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The Heart of Repentance

September 11th, 2022 |The Heart of Repentance| Psalm 51

Pastor JD

Last week we saw that how we respond and follow Jesus matters; no where is that as true as when it comes to the idea of repentance.

Repentance was the call of John the Baptist in preparing the people for Jesus, repent was Jesus’ message when he began to proclaim the kingdom in his public ministry, and repentance was the call of the early church when they went out to fulfill the great commission.

Understanding repentance then is fundamental to understanding not only the new testament but also the kingdom of God.

In seeking to understand true repentance, there is hardly a better scriptural example than David’s psalm where he gives words to the need for repentance, the condition of man’s heart, the focus of our repentance, and the outcome of our repentance. We find this recorded for us in Psalm 51.

This psalm comes from an intensely sinful time in David’s life, which is encouraging in a number of ways.

  • Even David sinned. (David!)

  • Through this Psalm God has ministered to his people across thousands of years, in all kinds of circumstances, showing that even in our lowest points God can use even the worst days of our lives to bring life to others, God is sovereign and he will receive glory, if not for his mercy, then for his righteous judgment against sin.

David opens his heart to us so that we may learn not only from his mistakes, but that we might benefit from the truth God revealed to him during this painful time.

Three elements of repentance- Before we get into the sermon, I wanted to give you a working definition of repentance. The simplest definition of the word is to turn back, but the Greek word translated repent includes the idea of not just directionally, but of mentally. It is to be going in one way and after learning it is the wrong way, to turn and go the other way, in the case of sin, it is to acknowledge that your way is wrong and you are headed away from God and to by faith, turn from the very things that led you down that path to God and his truth, his way, and his life. Repentance then touches not just our actions but our very way of thinking.


The first element of repentance is a sense of wrongdoing. This happened for David when God sent his prophet Nathan to confront David with his sin. David had committed a series of moral failures and had violated God’s laws in the most heinous of ways. Seemingly unfazed by his actions, God sent the Prophet Nathan to be his vehicle of conviction for David.

Conviction is God acting on our understanding, that is God showing us our guilt and sin. For David, he did this through Nathan.

2 Samuel 12:1-9 (ESV) 1 And the LORD sent Nathan to David. He came to him and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had very many flocks and herds, 3 but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. 4 Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man's lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.” 5 Then David's anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, 6 and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”

7 Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. 8 And I gave you your master's house and your master's wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more. 9 Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.

David reacted the way we all should act to gross injustice, but until this David had been actively ignoring his own sin. He was angry at the man in the scenario, which is reasonable, but he goes a step further, this man deserves to die.

Our anger at others' sin is often a sign that we need to do some soul-searching ourselves.

God brought David face to face with his sin in no uncertain terms. This is what God’s conviction does.

Jesus says, when the Holy Spirit comes, this will be one of the things he does. John 16:8-11 (ESV) 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

Convict- reprove, rebuke, bring to the light

To be under the Lord’s conviction is not a pleasant place to be, but listen, it is a merciful place to be

To be under the Lord’s conviction is to be brought to the place where there are no excuses, where there are no extenuating circumstances, it is to see your sin like God sees your sin. It is not a pleasant place to be, but listen, it is a merciful place to be. God makes us aware of our sin so that we will be driven to him to find forgiveness and restoration. Without conviction, there can be no repentance, and without repentance, there will never be forgiveness and reconciliation.

But we cannot stop with conviction.

Getting honest about our sin, feeling bad about it is not repentance.

There are many people who experience conviction and either ignore it or endure it until it fades.

Conviction is to move us towards our next element, confession.

Confession- vs 1-12

When Nathan confronted David, His immediate response to Nathan was, 13 David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.”

Sometime later, David sat down and wrote a more detailed expression of the wrestling he did after being confronted with his sin. This is what we know as Psalm 51, where we can see the depth and details of David’s repentance.

By confession, we mean much more than simply admitting your sin, although it is not less than that, it is certainly more. David gives us a good example in verses 1-12. In these verses, He confesses the truth about God’s character, his condition, and his need. These three categories are helpful in understanding our response to conviction.

Of God’s character vs 1-2

Psalms 51:1-2 (ESV) 1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!

David begins immediately with the mercy of God. If he is to find any forgiveness, any atonement for his sin, it will be based on the mercy of God and nothing else. He then appeals to God’s character as the basis of his plea.

Note also, that he acknowledges that God is the only one that can accomplish what David needs.

Blot out my transgressions- literally ‘rebellions’. God is the creator and rightful ruler of all the earth, therefore any violation of his law is just that, rebellion. He is also a God that keeps record, because he is a just and holy God.

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, Cleanse me from my sin- He is a God that can not only wipe out our record but can purify us.

Of our condition vs 3-6
Any confession that doesn’t touch our very nature is a confession from a shallow well.

Psalms 51:3-6 (ESV) 3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. 4 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. 5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. 6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

David confesses that his sin has brought him under judgment from God

David makes an interesting statement here, against you, you only, have I sinned. Certainly, David can be said to have sinned against Bathsheba and Uriah, so how do we understand this?

I believe David is not minimizing his sin against these two, he is looking through it to the greater sin.

David violated a marriage covenant, and where did marriage begin? It was a gift from God.

David robbed Uriah of life, and who gave Uriah life to begin with?

David understands that all sin, no matter the consequences to those affected, ultimately finds its violation to be against God.

David confesses that he is a sinner at his very core, that by his nature he is a sinner. He offers this not as an excuse but as an understanding of the depth of his depravity.

Of our need vs 7-12

Psalms 51:7-12 (ESV) 7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. 8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. 9 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. 11 Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.

What does he need God to do?

To be restored

Purge me with hyssop- the original singers of this Psalm would have immediately thought of the God given ritual of cleansing a person of leprosy that involved hyssop.

Wash me, bring me back into right relation with you, do a work within the very core of who I am, restore me, and uphold me. David is aware of his condition before God and the miraculous work that it will take to bring him into right standing with God. No mere formula, no mere ritual can cleanse him, he needs God to supernatural act on his person if he is to be restored.

We also see in the next section that repentance is not just turning away from something, it is turning to something.

...repentance is not just turning away from something, it is turning to something.

Commitment- vs 13-17

Renewed obedience to God

Psalms 51:13-14 (ESV) 13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. 14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.

“Then”, David has faith that God will answer his prayer and restore him and he is expectantly looking forward to walking in that restoration. Notice that this is not a bargaining chip to earn God’s mercy. God will not be manipulated, this is a response to the great mercy and grace of God.

Renewed sense of worship

Psalms 51:15-17 (ESV) 15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. 16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

David is brought to a place where he realizes that sacrifices in and of themselves are not the point. It is the heart of the worshiper that God delights in.

Renewed desire for holiness in the community

Psalms 51:18-19 (ESV) 18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem; 19 then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.

David realizes that his sin has the potential to damage all of Israel. His desire is that God would draw the entire nation into right relation with himself so that all of God's people would walk in obedience.

Repentance is not a magical formula to make God forgive you, it combines both the heart attitude and aligning ourselves with the will of the Father. It’s not about words, it‘s about the attitude or our heart and the will of the Father.

True repentance is a repentant heart that has been convicted, that has been drawn to confession, and has committed to following God with a renewed passion.

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