Sinning Against God’s Good Character

Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Teacher’s Day, Secretary’s Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Pastor’s Day—what do these days have in common? They celebrate people because we apparently need a special day to remember those we appreciate and respect. I am sure you would agree that we should value the men and women who fill these roles, rather than neglect them except on one particular day. Why do we need to hear God’s Word every Sunday to remember his divine attributes of righteousness, purity, perfection, goodness, mercy, grace, love, and justice? If we are honest with ourselves, it is because it is easier to forget him and his holy, perfect character than be continually reminded that we have fallen short. However, God has given us the means and the Spirit to help us repent, to raise our view of God rather than lower it. We exhibit our attitudes, beliefs, and perspectives about God by how we interact with others, set our priorities, order our days, and in how we will spend our time and money. Every time we fail to demonstrate his good character, we sin against him. In Psalm 51:4, David acknowledged his sin against God’s good character, person, and law. “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.” (Psalms 51:4) David sinned against Bathsheba and Uriah, but he recognized that he sinned against God in particular. As we meditate on his confession, let’s pray that we realize that all sin is an offense and rebellion toward God and his righteous character in himself and others.

Sinning against others is sinning against God.

Repentance is necessary because we are sinners with an inherent, corrupt view of God, ourselves, and others. Although believers have the Holy Spirit indwelling us, the sin of the world, Satan, and our sinful nature still influence us. (See Romans 7.) To be holier, kinder, more loving, patient, joyful, self-controlled, peaceful, good, gentle, merciful, and gracious—we must turn to God for continual improvement—our sanctification. Only when we actively seek the Lord’s help to mature spiritually will our godliness be demonstrated toward others, and therefore toward God. We serve God by serving others. We also love God by loving others and sin against God when we sin against others. In a parable about the final judgment, Jesus says that believers and professors of faith will be separated by their treatment of others, which points to their treatment of him. “‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’” (Matthew 25:44-45) Paul applies this principle in his first letter to the Corinthians church: “Sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.” (1 Corinthians 8:12) “What greater cruelty than to strike or beat…a sick and infirm man? And greater still to strike and wound his conscience…for a wounded spirit is insupportable without divine aid and influence; and what serves most to enhance the crime and guilt is, ye sin against Christ, who has so loved this weak brother as to die for him; and between whom there is so close an union, as between head and members; and…what is done to or against such a person, Christ takes as done to himself. (1) David knew this and therefore acknowledged his sin against God’s good character, person, and law when he sinned against Bathsheba and Uriah. Shouldn’t we, like David, recognize all sin as being an offense and rebellion toward God and his righteous character in himself and others—and repent?

What David Knew

“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.” (Psalms 51:4)Have you interacted with the court system lately, or known someone who has? Then you know that lawyers usually argue to win cases by using the law to their best advantage, not necessarily seeking to have righteousness prevail. In both civil and criminal cases, the law is founded on the principles of a country’s constitution, not necessarily upon moral statutes (although we hope the constitution was created upon high moral standards). “‘Sin is ultimately a religious concept rather than an ethical one’ (Weiser).” (2) David broke the law of the time—but it was God’s law, not national law. I know that it is sin. In my judgment, this is the meaning of the much-discussed sentence ‘Against you, you only, have I sinned.’ I think J. J. Stewart Perowne is on the right track in his excellent treatment of this statement. He approaches it in two ways. First, sin by its very definition is against God, since it is only by God’s law that sin is defined as sin. A wrong done to our neighbor is an offense against humanity. In the eyes of the state, which measures wrongs by its own laws, that wrong may be a crime. Only before God is it a sin. Second, it is only because God is in the picture that even a wrong done to our neighbor is a wrong. It is because our neighbor is made in God’s image and is endowed with rights by God that it is wrong to harm him or her. Perowne writes, ‘All wrong done to our neighbor is wrong done to one created in the image of God; all tempting of our neighbor to evil is taking the part of Satan against God, and, so far as in us lies, defeating God’s good purpose of grace toward him. All wounding of another, whether in person or property, in body or soul, is a sin against the goodness of God.’” (3)

Remembering God’s Character for Repentance

In his book, “Repentance—The First Word of the Gospel,” Richard Roberts writes:

“Whenever you sin, whatever that sin may be, it is against God’s sovereign rights in creation. An act of murder is against God’s sovereignty. A lustful thought is equally against God’s sovereignty. No matter what the sin is, it is against God. No sin is considered so inconsequential by God that it is not an affront to him…No one can ever hope to live in genuine ongoing repentance who has never come to realize that the great evil of all sin consists in the fact that it is against God. You ought to focus upon God’s sovereign rights in creation. You ought to begin every day with sober, serious, scriptural thoughts about the God who made you and the reason for your existence. If you will return to these thoughts whenever possible throughout the day, you will find yourself powerfully motivated to repentance. But if you tolerate a degraded view of God’s sovereign rights, you will be robbed of this powerful and needed motivation…When motivation toward repentance is lessened, the tendency to justify self and excuse sin increases. It then becomes easy to live nine months or longer without repentance.

“A summation of David’s response to God in [Psalm 51:1-4] can be condensed into the following essential ingredients of all true repentance, the knowledge…

  1. that there is one true God who made him.
  2. that God made him for Himself, not himself.
  3. that it is God’s right to command, and to enforce all that He has commanded.
  4. of what God’s commands actually are.
  5. of which commands have been broken and the nature of the transgressions committed. 
  6. of the fate of the transgression.
  7. of what must happen for transgressions to be forgiven.” (4)

Revival Starts with Repentance

When I was serving as a missionary in Uganda, I heard references to the revival in 1999-2000. I most often heard the description of people meeting on the street and asking each other, “Have you repented today?” I later learned that the Uganda revival was part of a larger East African revival, including Rwanda, Kenya, and Tanzania. If we want to witness a revival, it must start with the repentance of unbelievers. And how will these, created in God’s image and given his general revelation, know what that means unless we model it? We who have God’s special revelation in Jesus Christ, who know God personally and scripturally, must recognize all sin as being an offense and rebellion toward God and his righteous character in himself and others—and repent of it. As we view and treat the people in our lives, we should be demonstrating Christ’s righteousness, unhindered by our low view of God and his creatures. “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” (Romans 3:21-22)

Related Scripture: 2 Samuel 12:13-14; 24:10; Ezra 10:10-14; Psalm 38:18; Matthew 18:5-6; Acts 9:5; Romans 15:5-7.


  1. Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” 1 Corinthians 8:12,
  2. Zondervan Bible Commentary, F. F. Bruce General Editor, Psalm 51:4, One-Volume Illustrated Digital Edition
  3. Boice, James, “Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Psalm 51:4” Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
  4. Roberts, Richard Owen, Repentance: The First Word of the Gospel, p. 155-159, Crossway, 2002.

July 1, 2021      

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