Repentance Starts in Your Heart (Part 1)
By Dale Porter
What runs through your mind as a believer in Christ when Psalm 51 is mentioned?
If you know the psalm’s background, you think of David’s sexual sin with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband. Because of this, it is easy to see David as the worst of sinners and exclude ourselves from this psalm. We tend to look at some sins as more sinful than others. We justify sins like anger, worry, fear, bitterness, resentment, pride and hypocrisy as “lesser” sins. When reading Psalm 51, we must examine ourselves (Matthew 7:1-5) and see the real problem is the enemy that lives inside us (Psalm 51:3). We need to be rescued from ourselves and be driven to our knees and say like Paul: “I am the chiefest of sinners” (I Timothy 1:15).
Some people read Psalm 51 and rejoice in David being forgiven. Forgiveness is implied in the psalm, but the main emphasis is on what genuine repentance looks like. This is important for our own lives and the people we counsel. Repentance is a change of mind (beliefs and intents) which leads to a change of actions. Your mind changes to God’s way of thinking and what He cherishes to obedient changed actions.
Words are important in how we are understood and what they convey to others. David’s words in Psalm 51 reveal something about him and go deep inside him. He reveals genuine Biblical change is at a heart level (Psalm 51:6, 10, 12, 17). Luke 6:45 speaks of what is happening in David’s life: “Out of the heart, the mouth speaks.” You can observe what is taking place in people’s lives through how they communicate. You see and hear in others how they have changed. You hear and observe “fruit” in their lives (Luke 6:43-44). But more importantly, you hear what people treasure or value more than God with their desires (Luke 6:45).
So, if David reveals what repentance is at the heart level, then we can conclude that Psalm 51 tells us what repentance looks like through his words. David’s words give you indication that something remarkable and transformational has taken place. In Psalm 51 you can come to grips with your own sin like David. You do this by examining your “desire laced words” to see if true Biblical repentance has taken root in your life.
Let’s consider some ways you can understand genuine repentance in Psalm 51. This will help you not only see the “fruit” of sin, but through David’s words you will also see the “roots” of sinful desire in your life. In order to receive God’s mercy (Psalm 51:1-2), you must deal with the unholy trinity of sin—transgression, iniquity and sin. “Transgression” conveys you willingly cross the line and want to park in a no parking zone. You park in the no parking zone because “you want to.” “Iniquity” speaks of how sin has stained everything you desire, think, speak or do. “Sin” defines you as falling short of God’s standard of glory in your thoughts, desires and actions. You don’t measure up to God’s glory in your marriage, family, job relations or friendships. This “terrible trinity” captures what is happening inside you at the heart level. Therefore, if you want true change to come to your life, start with looking at your motives and change them to Christlike ones, then your behavior will change.
Genuine repentance is also understood when you confess your hidden sin (Psalm 51:3-4a). “Against you” in verse 4 can be read as “before you.” David’s sin is so offense to God because it is done in his sight and made a “secret” matter with men (Psalm 51:6b, 2 Samuel 12:9, 12). David’s selfish will “covered up” his sin from others, but his words indicate that he was open and honest about his sin. He saw his sin the way God did as something heinous. He brought his sin out of darkness into the light. His selfish will had changed to pleasing God by living all life under God’s good sight. What about you? Are there things in your life which are done in “secret” that must come out of the darkness into the light? Be sure your sin will find you out!
Verse 4b reveals another way genuine repentance takes effect in your life, David says: “So that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgement.” David declares God is just and holy in all his dealings. Like David, you embrace God as just and holy. By declaring God is perfect in all dealings with you, you submit to God’s loving confrontation of your sin. That means when your sin is exposed like David’s sin, you don’t go through the “blame game.” You don’t shift the blame for your sin to people, circumstances or God (Genesis 2:12). Like David you understand your sinful desires of pride, fear and control in your heart chose to hurt, use, manipulate or spiritually murder (I John 3:15) other people. A twisted depraved mind when yielding to sinful desires can cry out: “That’s not fair,” but a broken and contrite mind will see God is absolutely right to expose sin and lead one to repentance.
Moreover, Psalm 51 says something radical. Its message cuts across our culture that says that we are not the result of what our experience has made us. David says: “Surely I have been a sinner from birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” You may counter David’s words by saying: “If only I had the right situations or relationships in my life.” David is saying to you that his greatest problem in all of life is not the result of what he has suffered in situations and relationships. Rather, David tells you that his biggest problem is internal and was there before any situations or relationships existed.
Whatever your sin is today, you need to come to grips with Psalm 51’s message: “My biggest problem in life exists not outside of you; rather it exists inside of you.” You really need to be rescued from yourself. You are the biggest danger to yourself. That’s why God offers you true repentance of his grace which has power to change you from the inside out.