Repenting of sin

Chatswood Baptist Church

Psalm 51


1. Repenting – we find it hard to do

When was the last time you asked someone to forgive you? When was the last time you remember admitting that what you did was wrong and that you have no excuse for what you did? You were acting selfishly and you’re sorry for the way that you treated them and for the hurt that you caused? We often don’t like having to admit that we were wrong and often we come up with a million reasons trying to justify ourselves and what we did.

  • I am sorry, BUT …

We find it hard to repent and even when we do, we often qualify an apology with the word ‘but’. I am sorry BUT you have to understand I was in a rush or the kids were driving me crazy’. ‘I’m sorry BUT it wasn’t just me was it …’ or ‘I’m sorry but I wasn’t the only one …’ or ‘I’m sorry that’s how I made you feel, BUT I didn’t mean it that way’. Let me give you some advice. If you are going to say you’re sorry to someone then leave the word “but” out.

  • We find it hard to say sorry

We find it hard to just say that we are sorry and ask for forgiveness. There is something in us that resists doing it even though we are trained to say sorry. We might train our kids from an early age to admit when they’ve done something wrong and to say sorry. “What you did to your sister was wrong. You need to tell your sister that you’re sorry”. But you look at them and they glare back at you. “Go on tell her that you’re sorry or you’re not going to be able to go out and play with her.” We might eventually ring a sorry out of them. “Sorry!” However, they often seem to miss the point (as many of us adults still do) for it isn’t the sort of sorrow that leads to a genuine repentance that means that they will treat their sister differently once they get back out there. The Bible is very aware that there is a sort of sorrow that leads to genuine repentance and a worldly kind that doesn’t (see 2 Cor. 7:9-10).

  • The report of David’s repentance in 2 Samuel 12 was very brief

Over the last few weeks, we have been looking at the story of David and the problem of sin. We have seen how easy it was for David to fall into sin and the depths of sin when it goes unchecked in chapter 11 of 2 Samuel. We saw David lust, lie, cheat, and kill and innocent man and cause the death of others to cover it all up. In chapter 12 we saw how the Lord dealt with David’s sin and that David repented, and that the Lord forgave him. But the report of David’s repentance in 2 Samuel was very brief. When Nathan the prophet pointed out how David had despised the word of the Lord showing utter contempt for the Lord by taking Bathsheba and  killing Uriah, we heard David immediately admit that he had sinned against the Lord, but it was just a single sentence.

2 Samuel 12:13

“I have sinned against the Lord.”


2. Repentance – what it looks like

Today what we want to explore what it looked like for David to repent of his sin by looking at Psalm 51. As the title of the psalm points out, this psalm was written by David after Nathan had confronted him about committing adultery with Bathsheba and killing her husband – hence the reference to the guilt of bloodshed in verse 14 of the Psalm). Here in this psalm the brief response of David from 2 Samuel, “I have sinned against the Lord”, is filled out and expanded upon. In it we see what it is really like to repent of our sin. From this psalm I would like to just point out a few things about what it means for us to repent.

2.1 Repentance is to ask the Lord for mercy

Firstly, repentance is to ask the Lord to show you mercy. It is to ask God to have mercy on you. It isn’t to tell God your sorry, but then go on with a whole lot of reasons why you did what you did. It is to throw yourself on the mercy of the Lord.

Psalm 51:1

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.[1]

Repentance is to recognise that what we are asking the Lord for is not something that he can give us because we deserve it. It is exactly the opposite. It is something that we don’t deserve because of what we have done and that we could never deserve no matter what we might yet do. Forgiveness is not something that you somehow earn for yourself or that you can bargain with God by telling him how good your track record has been and how well you have done in the past or how you will pledge to do much better in the future.

  • We can’t make up for what we’ve done

We can’t make up for what we have done. We might say to someone ‘I’m sorry that I did that but let me make it up to you.’ Well, we just can’t do that with God. We can’t make it up to him and the Lord can’t overlook what we’ve done. His justice demands payment for sin and there is only one payment to be made for sin. The apostle Paul wrote that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). If you want the Lord to give you what you deserve, then what you deserve is death and that’s what we all get if we don’t repent for it’s what we’ve earned for ourselves.

  • We ask the Lord to forgive us because of who he is.

When we ask the Lord to forgive us the only thing that we can appeal to his own character. David ask the Lord to forgive him on the grounds of the Lord’s own steadfast love and his great compassion for his people. We can only ask the Lord to forgive us because of who he is and so we ask him for the kind of mercy that accords with his great love and compassion for his people.

  • The story of the Pharisee and the tax-collector only one went home justified

Do you remember the story that Jesus told of the two men who went up to the temple to pray[2]? One man was a Pharisee and the other man, a tax-collector. The pharisee stood up and prayed about himself. He told the Lord that he wasn’t like other men – not like robbers, evildoers, adulterers or this tax-collector (probably looking over at the tax collector who just happened to be there in the temple with him at the time). He told the Lord how he fasted twice a week and gave a tenth of everything he had received. But the tax-collector didn’t even look up but beat his breast and said, “God have mercy on me a sinner”. Jesus said that only one man went home justified, which means right with God, and that day it was the tax-collector the man who cried out to the Lord for mercy because he knew he was a sinner. This is what we are all to cry out to God, “have mercy on me a sinner”.


