THE CHARACTERISTICS OF GENUINE REPENTANCE

1 To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came unto him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba. Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. 3 For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. 4 Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest. 5 Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me. 6 Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom. 7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. 8 Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice. 9 Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. 11 Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. 12 Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. 13 Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee. 14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness. 15 O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise. 16 For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. 18 Do good in thy good pleasure unto Zion: build thou the walls of Jerusalem. 19 Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offering and whole burnt offering: then shall they offer bullocks upon thine altar” (Psalm 51:1-19).

The introduction to this Psalm tells us that it is written “To the chief Musician.” This is important in that this Psalm of confession and repentance was to be sung by the priests before the congregation of Israel. There is an absolute kind of acceptance of accountability and transparency in this introductory instruction. This is what is meant by verse 3, “For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.” The eternal consequences of this particular chain of sins in David’s life would be a continual testimony of his transgression to all generations of mankind and into eternity. We will never know the impact of one moment of selfishness upon the lives of those we hurt, and those we lead astray by sin, until we see those results at the Judgment Seat of Christ. No one will possess genuine repentance until he can genuinely reflect upon the hurt caused to so many and the all encompassing eternal consequences.


“Have mercy upon me, O God”


David is not pleading his case before God or trying to justify his actions in any way. There is no blame-shifting or the devil made me do it cop-out. This is a defining characteristic of genuine repentance. There is no plea bargaining or talk of Bathsheba should not have been on that roof naked. David accepts the full responsibility for his sin and throws himself upon the mercy of God.

The request for “mercy” is asking for something not deserved. The plea of David for mercy goes beyond this in that he is asking for mercy in the place of what is deserved due to his monstrous chain of sin. David deserved to lose his position as king and he deserved to be stoned to death for his crime. His plea for mercy acknowledges his guilt and what he deserved. Sin under the Law is always viewed as a criminal offense deserving justice. David’s plea for mercy does not demand forgiveness. It is a plea that God be merciful toward him regarding his crimes and the administration of justice.

We should remember the circumstances surrounding David’s sin. God had rejected Saul as king of Israel. Saul was not God’s choice. Saul was the people’s choice. David was God chosen king. Yet, in the chain of event surrounding David’s sin, David has become a despotic monarch setting in his royal palace while his friends fight his battles. He had accepted a life of leisure. What is apparent in the account, and amazing, is that David has allowed himself to come to a place where he acts without any real cognizance of God. It is that man of injustice and self-centeredness that Nathan the prophet addresses in II Samuel 12:1-14. As we read Nathan’s confrontation of David in II Samuel 12:1-14, we notice that God does give David mercy in that his life is spared (II Samuel 12:13) and David is allowed to remain as king. Although David was forgiven, what God said He would allow to happen in David’s life in II Samuel 12:10-12 still happened.


“1 And the LORD sent Nathan unto David. And he came unto him, and said unto him, There were two men in one city; the one rich, and the other poor. 2 The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds: 3 But the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up: and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter. 4 And there came a traveller unto the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man that was come unto him; but took the poor man’s lamb, and dressed it for the man that was come to him. 5 And David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, As the LORD liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die: 6 And he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity. 7 And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man. Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul; 8 And I gave thee thy master’s house, and thy master’s wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things. 9 Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the LORD, to do evil in his sight? thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon. 10 Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife. 11 Thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun. 12 For thou didst it secretly: but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun. 13 And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the LORD. And Nathan said unto David, The LORD also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die. 14 Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die” (II Samuel 12:1-14).


God’s chastisement happens when He merely removes His providential hand of protective care and allows evil to run its natural course from its birth fountain. David’s chain of sin was the birth fountain of five outcomes that would impact his children and his household for generations.





1. “The sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised me;” Amnon rapes his half sister Tamar and she is defiled before Israel. Her full brother is Absalom, who has his half brother, Amnon, killed (II Samuel 13)

2. “I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house;” Absalom would seek to overthrow his father’s throne through insurrection (II Samuel 15).

