Maybe to begin with we can go to the Gospel of Mark. If you look in Mark 1:4, talking about John the Baptist, it says, “John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” Then after John is arrested, you can go to verse 14. “Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.’” What’s that next word? “‘Repent, and believe in the gospel.’” Part and parcel of preaching the gospel biblically is to talk about the subject of repentance, and repentance and confession sort of go hand in hand. Confession is the verbal side of repentance, if you will.
Then go with me to Acts 2:38. After the Holy Spirit is poured out and Jesus is ascended to heaven, not only did John the Baptist begin saying, “Repent,” then Jesus said, “Repent,” then the message of the apostles. When the Jewish people listening heard Peter preach, they said, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” First words out of Peter’s mouth, he said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
So this is just such a core teaching of the Bible. We all have a problem with sin. We have all sinned. We’ve all broken God’s commandments. The penalty for sin is very severe. It doesn’t get any more serious than death. So if we’re going to be pardoned and forgiven, we must understand that we need to repent and confess our sins.
But there is a right way and a wrong way to repent. We have a number of examples in the Bible we can look at very quickly to learn something about what’s the right kind and what’s the wrong kind. Actually, we’re going to start with the wrong kind. I thought that in just thinking about this, those words—it’s a complete sentence, the ultimate mea culpa, “I have sinned,” you find that phrase about 20 times in the Bible, those exact words in that sentence, “I have sinned,” and some very interesting characters make that declaration, a public confession and supposedly repenting of their sins.
We’ve had some of it in the public sector in our age who have made that declaration. I think a few years ago, remember when President Bill Clinton got caught up in that scandal with Monica Lewinsky. He met September 12th, 1998 before a group of 100 ministers, priests, and religious leaders, and he said in a very famous speech, emotional speech, “I have sinned,” and they finally came to their feet and applauded because they believed he was finally coming clean. You remember at first when that came out, it was like, “I don’t know who she is. I didn’t do anything,” and there was all this dancing around.
Some believe that the public never seemed to forgive Richard Nixon. I want to make everyone angry equally, so I’m giving you a nonpartisan discussion here. I picked one Republican and one Democrat so you can all be equally upset with me. Richard Nixon, when he had gotten involved in that Watergate scandal, we never did find the full scope of it because he was pardoned and so there was never a complete investigation, but what we heard on the tapes was bad enough. When he was interviewed and he had an opportunity to come clean, he basically said, “Mistakes were made,” and a lot of analysts said if he had really come clean and said, “I sinned…” He did admit, he said, “I let down the people.”
Who here couldn’t say with honesty those three words, “I have sinned”? How many have sinned? All of us should be able to relate to that.
Even more recently, Newt Gingrich came out, he admitted, “I’ve sinned,” speaking about an affair that he had while he was still married. Herman Cain was in the news for some of these things.
And who can forget even religious leaders, not just the politicians? Jimmy Swaggart. He was caught with a lady of the night in 1988, and he gave this famous sermon, where he declared, “I have sinned,” and he cried before the camera. The Assemblies of God asked him to take a hiatus from preaching for a while, and he didn’t want to take off as long as they thought he needed to take off to get counseling and to experience some recovery, and so finally, it says they questioned the sincerity of his repentance, and he was defrocked. So he joined a nondenominational group and continued preaching, but then on October 11, 1991, he was caught for a second time with another prostitute in Indio, California. It makes you wonder if maybe the Assemblies of God were correct that his repentance wasn’t thorough and heartfelt. Only God, really, can know a person’s heart.
The Bible is clear repentance and confession must be part of forgiveness. 1 John 1:9. This is good news. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” You can’t just stop there with confessing. There needs to be a repentance for sin. What is repentance? In the book Steps to Christ, page 23, and a little later I’m going to read a whole section from this chapter. Chapter 3 is a great chapter of Steps to Christ. How many of you have that book? That’s a wonderful book. I keep it on my desk. It’s one of the books I often refer to. “Repentance includes sorrow for sin and a turning away from it. We shall not renounce sin unless we see its sinfulness; until we turn away from it in heart, there will be no real change in the life.” There must be a heart renouncing of sin and a change. This is what repentance is.
