Christ, Our Help For Repentance

On this first week of April in 2021, a white police officer is on trial, having been accused of applying excessive force to restrain an African-American who died in the process. I heard an NPR reporter start her report with “…, who killed George Floyd” with no hesitation, making a pre-determined judgment before the trial. I was surprised and assumed that she was just plain wrong in making that statement before the jury’s decision. Then I decided to google “NPR reporting “killing of George Floyd” and realized how controversial this issue truly is. (1) Maybe she was wrong, maybe I was, or maybe we’re all wrong about the event—only God knows the truth, but a jury will determine the police officer’s legal culpability. Hopefully, most of us will never see the inside of a courtroom where we are the accused because we see, confess, and repent of our sins before they become criminal. Recognizing our errors or potential errors is a crucial precursor for repentance. When Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey for the Passover, days before his crucifixion, many Jews hailed him as the next king of Israel, not a suffering, spiritual Messiah. They were wrong but didn’t recognize their error because of their stubborn refusal to humble themselves and see Jesus for who he is. After he was raised from death, leaving the tomb empty, they still didn’t consider that they were wrong and sought to justify this disappearance as anything other than a supernatural resurrection. (See Matthew 28:11-15) Their error was spiritually criminal, leading to their condemnation. 

New Clothing of Righteousness

The Jewish unbelievers in Jesus’s day lost their chance to repent, as did all other hard-hearted Israelites and Gentiles who have died without faith. However, God’s gives us, his elect believers, the ability to recognize our sins against him, the desire to confess them, and the will to eradicate them. Repentance is the culmination of putting our sins off as we put off our old selves. This weekend we will celebrate Jesus’s glorious resurrection from death, having provided substitutionary atonement for our sins, through propitiation of God’s wrath, paving the way for our resurrection. He reigns and continues to intercede for believers and sends his Spirit to unbelievers for saving faith. Repentance means clothing ourselves in Christ’s righteousness. “…put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and…be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:17-24) We must first “undress” from our sin, as  David did. He confessed, “I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me” (Psalm 51:3). Here is a devoted servant of God who was plagued by his sinful transgression of God’s laws, knowing that sin was in his very being from birth. God has preserved Psalm 51 as a model of confession and repentance for us. We have the Holy Spirit who confronts us (or other loving people) and should deep conviction of our sin as David did. Only then can we repent. 

David’s Penitence in Psalm 51

This month we will begin an extended study of Psalm 51, on and off through the rest of the year because it is “A uniquely powerful statement of the depths of sin and the heights of repentance. It is the most striking of the “prayers of penitence”, a type of lament. This psalm exposes the need that results from moral failures. (2) “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. 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. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalm 51:1-5) “David’s sin, in which he committed adultery with Bathsheba and later, after discovering that she was pregnant, arranged to have her husband, Uriah, killed in battle, is the dark background for the psalm (see 2 Sam. 11–12). But this very blackness led David to the light.” (3) “David had such a deep sense of his sin, that he was continually thinking of it, with sorrow and shame. His sin was committed against God, whose truth we deny by willful sin; with him we deal deceitfully. And the truly penitent will ever trace back the streams of actual sin to the fountain of original depravity.  He confesses his original corruption.” (4) Surely David knew that Proverbs 28:13 was to be taken seriously. “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” 

Repenting and Original Sin 

“The Bible says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). “Despite this verdict on human shortcomings, the idea persists in our humanistically dominated culture that sin is something peripheral or tangential to our nature. Indeed, we are flawed by sin. Our moral records exhibit blemishes. But somehow we think that our evil deeds reside at the rim or edge of our character and are inherently good. But if we lift our gaze to the ultimate standard of goodness—the holy character of God—we realize that what appears to be a basic goodness on an earthly level is corrupt to the core. The Bible teaches the total depravity of the human race. Total depravity means radical corruption…Total depravity means that I and everyone else are depraved or corrupt in the totality of our being. There is no part of us that is left untouched by sin. Our minds, our wills, and our bodies are affected by evil. We speak sinful words, do sinful deeds, have impure thoughts. Our very bodies suffer from the ravages of sin.” (5) Unfortunately, even our ideas and knowledge about repentance are corrupted by sin. Therefore, God must do the work of repentance in us when we desire it. Our work is to yearn for the transformation enough to pray for and appreciate the Spirit’s conviction of our sins. We will then seek repentance for them and obey the Spirit’s guidance to change. “Repentance is not just saying sorry to God. Genuine repentance is conviction of sin, humble contrition over sin, confession of sin, consecration to turn from sin.” (6) 

Repentance for Falling Short with God

Repentance can be confusing and is usually difficult; therefore, we often need to work through repentance repeatedly for the same sin or slowly. (See last week’s devotion–). While teaching his disciples about forgiveness, Jesus said, “Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (Luke 17:3-4) “But how do we know whether the repentance is genuine? It is easy to say we are sorry, and Jesus obviously has that in view because he said, ‘If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, “I repent,” forgive him.’” (7) Romans 7 also describes Paul’s difficulty with persistent sin as a mature Christian. “Here is how Packer summarizes [Romans 7:14-25]: ‘Alive in Christ, his heart delights in the law, and he wants to do what is good and right and thus keep it perfectly…But he finds that he cannot achieve the total compliance at which he aims…the Christian’s moral experience is that his reach persistently exceeds his grasp and that his desire for perfection is frustrated by the discomposing and distracting energies of indwelling sin. Stating this sad fact about himself, renews Paul’s distress at it, and in the cry of verses 24, 25 he voices his grief at not being able to glorify God more: ‘Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?’ Then at once he answers his own question: ‘Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!’” (8)

As we approach our Easter celebrations, Maundy Thursday calls us to grieve the need for Christ’s crucifixion and black hours on the cross because of our indwelling sin. On Good Friday, we rejoice that our Savior was willing to endure and complete his painful calling of crucifixion. But on Easter Sunday, we sing “hallelujah!” because he victoriously lives to make intercession for saved and unsaved sinners. Whenever we confess and seek repentance, Christ is there for us. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1-4)

Related Scripture: Psalms 14:1-3; 32:5; 53:2-3; Proverbs 28:13; Romans 3:10-12, 21-26.

Notes:

  1. See https://www.washingtonian.com/2020/06/04/npr-once-counseled-it)
  2. The Reformation Study Bible, Psalm 51 Introduction, Reformation Trust Publishing (Ligonier Ministries), Sanford, Fl., 2015. 
  3. Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Psalm 51, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
  4. Henry, Matthew, “Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible, Psalm 51:1-6, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhn/psalms-51.html
  5. Reformation Study Bible Study, “Human Depravity,” p. 889, Ibid.
  6. Parsons, Burk, Pastor, St. Andrews Church, Sanford, FL, Editor of TableTalk, Tweet 12-10-2020.
  7. A Walk with God: An Exposition of Luke’s Gospel)
  8. Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, The “Man” of Romans 7 is a Mature Christian (7:14-20), Ibid

April 1, 2021  

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