Tag Archives: forgiveness

What is Repentance?

imageAnyone with even a small amount of Bible knowledge realises that God is looking for us to ‘repent’. However we might wonder what ‘repentance’ actually is.

What does one do when one ‘repents’? Rather than simply defining the word, a Biblical example will help to demonstrate the meaning of repentance and more importantly how God responds when someone repents.

King in Trouble

2 Samuel Chapters 11 and 12 record a very sad period in the life of a king of Israel. The man was King David. Whilst his army was away at battle he committed adultery with the wife of one of his army generals. Then, when he learnt that she was pregnant, David arranged for her husband to be murdered. Summarising the two chapters which speak of this event we see the following:


2 Samuel Event
11:1-4 David commits adultery with a woman called Bathsheba
11:5 Bathsheba told David she was pregnant − with his child
11:6-13 David tries to get Bathsheba’s husband Uriah to sleep with his wife so that the child would appear to be his
11:14-25 David arranged to have Uriah murdered
11:26-27 David married Bathsheba
12:1-4 About 9 months later God sends the prophet Nathan to confront David about what he had done in committing adultery and murdering Uriah. He did this by telling David a story – much like the parables we find in the New Testament
12:5-6 David correctly identifies what should be done to the man who has done what the prophet Nathan talks about
12:7-12 The prophet Nathan then explains to David that he was the person in the wrong in the story that he had just told David. He then went on to tell David that he would be punished for what he had done
12:13 David repents − he actually said ‘I have sinned’

Repentance Defined

So we see that repentance means acknowledging that we are sinners. The example given is to teach us that in general terms we are sinners. It does not mean that we should confess to being adulterers or murderers, unless of course we are! The encouraging thing to notice is that when David repented, God forgave him. The Scripture explains it like this:

David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. (2 Samuel 12:13).

But the matter didn’t end there for David wrote a number of Psalms about this whole incident, Psalm 32 being one of them. In the Psalm he speaks of the turmoil in his mind before he confessed his sin. He said:

“When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long” (Psalm 32:3).

He was in such distress that David decided to repent before Nathan came to see him. For the Psalm continues:

I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and You forgave the iniquity of my sin (Psalm 32:5).

The outcome of that repentance is seen in the words of Nathan: “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die”. That gracious act of forgiveness is what David was referring to when he said: “You forgave the iniquity of my sin”.

What about Us?

What we have been looking at is not simply a Bible story. The New Testament says David’s experience can be ours. For in Romans chapter 4 the apostle Paul quotes Psalm 32:1-2 to describe the wonderful position of those who have been forgiven by God. Paul takes the personal experience of David “the man” (in Psalm 32:1) and shows it has a general application to all who would repent saying “those” (in Romans 4:7).

David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin” (Romans 4:6–8).

We noticed that God waited almost a year before sending Nathan to speak with David. Why did He wait so long? After all if God had intervened immediately Uriah would not have been murdered by David. In the way that He waited for David to repent we see how God works. The New Testament explains it like this:

The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

So the question we need to ask ourselves is how far are we along the road to repentance? How much longer will God have to wait for us?

Scripture has this wonderful promise for all of us:

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

What is sin?

If you go into any Christian Sunday School and ask the children to give you the definition of the word sin, you will probably receive a variety of answers along the lines of “sin is when you break God’s laws”.  The dictionary definition of sin is “deliberate disobedience to the known will of God”.  These definitions are quite straight forward, and from this it is easy to identify particular sins that we, as Christians, should not commit.  For example, adultery, theft, murder, and telling lies.

We also know that we all sin, and need to ask for forgiveness on a regular basis.  When you ask for forgiveness, do you sit there and think of all the times that you have told lies during the day?  Or all the times that you said a cross word to someone?  Is sin really as black and white as this?  There is no doubt that these examples are part of wrongdoing on our behalf, but the Bible takes it not one, but two steps further.

First of all, Jesus made it clear that it is not just the action of a sin that is wrong, it is also the thoughts that lead to a sin that are wrong.  In his sermon in the Book of Matthew he says the following:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  (Matthew 5:27-28)

As soon as your heart has decided that you want to sin, and that you are intending to sin, you have in fact already committed the sin.  In the eyes of God, you are guilty.

James tells us this as well:

“But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.  Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” (James 1:14-15)

Its clear again that sin starts in the mind, and the desire to sin leads us immediately down the wrong path.

You may be thinking however that its rare for you to be in such situations.  Whilst Christians do commit sins, I think the majority would not premeditate murder, theft or adultery except in extreme circumstances.  Do you ever find it difficult to come up with sins to ask for forgiveness for?  Many of us have “normal” days, we get up, we go to work or school or look after our families, we do a days work, eat our evening meal, maybe do an activity or watch some television, and then its off to bed.  We don’t actively sin, or face terrible temptation.  We are just going about our everyday lives.

This is where step two of Bible teaching comes in.

Sin is not always about what we do.  Sometimes its about what we don’t do.

Have you ever left any of the following undone?

Visited a sick person at your church

Taken the  opportunity to tell a friend or colleague about God

Used your leisure time in a way that forwards God’s purpose

Earnestly desired the kingdom of God to come soon

Thanked God and Jesus for blessings in your life

Attended church with joy in your heart and  a strong desire to worship God

These are examples of things that  we ALL leave undone every single day.  We sin by NOT doing things – probably a lot more readily than we commit the active sins mentioned earlier.

And we are not alone.  See what the apostle Paul says:

“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.  For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:18-19)

We all fight daily against apathy, against the human condition, and against our weak human natures.  Yet God will forgive these sins as readily as any others.  All we have to do is ask him for his grace and forgiveness, and pick up our crosses again, and follow Jesus once more:

“If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him.” (2 Timothy 2:11-12)