Sorry – Repentance Changing the Heart
Joseph Queenan is a writer living in Tarrytown, New York. Three years ago his dad called him to set up a meeting to apologize. Joe knew that there was a lot to apologize for; growing up his dad would get drunk and beat the kids, terrorize his wife, and wreck the house. He had gone through an endless series of menial jobs. He was a compulsive liar that was so lazy he didn't even bother to invent new lies. At least three times a year he would tell them his wallet had been stolen at the train station. And many nights he could be found passed out face down on the carpet. In the morning, he couldn't remember anything, and like many alcoholics, if he didn't remember it, then it probably didn't happen. He couldn't remember beatings, thefts, car accidents, or lies.
Joe's mom had left him, and he had lost his job and his pension. Finally through these events he was convinced to give up drinking. He told his son, "One of the things I've learned through Alcoholics Anonymous is that you have to admit that you've hurt people. And you have to let them know how sorry you are. Son, I'm sorry for anything I might have done to harm you." He then shook Joe's hand. Joe writes that he liked the part in his dad’s apology about "anything I might have done." The apology with a handshake seemed like just another ritual.
To many Christians, this is pretty much what repentance amounts to. You tell God you're sorry, and assume he'll accept you. After all, he has to, He's God, right? If that’s your attitude, then you are still trying to play games with God. True repentance is never just a matter of being sorry for what you have done. True repentance means you are willing to do something about it.
This morning we are closing out our series by looking at the game Sorry. Maybe you remember how to play the game; you try to get your pieces from start to home, by drawing cards. The cards tell you to move ahead 5 spaces or move back 4 spaces. But there is a special card, the sorry card. When you draw it you can send the person of your choice back to the beginning. You see the name of the game is Sorry but it’s not about being sorry at all.
As I thought about this game over the past few weeks, I kept wondering if we really knew what it means to be sorry. Sure being sorry, or what we call it in church repentance, is one of those things that we talk about but we never really ever talk about.
Turn with me to Psalm 51 and let’s get some background. Psalm 51 is one of the few psalms where we are given the historical background. The inscription reads, A Psalm of David when Nathan the prophet came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.
You remember the story. He was on his palace roof one day when the army had gone out to battle and he saw a beautiful woman next door bathing herself. His passion was aroused, he ordered her to be brought to him, and he entered into an adulterous relationship with her. Later, when David learned that she was expecting a child, he panicked and tried to cover up his actions. And one thing lead to another until he ordered Uriah to be put in the forefront of the battle where he would most certainly be killed. And when news of Uriah’s death reached King David he felt he was off the hook, he had safely covered his sin.
2 years later, God sent Nathan the prophet to David. When David was confronted, he acknowledged the terrible sin he had committed. He fell on his face before God and out of that experience of confession comes this beautiful 51st Psalm. There are going to be several things that I want us to notice today but we need to focus specifically on verse 10, where David writes: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”
First There is a Need in Our Lives for Cleansing
I heard about two bachelors who were talking one day, and their conversation drifted from politics to sports to cooking. One of them said, “I got a cookbook once, but I could never do anything with it.”
The other one said, “Too much fancy work in it, huh?” You first one said, “Yeah, it sure was. Every one of the recipes began the same way - ‘Take a clean dish.’”
The problem with our relationship with God is much the same. God says, “Take a clean life,” and according to Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” we’re all in need of cleansing before we can even begin the work that GOd has for us to do.
The concept of forgiveness, of being made right with God, is pictured in the Bible in many different ways, sometimes as a new birth, sometimes as the crossing out of a debt, sometimes as the breaking off of a heavy chain.
But the picture of forgiveness that David uses here is perhaps the most common picture throughout the word of God, he describes it as a cleansing. “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” A few verses earlier, he wrote, “Wash me thoroughly from my sin, and cleanse me from my sin.” Psalm 51:2. And in verse 7, “Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”
You see, sin is dirty and it stains our lives. Like the mechanic who’s being working under the car all day we’re covered with filth. And there is the need for us to be cleansed. So David says, “Purge me, purify me, wash me.” The words he uses imply a thorough scrubbing. David says, “I’ve gotten myself dirty. I’ve been out messing with some things I shouldn’t have been messing with, and I’m covered with filth. I need for you to clean me up.” It’s a common image in the Bible because the need for cleansing is a human struggle.
That Cleansing Needs to Begin in the Heart
David doesn’t say, “Change the way I behave.” He says, “Change my heart.” It’s not that how we behave is unimportant. It’s just that we’ve got to start at the heart. We can go through all the right motions without our heart being right, but if the heart is right, everything else will fall into place.
That’s why in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “I don’t want you to sit back all proud just because you’ve never murdered anyone. I want to know what’s in your heart. And I don’t want you to think you’re somebody special just because you’ve never committed adultery. Let’s take a look at what’s in your heart.”
In Ephesians 4, Paul talks about the change in our lives which ought to take place when we become Christians. He calls it putting off the old man and putting on the new man. Living as a new man involves such things as telling the truth and not stealing, things that we do. But notice how he starts this section: “that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” Ephesians 4:22-24
I want you to notice in particular that phrase, be renewed in the spirit of your mind. I like the way the NCV translates this verse. It says, But you were taught to be made new in your hearts, to become a new person.
Paul goes on to say, This is how you ought to act as Christians. And the reason you ought to act this way is because you were taught to be made new in your hearts. That’s where the cleansing needs to start.
