen short of God’s standard and that is why we are in trouble. The bottom line is: sin is always destructive. Even in the times when we find it pleasurable (if we never found it pleasurable it wouldn’t be so tempting), we are destroying something or someone (even ourselves) in the process.

The Consequence of Sin: Guilt (3-4)

David gives us something to think about. He describes his life when he refused to admit His sinfulness.

 When I refused to confess my sin,

my body wasted away,

and I groaned all day long.

Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me.

My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat.

When we refuse to acknowledge and confess our sin we are left with the burden of guilt. And even though we can rationalize what we have done; we can explain why the bad was not really all that bad; we will groan under the knowledge of our alienation from God. We can become so calloused that we become unaffected by our sinful behaviors (that doesn’t mean we aren’t guilty). When this happens we are in deep trouble. If we have silenced the pangs of conscience we have walled ourselves off from the forgiveness that God is willing to give those who repent.

David describes the suffering of guilt. There are physical effects such as anxiety, feelings of inferiority, inadequacy, and pessimism. No matter what others say positively about you, you know the truth. You know what that person sees is not the truth. Our past haunts us like Edgar Allen Poe’s “Telltale Heart”. Poe describes a man who had killed another man and buried him under his house. Due to his guilt he continued to hear the heart of the man beating louder and louder under his house. Even though the sound was only in his head, he haunted him until he finally confesses.

David grew weak from the weariness of the burden of sin. Guilt disturbs our sleep; it takes away appetites; and it can lead to overeating. Guilt makes our blood pressure rise and worsens heart disease and diabetes. It can cause memory loss, short attention span, irritability, and mood swings.

Some people stay overly active just so they don’t have to think about the emptiness and guilt of their lives. Guilt feelings eat away at us. David says it is like his strength was taken from him.

How to Clear Our Record and Remove the Guilt (3, 5)

In verse 3 David tells us that there is great joy that comes from being cleared of guilt. We believe those words. However, how do we find this joy? David tells his story in verse 5.

Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.” And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.

David says in verse 5 “that He confessed his sin and stopped trying to hide, justify, or excuse his guilt, and God forgave Him. To forgive literally means to have our sin “lifted off”. It is the picture that John Bunyan used in his allegory Pilgrim’s Progress. The main character, Christian was carrying a very heavy weight on his back as he tried to make his journey to the Celestial city (Heaven). The weight made everything difficult. However, when Christian came to the cross of Jesus, the burden fell off his back and into a great chasm. Because of what Christ has done for us, God is able to take the burden of our sin and toss it away.

This is the key: we have to recognize our need for forgiveness, honestly confess it, and then trust what God has done to pay the penalty for our sin in Christ. The message of Jesus and the message of the gospel is this: God sent His Son (Jesus) into the world to live the life that we were required to live (which He did perfectly) and then trade His perfection for our sin. When Jesus died on the cross He served as our substitute. Our debt was erased and his riches were applied to our account.

Think about a student who is failing in school. They aren’t lazy, they just aren’t good at school. You fail miserably and have no hope of graduating. One day a student who perfect grades come to the school. He/she earns straight “A”s. When it comes time for graduation they willingly exchange their perfect transcript for your failing grades. The honor student is kicked out of the school but you graduate at the top of your class, are accepted into college, and have the great potential of a great future.

This is what happened to us. Our sin was traded for the righteousness (or perfection) of Christ. Our sin was on his ledger and it is replaced on our ledger by His righteousness. Jesus died (and rose again) and we were made into new creatures in Christ who stand before God as people who have a spotless record!

How is this possible? Only the Love of God explains it. Only the work of Christ accounts for it. Does it sound incredible? If it does, then you are starting to get a clear picture. Horatio Spafford wrote these great words in the song “It is Well With My Soul”

My sin – O, the bliss of our this glorious thought,

My sin – not in part but the whole

Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more

Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, O my soul!

David said the first step is to “confess our sin”. Confession of sin is not merely saying “Sorry!” When someone dismisses their behavior so nonchalantly it is likely that the person really doesn’t feel they have done anything wrong. They are merely trying to be socially appropriate.

To truly confess our sin we must do several things.

  1. Take responsibility. It means no excuses or no explanations. Confession is saying, “I was wrong for  . . . . .”
  2. Be specific. We must identify what exactly we are sorry for.  Sometimes people say, “I’m sorry if I hurt you” and what they are really saying, “I’m sorry you are so sensitive!” The more specific the confession the better. For example it is better to say: “I am sorry that I made you look foolish before our friends. It was a mean and insensitive thing to do. I am so sorry I was so inconsiderate.” When you are specific a person knows you truly understand the hurt you have caused and it is easier to forgive. The same is true in our relationship with God. Repentance is seeing what we did wrong and desiring to move in a different direction. Repentance is not about “getting out of trouble”, it is about changing the course of our lives!
  3. See your actions through God’s eyes.  Confession means we see that every sin in actually rebellion against our Holy God. We have left His ways or we have hurt someone that He loves. When we sin we choose to turn from God’s way. We reject His counsel.
  4. Seek to make things right when possible. This means making restitution where appropriate and doing things differently the next time. It doesn’t mean we won’t ever fail again. It doesn’t mean we won’t even do the same thing again. However it does mean that we are taking real step to change our behavior.