Proverbs explains confession a little more thoroughly. Proverbs 28:13. Solomon here wrote, “He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses … will have mercy.” I left something out. Did anyone catch it? I just do that. You all pray for me. Something wrong with the pastor doing something devious while he’s preaching, but I just want to know if you’re really reading along or if you’re just sitting there taking it in. Preachers will fool you, so you have to read this for yourself. “He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them…” So it’s not just confessing your sin. There are some major religions that believe you go in once a week, and you sort of renew your license to sin by confessing, but it doesn’t involve forsaking. But the Lord wants us to be transformed. Amen? Be new creatures. “Whoever confesses and forsakes [his sins] will have mercy.”
Let’s take a look at some of the scenarios, the vignettes, the portraits, of these people who all declared, every one of them declared, “I have sinned.” You’ll find those three words in each one of these stories. First we’re going to begin with the story of the Pharaoh of Egypt. This is during the time of the Exodus. That proud monarch did not want to let the children of Israel go. God said He would use His power and His might to compel him to let them go. First few plagues, he seemed unmoved. Then it got worse and worse, and finally there was thunder and lightning. Have you ever been in one of those storms where everything is shaking and flashing and banging, and the lightning is cracking all around you? Sometimes you see the flash of light and you can count a few seconds before you hear the low rumble. But if the lightning flashes right nearby, it’s an explosion of sound, and it can be terrifying. It’s like being in the middle of a bombardment. Well, this was happening, and Pharaoh’s nerves had all they could stand.
Exodus 9:27, “And Pharaoh sent and called for Moses and Aaron, and said to them,” here you have it, those three words, “‘I have sinned this time.’” He’s saying, “I’ve sinned this time.” It’s like when some politicians made some big mistakes, they said, “Mistakes were made.” They didn’t want to say, “I made a mistake”; they say, “Mistakes were made.” During the Inquisition, a few years ago the pope thought that it was important to have some kind of acknowledgment about the problems that the church made, but instead of coming out and saying the church sinned, they said, “Mistakes were made.” Well, who made them? But when you say, “I have sinned,” you narrow it down, don’t you?
So, he did say, “I have sinned this time. The Lord is righteous, and my people and I are wicked. Entreat the Lord, that there may be no more mighty thundering and hail, for it is enough. I will let you go, and you shall stay no longer.” So Moses went out and he stretched out his hands and he prayed, and the thunder and the lightning and the fire on the ground all stopped. But there was no real change of heart. Jump to Exodus 9:34. “And when Pharaoh saw that the rain, the hail, and the thunder had ceased, he sinned yet more; and he hardened his heart, he and his servants. So the heart of Pharaoh was hard; neither would he let the children of Israel go, as the Lord had spoken.”
Then more plagues come, and Pharaoh calls again for Moses and Aaron, and he says to them (Exodus 10:16), he called for them, and he said, “I have sinned against the Lord your God and against you. Now therefore, please forgive my sin only this once, and entreat the Lord your God, that He may take away from me this death only,” another plague. Then you jump down to verse 20, “But … he did not let the children of Israel go.”
So did he really repent? Was there a change of heart? Was there a reform, a change of behavior? Repentance means a sorrow for sin and a turning away from it. 2 Peter 3:9, God is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” So, if we are not going to perish—God so loved the world, He sent His Son, that whoever believes in Him might not perish—if we’re not going to perish, He says we must repent, be sorry for our sins, confess our sins, and be sorry enough to turn away. You can’t do that without God’s help; otherwise you’ll have a Pharaoh-like repentance.
When there’s a plague, who hasn’t done that? You’re in a foxhole with bullets flying over your head, and you say, “I have sinned.” Or you’re going through some calamity or some disaster or some sickness or someone you care about, and you’re wondering, “Is there anything that I can do to get more credit points for prayer with God? I’ll confess my sin if that’s what it’s going to take to get what I need or to get relief.” But is that what real repentance is?