3. “I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun” (public ridicule and shame because ‘thou didst it secretly;” this was fulfilled by his own son Absalom who took his father’s concubines, II Samuel 16:21-22)

4. The sin “hast given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme”

5. “The child also that is born unto thee shall surely die”



“For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me” (Psalm 51:3).


The emphasis of the statement is that of complete confession of his chain of sins. The word “transgressions” reveals this to refer to the specific chain of sin that began with David’s transgression in becoming a despotic monarch whose first failure was when he stayed at Jerusalem when the rest of the men of Israel went to war. The word “transgressions” refers to public confession and acknowledgement of the whole chain of sins involved in this matter and remorse for all levels of the impact of his moral turpitude.

The statement “my sin is ever before me” reveals that David could not escape the vision of the impact of his chain of sins upon the nation of Israel as a whole, thousands of people connected to the lives of those he had murdered to cover up his sin, and the generations of his own children that would be impacted by his terrible testimony. On top of all of this was the fact that the pagan nations were given opportunity to speak against the Name of God and blaspheme His character.

This conviction of sin literally weighed David down to the place he could do nothing else or think of nothing else. He just could not get away from the depth of the corrupting influence of his failures. His life was immersed in the agony of the sorrow in the lives that surrounded him, which sorrow was a flood caused by his chain of sins and God’s chastisement upon his life. His sins were like arrows that never stopped wounding souls. They would pass through one person’s life only to continue until they hit another, and another, and another, ad infinitum. Although David’s sin was forgiven by God, the consequences of that sin continued before David’s eyes for the rest of his life and into eternity.

The statement “my sin is ever before me” reflect more that remorse and tears for the trouble that had come into David’s life because of his selfishness. These words reflect a mourning that comes from the very depth of his soul. David was mourning for all the hurt he had caused in the lives of so many people and all the hurt that the river of consequences would carry forward into future generations.

The depth of David’s repentance is conditioned upon his understanding of the overwhelming spiritual corruption that his own failures had injected into the lives of all those even remotely connected to his life. This chain of sins was not an accident. This chain of sins was on purpose, but without any consideration of anything beyond the moment of the sin. That is the very nature of selfishness. Therefore, genuine repentance is no longer about the person who committed the sin and started the chain of catastrophic events that would hurt, maimed, and destroy thousands of lives. Genuine repentance is the overwhelming burden that understands all of that hurt and destruction and mourns for those that are injured. There is a loathing of sin and the selfishness of that sin in this kind of repentance. It is not just tears of remorse. Genuine repentance looks into the eyes of those injured by the sin and sees the pain and spiritual anguish caused by the sin and take the full load of the ongoing corruption onto one’s own shoulders acknowledging one’s self as the fountain of that corruption.

The concept of mourning in genuine repentance is not mourning regarding the sin itself. Mourning has to do with the losses regarding the consequences of sin. For instance, when a loved one dies, the more we love that person and the more intimate our relationship was with him, the deeper we mourn over the loss. The more we love someone the more we mourn over the hurt we cause him by our sin. The deeper we love someone generates a depth of mourning and the length of time of that mourning. The sense of loss is always with us. Selfish people reflect a repentance that is more about them than about those they have hurt. This is not genuine repentance.


“Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest” (Psalm 51:4).


Every “born again” believer is an artistic masterpiece of God in process. Sin is only against the Master Creator. Sin is like graffiti on God’s masterpieces. Sin defaces God’s masterpieces. However, spiritually shallow people see their sin like a smudge upon the glass that covers and protects the masterpiece. They think that forgiveness simply wipes away the smudge and it is never seen again. The fact is that sin mars the masterpiece. Yes, God can rework the masterpiece so the mar is fixed. However, that is the wonder of God’s masterpieces. The mars become part of the masterpiece in process. The mars are an eternal reminder of our selfishness and carelessness. Sadly, the mars of our sin do not merely impact our own lives, but thousands of other lives directly and indirectly touched by our influences. Genuine repentance mourns over those mars on the lives of all others.