Then David acknowledges that God Creates the Clean Heart
David doesn’t offer to do it himself. In fact, he knows that he can’t. And when David says, Create in me a clean heart, O God, he goes back to the language of the creation itself in the first chapters of Genesis. The word create used here in Psalm 51 is the very same Hebrew word used in Genesis. It means to create something out of nothing. We can fashion, arrange, or remodel things. But we can never create anything in the true sense of the word. We can’t bring into being something that never existed before.
There is an old story that has made it’s rounds through a forward of a forward of a forward through e-mail about a group of scientists who got together one day and decided that man had come a long way and no longer needed God. So they picked one scientist to go and tell God that they were done with Him.
The scientist walked up to God and said, God, we’ve decided that we no longer need you. We’re to the point that we can clone people and do many miraculous things, so why don’t you just go on and get lost.
God listened very patiently and kindly to the man and after the scientist was done talking, God said, Very well, how about this, let’s say we have a ’man-making’ contest. To which the scientist replied, OK, great!
God added, Now, we’re going to do this just like I did back in the old days with Adam. The scientist said, Sure, no problem and bent down and grabbed himself a handful of dirt.
God just looked at him and said, No, no, no. You go get your own dirt!
The point is that, even if man can get to the point where he thinks he can be on the level of God, he hasn’t even come close. Only God has the power to speak and bring this world into existence. Only God can create.
So it’s not surprising that when David wants a clean heart, he says, Create in me a clean heart, O God. You see, I don’t have the power to create a clean heart. And you don’t have the power. Proverbs 20:9 says, Who can say, ‘I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin’? The answer is obvious. None of us can say that. Only God has the ability to take a heart of sin and purify it and cleanse it.
People try to deal with their guilt in a lot of different ways. Some try to cover it up with a lot of good works, thinking, “If I do enough good deeds, I can balance the scales in my favor.” But good deeds won’t get rid of guilt. Only what God has done for the us through the sacrifice Jesus offered on the cross can take away the sin and the guilt and the shame. Create in me a clean heart, O God.
Finally We Must Have an Attitude That Allows God to Change Our Heart
Yes, God is the only one who can create a clean heart, so there might be some who think, well, let’s just sit back and wait for God to do it! The truth is we must have the right kind of attitude before God can do anything with our hearts.
Notice how David prepared himself before he asked God to create in him a clean heart: First, There was contrition. In verse 17 David says, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart, These, O God, you will not despise.”
Now contrite is a big church word so what does it mean? To be contrite means to be aware of our spiritual condition. It means that our inner self is crushed with a sense of its guilt. It does not mean merely feeling bad or remorseful about sin. It means that we have a genuine and deep sorrow for our rebellion against God and a determined desire to do differently.
All to often our tendency is to rationalize or explain or excuse or defend or justify our sin. A contrite heart does not seek to blame circumstances or other people or God for our own failure. You don’t see David blaming God or Bathsheba: Lord, if you hadn’t made me king I wouldn’t be walking on this palace roof in the first place. And besides, did you see what she wasn’t wearing?
And yet we hear that sort of thing all the time. If you were married to this jerk, you’d cheat, too Or, It’s not my fault, the boss is so cheap I have to steal from the company to survive. Or, If I didn’t have such terrible neighbors, I wouldn’t lose my temper as much. If we ever hope to have a clean heart, there must be contrition.
Next we see that There was confession. In verses 3 and 4 David says “For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight.”
There are two sides to David’s confession. First of all, he confessed to himself. He said, I realize that I have sinned. I can’t deny it or escape it or forget it. I recognize what I’ve done.
Then he confessed his sin to God, Against you, you only, have I sinned. Along with his admission of guilt is a confession of God’s justice, God’s right to judge him for his sin. David makes no plea for lenience, no claim that God is too hard on him, no appeal for a light sentence. Simply put, he says, You’re right, I’m wrong.
Genuine confession demands that we take sin as seriously as God takes it. It’s not just a slip-up, a mistake. We need to have the right attitude toward sin -- a loathing, a disgust. And we need to determine to turn away from our sin. Proverbs 28:13 says, “He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.”
David writes Psalm 51 as a frank and full acknowledgment of his sin. He says, I know my sins, I’m not trying to cover them up. They are always before me, this double act of adultery and murder. I am guilty. There is no cover up or blaming God for them. He says, It’s not your fault, God; it’s mine.
That’s one reason why we struggle to find forgiveness for our sins. We suffer for years with a guilty conscience because we are not willing to come to the place where we acknowledge our sin. We refuse to call it what God calls it. We refuse to be honest with ourselves and with God. We forget that we can never be forgiven while we do this, for the first step in the process of forgiveness is an acknowledgment of sin.
Create in me a clean heart, O God. The most beautiful part of this story is that God did that for David and he’s willing to do the same for any of us. God’s delights in having the opportunity to forgive.
Questions To Consider
Have you ever tried to cover your sin up?
Did it work or did it backfire? How?
Repentance is one of those words we use in church. How would you explain it to someone who does not attend church?
How often must a person repent to be right with God?
You may need to read Psalm 51 to refresh people’s minds on our text from this morning
What were David’s sins?
Who is David blaming for this sin?
Why is it important to step to accept full and complete responsibility for our sin?
In Psalm 51:4 David says that he only sinned against God. What does that say about the nature of sin?
Confession of sin is a very important part. What is the best way to repent? Is there ever a need for a "public" confession of sin?
Finally we need to understand that repentance goes beyond acknowledging sin and asking God to forgive. Repentance is a change of mind that moves us to agree with God and allow Him to make the sin that entangles us become very distasteful in our lives. True repentance moves us to worship God with our lives. Does your life show true repentance, or is it just another ritual?