Then you have Balaam. I got a phone call last night from Pastor John Lomacang (some of you know), and he’s a friend. He called and wished me a happy birthday. He said, “I’m preaching about Balaam tomorrow.” I said, “I’m talking a little about Balaam tomorrow, too.” He said, “The name of my sermon is ‘Dumb and Dumber.’” I said, “Are you preaching about you and me?” He said, “No.” He said, “The dumb donkey talked to Balaam, but Balaam was dumber still.” You all know the story. Balaam is told by the Lord, “Do not go curse Israel. They’re My people. I’ve blessed them.” But they offered a reward, and he kept saying, “Oh, please, let me go, let me go.” So God let him go, and en route an angel appears to him, and the angel says, “I was ready to slay you if it wasn’t the donkey had turned out of the way. I would have spared the donkey, and you’d be dead.”
You know what Balaam says at that point when he sees the angel. He says, “I have sinned!” Was that genuine repentance? If you see an angel in the road with a drawn sword, what are you going to say? Especially after you’ve just had a tantrum that you’re so out of your mind, you’re arguing with the donkey. That’s when he sees the angel. He was so bent on going his way and doing his own thing. None of us are like that, are we? “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on [Jesus] the iniquity of us all,” because of wanting to go our own way. Balaam wanted to go and get the reward from Balak for cursing Israel. Even after God said, “Your way is perverse before Me,” he said, “I have sinned! I have sinned!” And you know what, when the angel disappeared, he kept going down the same road, didn’t he?
Then the king says, “I’ve come to pay you to curse Israel.” He said, “I have to say what God says, but let me try.” Why did he even try? He should have done a U-turn and said, “This is not God’s will” and gone back home. Balaam was like a lot of us, double minded. Part of us, like that ancient king, he said he had the Lord painted on one side of his shield and he had the devil painted on the other side of his shield, depending on who he met in battle. It’s like we want to serve two masters. Jesus talked about that in Matthew 6:24. You can’t do it, “for either [you] will hate the one and love the other, or else [you] will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” Don’t misunderstand that verse. Jesus is not saying you cannot serve two masters. You can’t serve two masters effectively, because one will take dominance. A lot of us try to serve more than two masters—two or more. But Balaam tried. He loved money. The Bible tells us, 2 Peter 2:15, speaking of the lost, “They have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness.” He loved money. It’s like what Judas did. He wanted to follow Jesus, but he wanted the 30 pieces of silver, too. He was torn in his heart, but he ended up selling the Savior for silver. He put the money ahead of Jesus. That was his first love. Can’t really do both. Balaam said, “I have sinned,” and he felt it probably at that moment, but kept going down the wrong road.
Then you have another character in the Bible, and I’m doing this chronologically. In the book of Joshua you have Achan. Do you rememeber the story of Achan? Just in case you don’t, when Joshua was getting ready to conquer Jericho, the Lord had strictly told them, “You’ll get to plunder all these nations that you conquer. But Jericho is the beachhead, and the firstfruits belong to the Lord, and as God is going to fight this battle for you—all you have to do is march around the city and shout, I’ll bring down the walls—everything that comes from the city belongs to the Lord. The plunder from this first battle belongs to the Lord. Don’t touch it or you will be cursed.”
After the city fell and they had dispatched all the inhabitants, Achan was rummaging through the stuff in the city, and he saw some silver, and he saw a wedge of gold, he saw a beautiful Babylonian garment. Instead of bringing it with all the plunder to this mountain, this heap, they had made in consecrating it to the Lord, he stuck it in his armor, took it back to his tent, and then hid it there in his tent. And all of a sudden these curses began to come on Israel. They couldn’t fight and win a battle. Joshua was praying, saying, “Lord, what’s wrong? We’re losing.” God said, “Don’t be crying on your knees. You have an Achan in the camp.” That’s not what He said. He said that there was sin in the camp. He said, “Get all the people together and start casting lots.” God could have just pointed him out, but He thought He would give Achan an opportunity to fess up.
