Have you ever apologized (sincerely) for something you did that hurt another person, but still ended up doing so again? Apologizing once is hard enough, but having to do the same thing again (and again) when we mess up in the same way is even worse. Some might say that an apology wasn’t valid if the offender goes back to doing the same thing, but I’m convinced that all of us – even followers of Jesus – fight against a sinful element in our selves that can still fall into the same sins from which we’ve repented.
If you struggle with that, I encourage you to ask God for help (and do the same with the person or people who you offend when you sin), but rest in knowing that you are not alone in this (see Romans 7:7-25, for instance) and that God is gracious and forgiving. There are things that we can do to help ourselves sin less, but we must not allow ourselves to become ineffective in our service to Jesus Christ by dwelling on sins that have already been forgiven.
Stepping back to Psalm 51:13-15, after admitting his sin and asking for forgiveness, David explains what will be different once God forgives him.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
so that sinners will turn back to you.
Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
you who are God my Savior,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
Open my lips, Lord,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
Psalms 51:13-15 NIV
Now, just to clarify, we don’t get to make bargains with God. I am pretty sure that we should not say anything like, “I’ll only do this if you bless me in this way”. In fact, the NASB suggests that the word “Then” (starting off verse 13 in the NIV and supplied in the NASB) wasn’t in the original Hebrew, and has been added to make things more readable in English. So, I don’t think that David is saying that this is what he will do only if God restores him. However, David knows God’s character, and that God is merciful.
Did you see what David is promising to do, here? He is not only seeking to live righteously going forward (and asking for God’s help), but he is also committing to help others do the same by telling them about God. David is prepared to praise God and to spur others to do the same.
So, how did David do with his apology here, throughout Psalm 51?
- He confessed his sin, admitted that he was wrong, and acknowledged that he sinned against God.
- He admitted that God is correct to judge him.
- He asked for forgiveness.
- He explained what he will do in the future, and sought help to be righteous.
- He showed that he understands that certain ceremonies won’t help restore his relationship with God, and didn’t try to offer meaningless sacrifices (even if that would be easier than humbly seeking peace with God) until he can be made right with God again.
If we are to believe psychologists quoted on the Internet (and our own experiences), I think that we would say that David did a pretty good job with his apology here. Based on this Psalm and elsewhere in the Bible, his penitence seems to be genuine and sincere.
In the same way, I hope that each of us is sorry for our sins, and that we are working to repent from them. However, let us not just pass our sins off with an insincere, “I’m sorry, God”. Did you notice that the phrase “I’m sorry” doesn’t appear in this Psalm? I’m not saying that our apologies shouldn’t include this phrase, but David’s psalm to God here shows how he is sorry, rather than just saying so.
In addition to offering words, may we pause to consider how our sins offend God and hurt others, confess our sins (to God and to others that we can trust to hold us accountable), and to seek out help (again, from God and from fellow Christians) in order to change our behavior for the better in the future.
After all, when the crowd at Pentecost asked what to do, Peter didn’t say that they should go out and “do good things”, or “be righteous”. Those things are the results of a life turned over to Jesus, but Peter’s instructions were to repent and be baptized. (See Acts 2:37-38)
So, don’t stop at admitting your sins to God (and to other people). Seek out real change and real restoration, and if you fall again after apologizing, don’t be too proud to seek grace again.
From Sunday School lesson prepared for October 16, 2022
- The Lookout, October 16, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation.
- The College Press NIV Commentary, Psalms, Volume 1, S. Edward Tesh and Walter D. Zorn, © 1999, College Press Publishing Co., Joplin, MO.