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Core Christianity: Tough Questions Answered

How Do I Repent?

by Stephen Roberts posted June 22, 2022

In a recent piece, I provided some counsel on how we might forgive in the face of betrayal by a parent, spouse, or fellow believers. Forgiveness is a powerful act, but so is repentance.

But what if you are the offending party? What if you are “that man,” as Nathan says when he so powerfully confronts David in 2 Samuel 12? Here are a few thoughts on how you can cut through the clutter of sin and shame, by God’s grace, and truly respond in repentance:

Have you truly owned your sin?

This took David a while. We know he lived in a state of unrepentant sin for at least nine months because his love, Bathsheba, gave birth to the child they conceived before he finally ‘fessed up. Finally, in the face of God’s confrontation through Nathan, he acknowledged his sin. His outpouring of grief over his sin is recorded in Psalm 51, which is instructive regarding our own repentance.

“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me,” David confessed (Ps. 51:3). There was no escaping what he had done. There were no acceptable excuses—not, “But she was bathing on a rooftop!” or “If only Uriah had done his husbandly duty by sleeping with her!”

He also realized that his sin was first and foremost against the Lord: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Ps. 51:4). It’s easier to excuse our sin when we don’t set it before our holy God.

Finally, he recognizes what his sin deserves: “So that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment” (Ps. 51:4). Our sin deserves God’s judgment. If you have made excuses until now, it’s here that your tongue should be stopped.

Are you striving toward new obedience?

Let’s be very clear here: I’m not asking, “Have you totally left this sin behind and never looked back?” Rather, out of sorrow for your sin before God, have you taken measures to counteract the remaining power of your sin? Christ adopts us into a spiritual family—the church—for a reason. We’re not meant to deal with sin or grow in grace alone.

You can’t fight your sin on your own. Satan is a formidable adversary, and your flesh is treacherous. Thankfully, the Lord doesn’t leave us to rely on willpower but grants us wisdom by his Spirit. Who are you confiding in and relying upon as an extension of his grace? This needs to be a group of people—not just a person—so that you’re reminded that they are but the body and you still need the Head. These friends also must be wise and courageous, knowing when to offer you hope and when to offer you hard truths.

Do you understand the abiding love of Jesus?

After Nathan hammers David with “You are the man,” he reminds David of the Lord’s goodness: “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. 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” (2 Sam. 12:8). The Lord isn’t stingy with his love or his good gifts. This makes our sin doubly tragic. Yet this same love and goodness is what draws us home.

At the end of the day, the Lord doesn’t condemn David to the death he so rightly deserves. In that moment, the promise of a coming Savior (2 Sam. 7) is painfully and poignantly combined with this picture of why a Savior is so clearly needed. Our Lord wasn’t ignorant of our sin when he accomplished our rescue. Rather, that was the point. He died for you in this present state of wretchedness and despair (Rom. 5:8). This love should both heighten your conviction and bring you immense comfort. It reminds you that your sin doesn’t have the final word. You can always come back by his grace alone. Christ has paid the penalty for your sin in full.

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Stephen Roberts

Stephen Roberts is an Army chaplain and also writes for Modern Reformation and The Federalist. He is married to Lindsey—a journalist—and they have three delightful and precocious children.

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