Then he said, “We have to get everyone together. The Lord tells us one of us has disobeyed and everybody’s suffering because of it.” They assembled all the people, and what do you think is going on in Achan’s mind when that happens? Did he know? He knew he should come clean. But no, he thought… Once you start going down that road of deception and stealing, it’s easy to just keep perpetuating and digging the hole deeper. Then they cast lots, and they said, “We’re going to pick one of the tribes,” and the tribe is Judah is picked. Then they start picking which clan, and they pick another clan. Then they pick a family, and they pick another family, and pretty soon it narrows down, and finally they picked the household of Achan. At that point, Joshua says to Achan, “Tell me. Confess to the Lord what’s going on.”
Joshua 7:20, “And Achan answered Joshua and said, ‘Indeed I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and this is what I have done: when I saw among the spoils a beautiful Babylonian garment, two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold…, I coveted them and took them. And there they are, hidden in the earth in the midst of my tent, with the silver under it.’” He said it, “I have sinned.” But is that repentance? Or was it kind of a forced confession? When the Lord puts you under His interrogation light and everybody’s looking, you can only hold out so long.
By the way, how do you say “Joshua” in Greek? “Jesus.” And the way you say “Jesus” in Hebrew is “Yashua” or “Joshua.” Achan confessed before Joshua and all of Israel. Is there a day coming where every knee is going to bow and every tongue will confess to God? Even the lost will confess at some point. Even the devil, the Bible says, will bow before Jesus. So everyone is going to repent someday. Why don’t you do it now and beat the crowd? Why don’t you do it now from your heart, because that’s a forced confession where it’s done because of fear. We want to do it willingly. You don’t want to wait until you are pointed out and people find the forbidden treasure in your tent. What happened to Achan? Yes, he confessed, and you could say he repented, but he was lost, and his family, because they were probably conspiring with him.
I’m dealing first—I’m going to talk about the wrong ways that people repent, and I think all of us see a little piece of us in there somewhere. Saul. You know the story. 1 Samuel 15:24. (In case you’re counting, I’m going to do 10 of these. I’m on number 4.) Saul is told to go to battle against the Amalekites. He is told to basically eradicate the Amalekites, and I know there are a lot of questions on why God would order genocide, but that’s what happened. He said, “Do not keep any of the plunder from those people. They are corrupt. They are diseased, and don’t bring any of their animals back.” Well, they didn’t listen. They thought, “Some of those animals look pretty good to us. They look pretty healthy. Let’s bring back as an offering to the Lord, because if we get to offer sacrifices from their stuff, we don’t have to offer from our stuff.”
So they come back from the battle, and Samuel comes to Saul, and he said, “What are you doing? What’s all this cattle? I told you to destroy them all.” He said, “We did destroy everything, except we kept these to sacrifice to the Lord.” And he said, “No. That’s not what God wants.” Finally, when he was confronted by Samuel, in 1 Samuel 15:24, Saul admits, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words,” why? Because he “feared the people and obeyed their voice. Now therefore, please pardon my sin, and return with me, that I may worship the Lord.” When he says “return with me,” Saul is basically saying, “Honor me in front of the people. What will the people think?”
As a matter of fact, you can read in 1 Samuel 26:21. Again, King Saul is hunting down David to kill him. Remember what happened? David could have killed Saul. He catches him sleeping in the camp, takes his spear, and takes his cruise of water. Then he shouts to him from the hill, wakes up the general, and says, “You’re not a very good body guard. I could have just killed the king, and here I have his spear and here I have his jug of water.” And Saul realizes, “Here I’ve been hunting David to kill him, and he showed me mercy.” What does he say? “I have sinned. Return, my son David. For I will harm you no more.” When there was a crowd watching, Saul would confess. He feared the people.
