Day 19: May 21, 2018: Practicing Confession and Repentance
Psalm 51:1-4 [NIV]: Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. 3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. 4 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.
Confession and repentance go together. Sin must be admitted so that it can be rejected. We must acknowledge that we are going the wrong way before we can turn to go the right way. David’s prayer in Psalm 51, which he prayed after the prophet Nathan confronted him about his affair with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah, is a prayer of both confession and repentance.
David confessed, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (v. 4). Of course, David had also sinned against Uriah, Bathsheba, and against the nation of Israel. The words of verse 4 should not be taken to mean that the only offense which matters is the offense against God, for Jesus clearly taught that his disciples must seek to reconcile with those whom they have sinned against and to forgive those who have sinned against them (Matt. 5:23-26, 18:15-35; cf. Eph. 4:32-5:2). What David’s prayer does emphasize is that repentance begins by acknowledging that the most serious offense which sin causes is the violation of God’s holy character and the transgression of his moral law. As Dave Harvey has written, “Sin is infinitely wicked because it rejects the one who is infinitely holy and good.”
The work of confession, as part of the discipline of repentance, must be done intentionally. Douglas J. Rumford, in his book Soul Shaping: Taking Care of Your Spiritual Life, discusses “immediate confession,” “end-of-day confession,” and “whole-life confession.” Immediate confession is acknowledging sin and seeking forgiveness as soon as we realize that we have sinned. End-of-day confession is the practice of taking time before sleep to reflect on one’s day and to acknowledge any sins that are recognized then. Whole-life confession “focuses on releasing significant life-pattern sins.” This is the kind of confession that is necessary when repenting from sins which have long been harbored and practiced. There are other ways in which confession might be practiced, but these are helpful guidelines.
Repentance is a response to God’s convicting word. David did not repent of his sins of adultery and murder until after Nathan had declared God’s word to him (2 Samuel 12). Hebrews 3:7-19 warns of the danger of hardness of heart and exhorts disciples of Jesus to be obedient to God’s voice. Just a few verses later in Hebrews, the author writes, “Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart. No creature is concealed from him, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account” (Heb. 4:12-13, NAB). None of our sinful thoughts, desires, words, deeds, or habits are hidden from God. We stand “naked and exposed” before him and like a powerful search light, God’s word searches the depths of our hearts. So, to harden our hearts and to resist repentance is only to fool ourselves (remember the “deceitfulness of sin”?). It is to dupe ourselves into thinking that we can get away with sin when in the long run we will not, for we will have to answer to God. But God’s desire is to restore us and to make us like Jesus. Therefore, He addresses us with his word now, that it might penetrate our hearts and lead us into repentance and obedience.
To practice repentance, we must take four steps:
1) Regularly read and meditate upon God’s word. This is one of the most important means we have for cultivating sensitivity to the presence of sin in our lives and a readiness to respond obediently when God convicts us.
2) Pray according to Psalm 51:6: “Lord, teach me truth in my inner being, teach me wisdom in my heart.” Following Jesus means allowing God access to the deepest parts of who we are. We must invite the Holy Spirit to give us hearts that are soft and submissive to God’s word.
3) Develop an accountability relationship with a trusted brother or sister in Christ (see Heb. 3:13 and James 5:16). We need to give a trusted fellow Christian permission to ask us hard questions and hold us accountable for obeying Jesus.
4) Pray according to Psalm 139:23-24: We must take the initiative and ask God to show us sinful habits in our lives that we might repent of them and allow God to change us.
Take time now to seek God. This brief prayer can help you get started: “Heavenly Father, thank you for giving us confession and repentance as ways to deal with our sin in the light of your grace. Thank you that you want us to be honest with you, and that you want us to turn away from sin and walk in obedience to you. Thank you that you are faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”