How to Repent (Psalm 51)

repentHappy New Year! As you know, many people make New Year's resolutions. The top resolutions are: lose weight, get organized, save more, quit bad habits. Do you ever make spiritual resolutions? Pray more, read the Bible more, go to church more consistently are very typical.

But one of the best ways to start the new year is to...repent.

I read an article that made the point that when Jesus preached, one of his first messages was, "Repent and believe the good news!" (Mark 1:15). His first message was not "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life."

"Repent!" is also the cry of John the Baptist when he was preparing the way for the Lord and of the early church in Peter's first sermon. In Acts 2:38 Peter says, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins."

What is repentance? The Hebrew word for repentance means "to change from the wrong to the right path." To turn around. The Greek word for repentance means "a change of mind." It also has the root idea of transformation, changing your innermost thought and emotion.

But how do you repent? Today's passage is from Psalm 51, where King David writes a magnificent psalm that shows us how to repent. The story of why David wrote this psalm is told in 2 Samuel 11 and 12.

After being confronted by the prophet Nathan regarding his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, David admits his sin. This psalm gives us a vivid example of how to repent.

1) Realize your sin: In Psalm 51:3 David confesses his sin "For I know my transgressions and my sin is always before me." When confronted by his sin, David didn't get defensive or try and justify himself or blame others. Instead he fully confessed and admitted his sin.

2) Bring it to God: In Psalm 51:1-2 David brings his sin straight to God and entrusts himself to what he knows and has experienced of God. So many times we want to hide from our sins and deny them. Or instead of bringing it to God we feel guilty about it. But that is not repentance, it is despair. Despair focuses more on our badness than on God's goodness.

True repentance is a broken and repentant heart. David expresses this in Psalm 51:12 "My sacrifice O God is a broken and contrite heart, you God, will not despise." I've heard it said, "Sin is breaking God's heart, not just God's law." When sin breaks our heart, that is when true confession (agreeing with God about our sin) and repentance can occur.

3) Realize what you need from God. In Psalm 51:7, 10, 12 David needs three things that only God can do: 1) cleansing; 2) renewal of Spirit; and 3) restoration of joy. When we are weighed down by sin or are trying to avoid dealing with it, our joy and energy are sapped. It is as we turn around from our sin to God, we receive the freedom of forgiveness (1 John 1:9)

4) Surrender your fear. In Old Testament times, the Holy Spirit would come upon people and leave them. In Psalm 51:11 David surrenders his fear that God's presence would leave him because of his sin. In the New Testament, the Spirit does not leave believers but they may be cast aside from serving because of sin.

The good news is that in Christ we can surrender our fear. I John 4:18 "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment." We do have to deal with the consequences of our sins, but Jesus Christ has forever taken the punishment for them and will never leave us.

5) Resolve to live differently. In Psalm 51:13-15 David resolves that because of God's forgiveness and mercy he will give witness to others and teach them God's ways and sing his praise.

How is God speaking to you? Is there something you need to repent from? God's invitation is to start 2014 with a clean slate and get on the right track to get in spiritual shape for the new year.

What do you need to stop doing? What do you need to start doing? What do you need to let go of? Who do you need to forgive? How will you live your life differently because of God's grace and mercy and forgiveness in your life?

May God bless your 2014!