Pharaoh feared the plagues, Balaam feared the punishment, and they all repented. But is that genuine repentance? Let’s face it, sometimes we all say we’re sorry when we think we’re in hot water. That’s not the repentance that saves.
Then you have another one in the Bible, Shimei. Some of you might be going, “Shimei, who’s that?” It’s one little story in the Bible when David is fleeing Jerusalem because his own son Absalom has rebelled against him. Shimei was a relative of Saul, and he was still mad that Saul wasn’t king. He was from the tribe of Benjamin, and when David was going up the mountain with his little troop of mighty men, Shimei stood on the side of the hill, and he threw rocks at David as he saw David retreating, and he cursed David, and he said, “This is what you get.” Shimei was hoping there would be this whole insurrection and eventually Benjamin would own the kingdom again. So he was involved in a rebellion, you might say. As a matter of fact, Abishai said to David, “I can catch him. I could just cut off his head. He’s a dead dog.” David said, “No. Let him curse. I probably deserve it.”
Later, Absalom is killed, the rebellion is suppressed, David is brought back to Jerusalem, and he’s on the throne. Now here is Shimei. Someone said once (I don’t know who said it—maybe it was Shakespeare), “If you’re going to strike the king, don’t miss.” If you’re going to curse the king, you’d better make sure that he’s out of power. He threw stones and he cursed. Now David is coming back into the kingdom victorious. Shimei comes out to meet him and he figures, “If I’m going to live in Israel anymore, I’d better see if I can find some mercy.” He comes to David. 2 Samuel 19:20, “For I, your servant, know that I have sinned. Therefore here I am, the first to come today of all the house of Joseph to go down to meet my lord the king.” He’s saying, “Have mercy on me.” David did forgive him, but he didn’t forget. He knew that he couldn’t be trusted, and when Solomon came into the throne, he knew that Shimei was just waiting for another chance when it looked like the family was weak, and he’d try to start another rebellion. He told Solomon, “Keep your eye on him because he’s a troublemaker. He said he’s sorry, but he’s not.” And Solomon tested him, and he failed, and Shimei was later killed by Solomon.
Probably one of the most famous declarations, “I have sinned,” saddest of all, is Judas. Here he was an apostle. Don’t you wish you wish you could see what Judas saw Jesus do, to see the miracles, to see Him calm the storm and the sea, and to see Jesus walk on water, to see Jesus multiply the bread and to heal people, raise them from the dead? Judas saw all that. He had a balcony seat. No, he had a front-row seat for all that. And in the face of all that, he betrayed the Lord. We can’t help but wonder, “Did Judas really know what was going to happen?” Some have suggested, every other time when they tried to catch or arrest Jesus, He performed a miracle, and He sort of just disappeared, or He passed through their midst, and they couldn’t touch Him. And Judas thought, “He is too meek. He is too timid. If He’s ever going to get on the throne, and if I’m ever going to be the treasurer of this kingdom, He needs some urging, and if I betray Him, He will be forced into position to use His power to deliver Himself, it will mobilize the people, and we’ll all rally behind Him, and I’ll be thanked for being the one that triggered the whole thing.” He really thought Jesus was going to do something to save Himself. After all, he knew He had power. Why would He let Himself be killed?
When Judas saw that Jesus was not using His power to save Himself and he saw Jesus being beaten and he saw Him tied up, and he knew He was heading for the cross, he went in to the trial. Everybody’s there. All the false witnesses are there. The priests and the scribes and the Pharisees, they’re all there, and he throws down the blood money, that 30 pieces of silver that he thought he couldn’t live without, throws it down in front of everybody, and you know what he said? “I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.” And they said, “That’s your problem.” In other words, “You see to that.” And he went out and he hung himself. Well, you could say he repented. Peter repented. He went out. He had denied Jesus. It was bad. He went out and he wept. He was brokenhearted. He was sorry that he hurt the Lord. Judas’ sorrow was entirely different. Judas was sorry that he was in trouble.
