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Repentance and Recovery

January 2nd, 2019

O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger,
nor discipline me in your wrath.
Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am languishing;
heal me, O LORD, for my bones are troubled.
My soul also is greatly troubled.
But you, O LORD—how long? (Psalm 6:1-3 ESV)

Repentance is a gift of God. We are tempted, I believe, to look at repentance negatively, when we should look at it as one of God’s greatest gifts to humanity. The Jewish Christians in the New Testament rejoiced when they heard of Gentile conversions and said, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18). When we read a psalm like this, we are seeing the evidence of God’s gift to us of repentance, that leads to blessings.

The inner awareness that we need to repent speaks to our credit, that we feel shame and guilt when we have sinned, knowing that we were made for something better. The one who has aspired to do right, to be responsible and compassionate, when he has failed, and when he has the courage to cry out to God in honest humility of heart, that is an admirable human being. Repentance as the Bible describes it involves (a) inner regret, (b) turning from evil, and (c) turning to God in faith.

Repentance and Grace

David repented before the Lord and found God’s forgiveness. He turned from sin and turned toward the Lord. The first part of this psalm recorded his prayer of repentance, and the last part David expressed the assurance that God had heard his prayer and forgiven him: “For the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping. The LORD has heard my plea; the LORD accepts my prayer” (Psa. 6:8b-9). 

David cried out, “Turn, O LORD, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love” (Psa. 6:4). And in the turning of the sinner to God was the assurance of God’s turning toward the sinner with grace and forgiveness. Through the prophet Zechariah God said to the nation: ” Return to me, says the LORD of hosts, and I will return to you” (Zech. 1:3). The rebuke and the discipline of the Lord was intended not for the sheer punishment of sin, but so that the person might turn from sin and turn to the Lord.

These two always go together if God is the One who has brought conviction. The Lord never puts upon us the awareness of our sin without also assuring us of the availability of His grace and forgiveness. No matter how grave the sin, the Lord constantly invites us to come to Him for cleansing and forgiveness.

“Happy repenting” doesn’t sound right, because the act of repenting is not one filled with happiness, but rather regret. But repenting the way God intended us to has actually a very joyful outcome – assurance of forgiveness and restoration into a healthy relationship with Him. The Christian life is one of constant repenting and thereby constant receiving and enjoying the grace and forgiveness of God. His grace far outweighs our sin, and His comfort far outweighs our shame. The joy of the Lord comes upon our turning to Him in repentance and faith.

How long?

David’s words reveal the agony of his soul that in mid-thought – bouncing from his sin, his physical languishing, and pain of his bones – he suddenly interjects these words: “How long?” Some translators have sought to make them read more smoothly and have added something to try and interpret them, such as “How long until you restore me?” (NLT). But in the original they stand out as a sudden cry from David’s heart.

The most common question in all the word of God is “How long, O God?” (Psalm 13:1; 89:46; Rev. 6:10, for examples). How long must we endure our own sinfulness, our fallenness and impurities? We long for eternal life, for changed hearts that are purified by God’s power. We long to see an end to suffering and injustice, as well as unbelief and evil. We long to see the new person – incorruptible bodies and perfected spirits that are completely sanctified.

I have personally discovered something redemptive and worshipful in praying this question to God. I believe God has left these desires for perfection in our hearts and as we cry out to God we are expressing His work within us. God put this desire in our hearts and we are revealing in this prayer a new nature and a new set of desires as new creations in Him. The answer eludes us, of course, other than to say:

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:8-9)

And Christ adds the assurance, “Surely I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). The repenting soul has the assurance of God’s grace and the comfort of His Spirit.

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The New Testament Greek had a certain word that was translated “repent” – metanoeo – and it was a technical word which meant a change of heart. The Old Testament repeatedly called for Israel to repent, but the Hebrew did not have a specific technical word for repentance, rather the understanding of it was based on the context. Most often the word was “turn” – shub – and commonly used to turn from sin and turn to God. The word naham was also used to describe the inner regret that accompanies repentance: Job used this word when he said, “I … repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6). Unlike metanoeo these were, however, common words and the majority of times these two words were used in the Old Testament they were not about a faith experience, rather it was the context that determined their spiritual meaning.

Therefore repenting in the Old Testament had three human components: (1) to feel regret for one’s actions, (2) to turn away from sin and unholiness, and (3) to turn to the Lord. The one who did so could be assured that God would turn toward Him in forgiveness and cleansing, soothing the pain of discipline and the shame of the sin that accompanied regret.

Daily Devotions, Psalms