2.2 Repentance means recognising our own sinfulness

Repentance secondly means recognising our own sinfulness. We need to admit that we are sinners in God’s sight. In verses 3 to 6 David admits his guilt before the Lord telling it how it really is.


Psalm 51:3-6

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.

Repentance can’t take place until we admit what we are really like. David had to admit that what he had done was evil in God’s sight and that he’d been sinful and this problem with sin had been there, before he had even been born. He owns his sinfulness. He talks about “my transgressions”, “my iniquities”, and “my sins”. David recognized that he was a sinner and he had been ultimately sinning against the Lord. He also understood that God’s was just in judging him and there was nothing that he, David, could do to wipe away his sin. He wrote that it was always before him and that God was justified when he judged him.


  • We must admit what we are really like

Until we recognize our own sinfulness, we won’t understand our great need of mercy. In order to truly repent you must be prepared to believe the truth about yourself. You must admit what you are really like. It’s a little like being alcoholic. I think the first step is the AA program is to admit that you’re an alcoholic and you need help. We need to come to grips with the fact that we are sinners (see Romans 3:23). Nathan had to confront David about what David had done so that he saw himself as he truly was and he came to understand how deep his problem with sin really went. It had always been there. David came to realize that he had always had a problem with sin. He wrote in verse 5 that surely that he was sinful at birth, sinful from the time his mother conceived him. He had inherited his problem with sin, as we all do for, we are all sons and daughters of Adam. It was when David saw himself for who he really was, a sinner, that David cried out to the Lord and asked the Lord to have mercy on him.

  • We need to see ourselves as we really are

We need to see ourselves as we really are. The problem for the Pharisees in Jesus day was that they reserved the term “sinner” for others and didn’t like thinking of themselves in the same way. We fool ourselves if we don’t think we need God to be merciful to us. We need to own who we are. We need to see ourselves as we really are.

  • The morning mask

When I was growing up, I used to watch a cartoon called the Jetsons. The Jetsons were a futuristic family living in the 21st century and one of the things that they thought we would be doing in the future (and they weren’t wrong) was talking to one another via video face to face. But of course, you weren’t always at your best first thing in the morning when we people called so Jane Jetson would wear what she called her “morning mask” to hide what she was really like early in the morning. Sadly, we often wear masks making out that we are doing really do better than we truly are, but sadly I think sometimes all we really do is end up deceiving ourselves about what we are really like. It’s as though we are looking in the mirror having forgotten we have morning masks still on. We look at ourselves through the eyes through our own fake persona. But we need to see ourselves as God sees us.

  • We need to see ourselves as God sees us

The Lord sent Nathan the prophet to David so that David might see himself for what he was truly like. When David wrote this psalm, he understood what he was like and he didn’t like what he saw. He wrote for I know my transgression and my sin is always before me. To see ourselves as we truly are is a blessing. We all need to see ourselves as God sees us. We can’t get help until we do. We need to say, “hello my name is …. and I’m a sinner.” We are all sinners who need the Lord our God to be merciful to us.

2.3 Repentance is to ask for forgiveness


Having recognized our sinfulness, repentance thirdly is to ask the Lord to forgive you. This is what David is doing in this psalm. David asks the Lord to remove his sin from him, to blot out the record of them, to wash them away and make him clean.

  • Blot out my transgressions.
  • V1 (again) Wash away all my iniquity.
  • (again) Cleanse me from my sin.
  • V7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
  • Blot out all my iniquity.


This is a cry for the Lord to forgive him and not to treat him as his sins deserved, but to remove them from him. Moses talked about the Lord blotting out his name from the book that he had written if the Lord didn’t forgive the Israelites in Exodus 32:32. He was talking about having his name removed so it didn’t appear in the Scriptures. David used the same word to ask the Lord to “blot out” his sin, to remove his sins from his record. He was asking the Lord to treat him as though he had not sinned so that he might not be cast from the presence of the Lord (v11). Of course, what David asked for is only possible because as the apostle Peter explained, Christ died for our sins once and for all, the righteous for the unrighteous to bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18).

If you cry out to the Lord to forgive you then what you are asking him to do is to apply what Christ has done on the cross to your account so that all your sins might be blotted out and you might be made clean and come into the presence of a holy God and dwell with him forever. This is the only way your sins can be blotted and removed so that you might not be cast out from the presence of the Lord.

2.4 Repentance includes asking the Lord to change us

But the fourth thing about repentance is that it is not just to confess our sins and pray for forgiveness, it is also to turn from it asking the Lord to change us. We are not just aware how sinful we are, but because we are truly sorry for what we have done, we desire to not do it again and for the Lord to create in us a pure heart.