I left out a very important person from the Old Testament. Actually, I didn’t leave him out. He comes in next, but we have to go backwards. We’ve been going sequentially. Now we’ve been talking about the wrong kinds of repentance. Now I want to talk about the right kind of repentance.
Seventh on our list is David. We all know about David’s sin, and it’s been rehearsed ad nauseam. I don’t want to go through everything that happened with David and Bathsheba, but it was first-class adultery, first-class betrayal of a friend and murder of a friend—yes, at the hands of an enemy, but basically David was responsible. When he is confronted by Nathan with his sin, someone might argue and say, “The only reason he confessed is because he was pointed out.” David was really brokenhearted about what he had done to the Lord.
2 Samuel 12:13, “So David said to Nathan” those three words (you could say them with me and it’ll be true), “‘I have sinned against the Lord.’” Wait a second. You would think, “Well, he sinned with Bathsheba, it was sin against her; sinned against Uriah and murdered him, and yet David first and foremost said, “It’s a sin against God.” I thought that was interesting, when Potiphar’s wife was trying to tempt Joseph, he said, “How could I do this wicked thing and sin against,” he didn’t say “Potiphar.” Joseph didn’t say “sin against you” or “the kingdom.” He said “sin against the Lord.” In Psalm 51, where David pens his repentance prayer for his sin, he said, “Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight.” All sin ultimately is against the Lord, because who paid for all sin? Jesus. Jesus feels your sin because He paid the suffering that you and I deserve, whether or not you and I can benefit from that. He paid for it either way. “I have sinned against the Lord.”
Notice what Nathan says, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.” Why? Because his repentance was sincere. How did David respond after he repented? You’ve probably heard me say this before, but I’ve met a lot of people that get into a variety of problems and they sin—sometimes it’s adultery or worse, and then they’ll hold up the experience of David and say, “Well, David did that and God forgave him.” I always like to ask (I haven’t often said this), but I always like to ask, “Have you repented like David did?” He spent seven days fasting on the ground, praying before the Lord. He saw how his sin hurt the kingdom. He saw how his sin hurt his family. He knew that he had a baby that was now dying because of his sin. He wasn’t thinking about “me,” he was thinking, “If I die, Lord, take my life,” but he was sorry about the sin and what he had done.
There are three times actually David says, “I have sinned.” 2 Samuel 24:10, “David’s heart condemned him after he had numbered the people.” You know that story. Climax of the kingdom—the nation has grown; everything is prosperous. He’s thinking, “I wonder how many soldiers we have.” He never used to ask that before. When David was humble, he went against a giant one-on-one. He didn’t think about the odds. When he just had a few hundred mighty men, he went against the whole army of the Philistines. He didn’t care about the numbers. He knew God was fighting for them. Now he’s starting to trust in his numbers and the size of the army, and he’s becoming proud of how the kingdom has grown. So he numbers Israel, and it’s really an act of pride. And David said, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done; but now, I pray, O Lord, take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have done very foolishly.” There’s a real longing in his heart to be clean. 2 Samuel 24:17, “Then David spoke to the Lord when he saw the angel who was striking the people, and said, ‘Surely I have sinned, and I have done wickedly; but these sheep, what have they done? Let Your hand, I pray, be against me and against my father’s house.’”
Real repentance is not because of what’s in it for you. We’re sorry that we’ve hurt God. We’re sorry because what we are doing is wrong. How many of you are parents, if your child steals from the store—you go to the store and they shoplift, and you take it out of their pockets, and you make them take it back, and they don’t steal because you’re watching them, will you be happy that they’re not stealing? Or would you much prefer that they learn the principle about why stealing is wrong so they can go to the store without you having to constantly guard them and watch them like an eagle? You want them to learn the principle. Does God want us to repent because—“Oh, God’s watching. Sorry!” As soon as He turns away, “Ah.” Or does the Lord want a change of heart like any parent? He wants us to do what’s right because it’s right. That’s what the Lord is looking for because that’s the only way you’re going to have long-term change of behavior. It’s not just because you’re constantly guarding and hovering over your children. What do they call them, “helicopter parents”? They have to learn how to be good because it’s the right thing to do.
