The Repentant Heart
In the early 80's, Chicago, the popular rock band, hit the charts with a song titled, It's Hard To Say I'm Sorry. Confessing wrongdoing isn't just challenging for certain people, it's truly a universal quality of fallen humanity. We all have the tendency to live in denial of our sin and regularly think that other people are the problem. Many of our relational conflicts are due to the sin of pride and not getting our way. We are quick to point the accusing finger at others, but not nearly as quick to honestly evaluate what sinful attitudes, behaviors, and words we have contributed to the situation. And, if we actually do recognize the sins we have brought to the table, we often don't verbalize a genuine, heart-felt confession to God or to those we have wronged and, consequently, we remain in the bondage of a hard, unrepentant heart.
In 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the door at Wittenburg, an act intended to draw attention to some of the teachings of the Catholic church that were not in line with the teaching of Scripture. Luther's first thesis stated: When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said "Repent," he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance. Instead of viewing repentance as a one time event (as we are often tempted to believe), Luther reminds us that our Christian lives are to be marked by an ongoing humility of heart, repentance of sin, and brokenness before a holy God.
Psalm 51 is one of the great repentance passages in the Bible. The author of the psalm is King David, the great ruler of Israel who had used his power and privilege in government to take advantage of a married woman, Bathsheba, and commit adultery. Instead of repenting, David chose to try and cover up his sin by having Bathsheba's husband killed on the dangerous, front lines of battle. David's attempted cover up operation was doomed to failure from the beginning because nothing is hidden from the eyes of God. Through the convicting words of the prophet Nathan, God brought David to the place of repentance: "I have sinned against the Lord" (2 Sam. 12:13).
Sin is the great destroyer of relationships. David realized that his sin was primarily an offense against a holy, righteous God ("Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight" ~Psalm 51:4) and thus created a wedge between him and the Almighty. The grave nature of David's sin is emphasized by his use of three words to describe his fallen condition (see Psalm 51:1-2): transgressions (literally, rebellion), iniquity (meaningcrooked or perverse), and sin (meaning to miss the mark/target). However, as great as his sin was, David's repentant heart was reminded of the even greater power of God's mercy, unfailing love, and compassion:
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
The cleansing flow of God's grace is greater than any of our sin. Through the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross, God has opened a way for us to know and experience the righteousness of God through faith. In his book, The Sickness Unto Death, Kierkegaard wrote, "The opposite of sin is not virtue but faith." Faith is trusting in God's power to cleanse us; faith also implies a daily recognition that we cannot cleanse ourselves, a daily brokenness over our propensity to wander, rebel, and miss the mark. A daily, moment by moment repentance.
A broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise. (Psalm 51:17)