Psalm 51:10

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.[3]


  • Create in me a pure heart

A pure heart is one that isn’t controlled by our own sinful desires but heart that has been cleaned and now delights in pleasing the Lord and doing his will. In verse 12 David asked the Lord for this willing spirit. David is asking the Lord to change his heart so that he might be willing to do what pleases the Lord. He was asking the Lord to create in him a heart – that is surrendered to doing the will of the Lord. When we repent, we not only asking the Lord to forgive us. but we also ask him to renew us and change our hearts so that we might not go on sinning.

  • Renew a steadfast spirit within me

In the second part of verse 10 David prays for the Lord to renew a steadfast spirit within him. David doesn’t want to fall into sin again. He wants to avoid it, but he knows he can’t do this without the help of the Lord. He not only need the Lord to change his heart but to also sustain it so that it doesn’t waver or give way to its own selfish desires.

  • We need to be asking the Lord to change us

When we repent, we are not only sorry for what we have done, but because we are we turn from it asking the Lord to forgive us and change us and our hearts. We need him to change our hearts so that they might be pure and steadfast, willing to do what pleases him and willing to keep on doing it. This is God’s work in us and we are to be praying that the Lord might keep on changing us making a steadfast so that we don’t sin. It should be something that we are always praying for ourselves and others.

  • Are we willing to keep on praying?

I think a good litmus test of true repentance is this willingness to keep on praying that the Lord will change us. It isn’t just a matter of saying sorry, for true sorrow, godly sorrow, leads to repentance. Repentance means turning away from sin and we should also be asking God to change our hearts and make them faithful or steadfast. We need to being praying about what we’ve repented of so that we don’t do it again. If we are struggling with temptation and sin, then we should be continually praying about it for we need God to do his good work in us through his Spirit.


2.4 Repentance delights the Lord

The last thing to say about repentance is that it delights the Lord. The Lord loves for his people to turn back to him. Jesus told three stories about how God delights when sinners repent. He told his disciples that there will be more rejoicing in heaven over the one sinner who repents than over the ninety-nine righteous people who don’t need to repent (see Luke 15). He delights in seeing sinners repent. He won’t caste us from his presence. He won’t turn back those who truly repent. We might feel ashamed and unworthy, but he won’t despise us. The Lord delights to see a broken and contrite heart. He won’t turn us away if we repent but he welcomes us with open arms.


Psalm 51:16-19

16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. 17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise. 18 May it please you to prosper Zion, to build up the walls of Jerusalem. 19 Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous, in burnt offerings offered whole; then bulls will be offered on your altar.


David wrote that the Lord doesn’t delight in sacrifices or burnt offerings. What I think David meant is that our worship of God means nothing if we don’t repent. If our hearts are not right nothing else matters.

  • He won’t despise a broken and contrite heart

What the Lord delights in is a broken spirit and broken and contrite heart. A broken spirit recognizes that there is nothing that we can do to fix things ourselves. Such a person recognizes that that they’re a sinner and they are totally unable to do anything about their sin to fix things with the Lord. They know that God is justified in condemning them. A broken spirit doesn’t tell God how good they’ve been or make unkeepable promises of how they are going to make it up to him in the future. A broken spirit doesn’t use the word ‘but’. A broken spirit is one that is contrite. It is sorry for the way we’ve despised the Word of the Lord and scorned God and it cries out to God to have mercy and to blot out our sin. The good news is that such a person, wrote David, God will not despise. He won’t turn you away. He won’t caste you from his presence.


3. Keep on repenting

If you haven’t cried out to God for mercy, then do what David did. Do what that tax-collector did in the story that Jesus told. Follow their example. Cry out to God for mercy.

  • Cry out to God for mercy

Admit that you too are sinner and cry out to God to have mercy on you a sinner. He can blot out your transgressions. He can wipe the record clean. He can wash away your sin so that you will be whiter than snow. The Lord so loved us that he gave us his one and only son, the Lord Jesus, to pay the penalty for every one of our sins. He makes it possible for us to be forgiven and cleansed so that we become whiter than snow.

  • Keep on praying to God to change you

But this doesn’t mean you’re your struggle with sin won’t continue. Don’t deceive yourself. If you are a believer, then keep on repenting when you sin, and keep asking the Lord to change you. Ask him to change your heart and renew a steadfast spirit in you. Keep on praying for this.

Brothers and sisters, you don’t just need to depend on the Lord to save you, you need him working in you to change you. So, when you become aware that you’re struggling with sin, the first thing that you should do is to acknowledge it, repent, turning from it but keep on asking the Lord to change your heart and renew a steadfast spirit in you. Ask him to restore to you the joy of your salvation so that you might delight in him and find your joy in pleasing him and not yourself. Ask him to have mercy on you a sinner.

[1] Except where otherwise indicated, all Scripture citations are taken from The Holy Bible: New International Version—Anglicised. (1984). (electronic edition). London: Hodder & Stoughton.

[2] Luke 18:9-14.

[3] The Holy Bible: New International Version—Anglicised. (1984). (electronic edition., Ps 51:10). London: Hodder & Stoughton.