Then you have Nehemiah, and this is interesting. If I were to ask you right now, “Name Nehemiah’s big sin”… If I ask you to name David’s big sin, you can pick it out. Or if I talk about the Pharaoh’s sin or Balaam’s sin, you can pick it out. Nehemiah’s big sin. But he said, “I have sinned.” Nehemiah 1:6. He’s looking at the judgments that have fallen on God’s people, and he’s praying, and he understands something about corporate repentance. He says, “Please let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open, that You may hear the prayer of Your servant which I pray before You now, day and night, for [I’m praying for] the children of Israel Your servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel which we have sinned against You. Both my father’s house and I have sinned.”
You might be looking around as I talk about repentance and thinking, “I can see a lot of people here that need to repent.” But do you realize that your neighbor’s sin hurts you? There is not only individual sin, but according to God’s Word, we can sin as a people, and we are corporately culpable. That’s just a big way of saying we are all in it together. I should not only care that God forgives me but, in what we do as a people, I am part of you. That’s why all of Israel suffered by the sin of Achan. That’s why in the Lord’s Prayer it doesn’t just say, “Forgive me my debts as I forgive my debtor.” It doesn’t say that at all. It says, “Forgive us our debts.” I should be concerned about your forgiveness and your trespasses like mine. So Nehemiah is repenting, realizing we’re all in this together. So that’s another way we could all say, “I have sinned.” He bundles himself with the history of Israel, and he confessed his sin sincerely. Did God answer his prayer? Did God forgive the nation? Did He rebuild the walls and the city because of Nehemiah’s intercession, among other things?
So there’s a time when we all, just as a people… We like to talk about what’s wrong with the church, but do you realize, sometimes we do that and there’s a spiritual snobbery in it, talking about what’s wrong with the church as though as it’s not wrong with us. But the church is the body. We’re all different members, and so when you’re talking about what’s wrong with the church, we’re usually part of the problem. So when you talk about your Father’s house, so to speak, he says, “My father’s house and I have sinned.” We’re in that together.
Israel as a nation. Nehemiah’s repentance was genuine. He was not only concerned about what was in it for him; he was concerned about the people of God. You go here to Micah 7:8, 9. How many times in the history of Israel did they fall and then rise again? Has the church disappointed the Lord before? And did He often restore us and revive us? Micah 7:8, 9, “Do not rejoice over me, my enemy; when I fall, I will arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me. I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because,” here it is, “I have sinned against Him, until He pleads my case and executes justice for me. He will bring me forth to the light; I will see His righteousness.”
So, as a people we’ve sinned, but you know what the good news is? What God says to Israel here He says to us. Just because we sin, and you know there are consequences to sin, and Israel’s saying, “We might be suffering the consequences of our sin.” But do you know one of the times that Israel was the brightest light in the world? Think about it. What kind of witness was it when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stood up on the Plain of Dura and all the government officials from all the world saw them delivered from the fiery furnace, and King Nebuchadnezzar made a proclamation regarding Jehovah that no one in the world should say anything bad against Jehovah. Here the whole world is hearing about Jehovah while Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are standing up. Where were they when this happened? Babylon. Why were they there? Because Israel had sinned. So, even in this time where they are suffering the consequences of national sin, God is working a miracle in their behalf, and they’re being a witness. That’s good news!
Have we sinned? Have you ever suffered consequences for your sin? Does that mean God can’t use you anymore or can’t witness through you? You know what we just read? “I will rise.” They say, “Yes, we’ve sinned, but I will rise and God will shine on me again. He will bring forth the light. I will see His righteousness.” That’s encouraging to me, because if every time we had to say, “I have sinned” it meant that we were out of the game for good—, you might be on the bench for a while, but it doesn’t mean you’re out of the game for good. We’d all have no hope.
