Then I will teach transgressors Thy ways and sinner will return to Thee. Psalm 50:13
In the last reflection, we briefly touched on the word “repentance.” Repentance means change. Forgiveness and repentance go hand in hand. Forgiveness is the “clean heart” we discussed in the last reflection, the clean slate that allows one to move forward unencumbered by past failings. However, without repentance, the clean heart will quickly return to its former state of dirtiness.
Immediately after making a plea for a clean heart, a new and right spirit, and a return of joy, David offered a response of repentance to God. He wasn’t just going to take God’s gifts and run away with them. He was going to make some changes. Remember he had gotten here with egregious crimes against others and against God. In return for the clean heart and right spirit, David pledged to now go forward as part of the solution and not part of the problem. He pledged to find transgressors who acted like he did and to teach them the ways of God so that they too could return, seeking a clean heart and renewed spirit.
There is really not much point in coming to God asking for forgiveness if there isn’t a plan to change, if there is a plan in fact to keep committing the same sins over and over again. That doesn’t mean that we won’t recommit the sins we have confessed, but at the moment we confess them, there should be a desire to change behavior. For instance, if a college student comes to confession and confesses frequent excessive drinking, that doesn’t mean that they will never drink excessively again (or swear or gossip, or any of the other sins we commonly confess). However, if a person comes to confession on Friday afternoon, and already has plans to go out drinking on Friday night, there is not much point to coming to confession.
Looking at the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15, we know this is about a son who wastes his father’s inheritance. The climax of the parable is when the young man “came to himself” (Luke 15: 17) and realized that he had done wrong. But then he made a plan to go back to his father and ask to be treated as a hired servant rather than as a son. The realizing the need for forgiveness is the “confession” but the plan to make it right is the repentance. David’s plan to make it right with God involved helping other transgressors to see their errors, to know the ways of God, and to return to God.
In some sense, we are all like David or the Prodigal Son. We may not have killed anyone as David did, but we have all killed the self-esteem of others when we gossip. We may not have squandered everything like the Prodigal Son, but we have squandered opportunities to serve, to help and also wasted blessings that God has given us, specifically our time, with ungodly pursuits. Just as with David and the Prodigal Son, we all need God’s forgiveness. And we all need to repent, in the sense of reorienting ourselves towards God by setting aside the things that keep us from God and encouraging others to do the same.
As we reflect on the things in our lives that need to be changed, let us also reflect and make plans to enact the appropriate changes. Because to ask for forgiveness with no plan of repentance will lead to a shallow and very brief spiritual victory. Asking for forgiveness while making plans for repentance set us up for a spiritual victory which is sincere and can be sustained.
Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your steadfast love; according to Your abundance mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified in Your sentence and blameless in Your judgment. For behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear the sounds of joy and feasting, the bones that were afflicted shall rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God and put a new and right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Your presence and take not Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of Your salvation and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I shall teach transgressors Your ways and sinners will return to You. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of Your deliverance. O Lord, You shall open my lips and my mouths shall show forth Your praise. For You have no delight in sacrifice; were I to give a burnt offering, You would not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and humbled heart, o God, You will not despise. Do good in Your good pleasure to Zion, and let the walls of Jerusalem be rebuilt. Then You will delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then they shall offer up bulls on Your altar [and have mercy on me O God]. Psalm 50 (51)
Reflect today not only on what needs forgiving in your life, but how you can repent of wrong by making concrete plans to change things that keep you from God!