Moving On From Here? (6-11)

The end of the Psalm urges us to take action.

Therefore, let all the godly pray to you while there is still time,

that they may not drown in the floodwaters of judgment.

For you are my hiding place; you protect me from trouble.

You surround me with songs of victory.

The first step is to do what needs to be done. It’s time to stop talking about confession and repentance and actually take action. David calls us to search our heart and be honest about our sin. The sin of which we refuse to repent is actually the thing we foolishly worship as our idol. It is the thing we choose to cling to rather than being honest before the Lord. And here is the thing about idols . . . they can’t help you. You will remain alienated from God and your will grow increasingly miserable as the cancer of sin eats away at you.

Stop and look at your life. What is it that you wonder if God can truly forgive. It may be some past destructive or abusive action. It may be something secret like an addiction to pornography, a battle with same sex attraction, a compulsion to steal, a habit of lying, a history of immorality, shoddy workmanship, drug abuse, or more.

The Bible assures us that if we confess (admit, repent, and view our actions as God does) our sin, he will forgive our sin and cleanse us from ALL unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). You can be forgiven. The account can be settled. And all this is possible because Jesus died for your sin.

If you have never come to Jesus as the only one who can save you . . . if you have never really put ALL your hope in Him (still thinking you may be good enough to make it on your own), then turn to Jesus today. Start by confessing your sin of refusing to believe in Him. Stop playing church and right now declare that you wish to follow and trust Christ as your Savior and Lord.

Stop putting it off to some future time. Right now direct your attention to the Lord. Tell Him that you know you have really messed up your life. Confess the sins you are aware of right now and ask God to save you through Christ. Accept the gift of forgiveness and new life. Bow before Him in gratitude and humility.

Second, since you have been forgiven, start to follow Him to new life.

The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life.

I will advise you and watch over you.

Do not be like a senseless horse or mule that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control.”

10 Many sorrows come to the wicked, but unfailing love surrounds those who trust the Lord.

11 So rejoice in the Lord and be glad, all you who obey him! Shout for joy, all you whose hearts are pure!

God does not save us simply from “sins”, He saves us from the pattern of sin, the lifestyle of sin, the treadmill of sin. He not only wants to erase blots from your record, He wants to lead you in a new direction. He wants to introduce you to a better life, the life He created us to live.

The person who continues to pursue the same lifestyle that got them in trouble is like a person who has been pardoned from prison but refuses to leave the prison.

One of the first acts of obedience God may ask of you may be to extend forgiveness to those who have hurt you. This is hard. It goes against every instinct inside our sinful nature. But once you know what it is like to be set free . . . it is easier to extend that freedom to someone else.

The Book SACRED ACRE is the incredible story of Ed Thomas, a football coach in Parkersburg, Iowa who led his community to rebuild after it was destroyed by a tornado in 2008. In 2009 the revered coach Thomas was gunned down in the school weight room by Mark Becker, a sick young man that Ed Thomas had worked hard to try to help. The Thomas family and the Becker family went to the same church.

Because they understood the grace of God in their own lives, the Thomas family reached out in love to the Becker family. They worked hard to show compassion and love to Mark Becker who not only shot their father but also kicked him again and again. It was hard but the family understood that the blood of Christ is sufficient to pay even for this sin! They knew Ed Thomas would extend forgiveness because he knew what it meant to be forgiven.

We have trouble extending forgiveness because we imagine that the sin that was committed against us was far worse than any sin committed by us. That greatly minimizes the offense of our rebellion before a Holy God. We are all much more like Mark Becker than we are like Jesus. We commit violence against the Lord and each other frequently. Yet, God offers forgiveness to those who ask. He says we can live with No Condemnation (Romans 8:1). If that’s what God has done for us that is also what we should do for each other.

There will be other things God asks us to do. He will call us to live our life by a new set of values and with a new focus. And every time we trust Him enough to break the pattern of our old lives and truly follow Him we will find not only that He is right . . .but also that the life He offers is qualitatively far superior to what the world offers.

Do you get it? He not only wants to deliver us from the guilt of the past, He wants to introduce us to a life of freedom; a life of joy.

There is no reason to remain locked up in a prison of guilt, regret, and self-loathing. There is no reason to be tied up by bitterness, anger, or a desire to punish. The Lord has given us the key to get out of this prison: it is confession, repentance and forgiveness. It is a new beginning. We don’t deserve it. That’s why it is called grace.

David invites us to step out of the prison of guilt and regret and into the life of freedom and new life that is ours through Christ alone. I hope you will accept His invitation.

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