Genuine repentance does not want the sin to be forgotten. Yes, it wants the penalty to be removed and the consequences to be minimal, but genuine repentance wants a monument of remembrance erected to the infamy as a warning to all those that follow. Genuine repentance erects this monument of remembrance saying “do not travel this pathway.” That is the purpose of David in Psalm 51. False repentance demands that the offenses of the sin are never brought up or remembered again. That is not the nature of forgiveness. Forgiveness GIVES the sinner a new beginning, but does not necessarily restore the trust that existed in the relationship prior to the sin. The genuinely repentant sinner wants the forgiveness and the new beginning in the process of restoring trust, but he purposely establishes a monument of remembrance to protect those he loves and to remind himself of his own spiritual frailties.

When David says, “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned,” he is not saying that the consequences of his sin did not affect thousands of others for many generations. He is acknowledging that all of the consequences of his sin were conceived in the womb of wickedness when he began to take God’s grace for granted. His sin took place the moment he forgot God and it blossomed into almost unimaginable destruction from that moment in time.




“13 Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: 14 But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. 15 Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death” (James 1:13-15).


When David says “and done this evil in thy sight,” he is speaking in judicial terms. He had committed his sins in the presence of God and before God’s eyes. This reflects his understanding of the degree to which his mind had sunk in the view of himself as a despotic monarch. In this view, there was no one above him or to which he needed to be accountable. In this view, his personal choices were above and beyond questioning. In this statement, David acknowledges a Sovereignty above his own and accepts accountability to that Sovereign One. He offers no defense or excuse. God saw, knows, and understands absolutely. Therefore, genuine repentance accepts whatever justice the Sovereign One administers for the punishment of the crime. Yes, David had requested mercy, but he accepts God’s judgment as just regardless of what that judgment might be. The gift of forgiveness does not necessarily mean there will be no consequences for the transgression that was committed. People with disingenuous repentance want forgiveness without providing any kind of accountability or retribution for the damages they have caused. This kind of attitude creates contempt towards the sinner by those he has offended with his moral turpitude. That is because his counterfeit repentance is actually ridiculous. Genuine repentance appeals to those offended and injured for forgiveness and restoration receiving as just any form of continued relationship and taking upon himself the complete responsibility for the restoration of broken fellowship.


“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (Psalm 51:17).


The emphasis here is the inward realities that must precede outward expressions of desire for restoration. There are two broken necessities to genuine repentance.


1. A broken into many pieces or crushed spirit; the idea seems to be that of disassembly. God has taken this person apart. A person with a broken spirit sees himself as having been broken down at the very core of his essence regarding ambitions, desires, and will. In this condition, his only hope is in complete dependence upon God.

2. A broken (or shattered) and contrite (collapsed) heart; this implies a sense of sorrow and remorse that is so deep that the flow of life seems to almost stop. Whatever flows is just more bitterness and sorrow. The person with a broken heart is bleeding to death spiritually and nothing can stop the flow but genuine repentance and humility. That is the picture before us in the “contrite” or collapsed heart. There is nothing of one’s selfishness left. All the putrid vileness of selfishness has been emptied through the broken heart. Until this becomes apparent in the sinner’s speech, emotions, and thoughts, genuine repentance is not yet present.




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Anonymous comments will not be allowed.Numerous studies and series are available free of charge for local churches at:http://www.disciplemakerministries.org/Dr. Lance Ketchum serves the Lord as a Church Planter, Evangelist/Revivalist.He has served the Lord for over 40 years.

1 comment:

DeanO said...

Excellent article - I'm afraid we live in a "church" world of fake repentance - forgive me today but I'll do it again today...Thank you for the time spent to write this article