Psalm 32:5 I acknowledge my sin to You.
Repentance means turning away from wrong ways of thinking or behaving and accepting God’s way of doing things. A common way that we refer to repentance is when a person who has rejected the Lord’s plan of salvation receives Christ’s offer to forgive their sin. Yet, repentance is also for believers. There is no person on earth who does not sin and, when we do, the Lord expects us to confess our sins and repent. Godly repentance has three aspects: acknowledging sin, experiencing remorse, and turning to God. We will discuss each one of them separately in order to understand the process of repentance.
The first step to repentance is acknowledging one’s sin. In the Gospels, Judas made an agreement with the chief priests to betray Jesus by handing Him over to them. Judas led them to the Garden of Gethsemane where they bound Jesus and brought Him to the High Priest for a trial that led Him to be crucified at Calvary. For this betrayal, Judas received thirty pieces of silver. When he realized what he did, he went to the chief priests and said, “I have betrayed an innocent man.” They, however, did not acknowledge their sin. Instead they said, “What do we care? That’s your problem.” (Matthew 27:4 NLT). The chief priests never took any responsibility in the killing of an innocent man, to them Jesus was a “man who was inciting the people to rebellion” (Luke 23:14). He was an “evildoer” (John 18:30). Killing Him was getting rid of the problem that was threatening their nation’s religious stability and therefore they did not see anything wrong in their actions.
The same attitude was with Cain, when the Lord confronted him with the murder of his brother, Cain claimed to have no responsibility over the life of his brother. He was not his “brother’s keeper” (Genesis 4:8-9) he responded and therefore whatever happened to his brother was not his responsibility. This attitude can bring no one to a point of repentance.
For one to repent, they must acknowledge that they sinned. David, after he sinned with Bathsheba said, “I acknowledged my sin to You” (Psalm 32:5) because he understood that “he who conceals his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them will find mercy” (Proverbs 28:13). Acknowledgement of sin means we fully face our actions and the flawed heart from which they came; then we take responsibility for the consequences that fellow.
The second ingredient to godly repentance is remorse. Remorse is when we deeply regret what we have done. Being remorseful is when ‘our hearts condemn us’ (1 John 3:20) and realize that we have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). David, when confronted with his sin said, “I have sinned against the LORD” (2 Samuel 12:13) because he understood the depth of his sin. It was not just against Uriah’s family but against God who created Uriah in His own image that he sinned.
Judas was remorseful for betraying Jesus, and he went back to the chief priests and the elders to convey his regret. A remorseful person wants to ease the pain that is in their heart. They want their conscience clean because their actions ‘haunt them day and night’ (Psalm 51:3). Judas confessed his sin and returned the money thinking that he would be free from the guilt.
Joseph’s brothers, after twenty years, were facing a man whom they thought was an Egyptian ruler. He was mistreating them and they said to themselves, “we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen. That is why this distress has come upon us” (Genesis 42:21). They carried this guilt and because they never acknowledged it nor showed remorse for it, they believed that every bad thing that was happening in their lives was because of their sin against Joseph. They carried a guilty conscience.
Remorse is when we are ‘being convicted by our own conscience’ (John 8:9). The Lord gave us a conscience as an inner compass that helps us to choose right from wrong. Paul said to the Romans, “I speak the truth in Christ-I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit” (Romans 9:1, NIV). When we do not acknowledge our sin we close the door of our conscience. We fail to ‘keep our conscience clear’ (1 Timothy 1:19) and therefore cannot reach a point of repentance. ‘Our own conscience and thoughts either accuse us or tell us that we are doing right’ (Romans 2:15).
The last step to repentance is turning back to the Lord. Judas acknowledged he sinned by ‘betraying innocent blood’ (Matthew 27:4), however, he did not go back to God and seek forgiveness. He confessed his sin to man. David however after he accepted his sin before Prophet Nathan went to the Lord and confessed his sin directly to God. Godly repentance is when we turn from our wrong and turn to the Lord seeking His mercy. David said, “have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgression” (Psalm 51:1).
Joseph’s brothers never returned to God and asked for forgiveness for selling him to the Ishmaelites and lying to their father that he was dead. When their father Jacob died, they remembered their sin and sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Before he died, your father commanded, ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I beg you, please forgive the transgression and sin of your brothers, for they did you wrong.’ So now, Joseph, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father” (Genesis 50:16-17). They still did not want to turn to God and repent for what they did, and like Judas they opted to go to man to bear up their sin. Joseph could not carry their transgressions; all he could do was cry with them and point them to God who forgives sins (Genesis 50:17-20).
Man has no ability and capability to carry our sins and that is why the chief priests said to Judas, ‘what do we have to do with your confession and remorse, you bear the responsibility of your sin’ (Matthew 27:4). Jesus is the One who “was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him” (Isaiah 53:5 KJV). He carried our sins for us because no man could bear such a heavy burden.
David knew the secret of being fully free from one’s sin. To complete his repentance and be free he directly went to the Lord and said, ‘You Lord, not man, wash me clean of my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin’ (Psalm 51:2). Sin is heavy and it can drive one to destruction as we see in Judas’ life. Therefore, it must always be brought to the Lord, for “if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness” (1 John 1:9).
Please don’t be fooled and think because you are a follower of Christ, you do not need to repent. David was a man after God’s heart (Acts 13:22) and yet he sinned. You and I miss the mark and standard God has set for us in His Word from time to time, we sin and therefore repentance ought to be our lifestyle. As human beings we cannot discern our own errors, we need the Lord to cleanse us from our hidden faults (Psalm 19:12). During this Lent season, let us daily say to the Lord, “search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me” (Psalm 139:23-24 KJV).
by Mathabo Masilela, VSB Teacher, South Africa