I want to read something to you. I always loathe doing this because I just know how hard it is in our day and age where people are so used to something dynamic happening during the sermon, and the monotony of a pastor’s voice can put people to sleep even when he’s not reading. But when he is reading, it’s even more dangerous. But I can’t improve on this, so try and stay with me. I want to read to you from Steps to Christ chapter 3. It’s talking about repentance. This is pages 23 and 24, but they’re short pages, so don’t be scared.
“There are many who fail to understand the true nature of repentance. Multitudes sorrow that they have sinned and even make an outward reformation because they fear that their wrongdoing will bring suffering upon themselves. But this is not repentance in the Bible sense. They lament the suffering rather than the sin. Such was the grief of Esau when he saw that the birthright was lost to him forever.” Did he repent when he realized it? It says he sought for repentance but he couldn’t find it. “Balaam, terrified by the angel standing in his pathway with drawn sword, acknowledged his guilt lest he should lose his life; but there was no genuine repentance for sin, no conversion of purpose, no abhorrence of evil. Judas Iscariot, after betraying his Lord, exclaimed, ‘I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood.’ Matthew 27:4.
“The confession was forced from his guilty soul by an awful sense of condemnation and a fearful looking for of judgment. The consequences that were to result to him filled him with terror, but there was no deep, heartbreaking grief in his soul, that he had betrayed the spotless Son of God and denied the Holy One of Israel. Pharaoh, when suffering under the judgments of God, acknowledged his sin in order to escape further punishment, but returned to his defiance of Heaven as soon as the plagues were stayed. These all lamented the results of sin, but did not sorrow for the sin itself.”
Every good sermon ought to talk a little bit about sin and salvation because that’s the story of the gospel. We have a problem; Jesus has an answer.
“But when the heart yields to the influence of the Spirit of God,” here’s the answer, “the conscience will be quickened, and the sinner will discern something of the depth and sacredness of God’s holy law, the foundation of His government in heaven and on earth. The ‘Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world,’ illumines the secret chambers of the soul, and the hidden things of darkness are made manifest. John 1:9. Conviction takes hold upon the mind and heart. The sinner has a sense of the righteousness of Jehovah and feels the terror of appearing, in his own guilt and uncleanness, before the Searcher of hearts. He sees the love of God, the beauty of holiness, the joy of purity; he longs to be cleansed and to be restored to communion with Heaven.
“The prayer of David after his fall, illustrates the nature of true sorrow for sin. His repentance was sincere and deep. There was no effort to palliate his guilt; no desire to escape the judgment threatened, inspired his prayer. David saw the enormity of his transgression; he saw the defilement of his soul; he loathed his sin. It was not for pardon only that he prayed, but for purity of heart. He longed for the joy of holiness—to be restored to harmony and communion with God. This was the language of his soul.”
I’d like to look at that for a second. There are two places where David has prayers. Go to Psalm 32. (You could also look at Psalm 51.) Psalm 32:1, “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me.” One of the gifts of the Spirit is conviction of sin, and sometimes until we repent and confess, we have no peace. We have this heaviness. “My vitality was turned into the drought of summer.” Then comes the answer, verse 5, “I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and You forgave the iniquity of my sin…. For this cause everyone who is godly shall pray to You in a time when You may be found.” Now, friends, He can be found. “Surely in a flood of great waters they shall not come near him. You are my hiding place; You shall preserve me from trouble; You shall surround me with songs of deliverance.” I could go on. I hope you’ll read the whole thing. But did you notice he said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord”?
How often do you confess your sins to God? There’s a time for confessing publicly. There’s a time for maybe an individual that you’ve wronged. It’s appropriate to go to them, especially if they know about it. I’m not so sure it’s a good idea if you’ve been talking about somebody and say, “By the way, I’ve been talking about you,” and they don’t know about it. It’s not going to make them or you feel good. But if it’ll glorify God and you have something that you need to share with somebody and make right, it’s a good idea. But do you keep short accounts with God? I think it’s healthy for us, on a daily basis, to bow before the Lord, and if we can think of anything, to confess our sins, an act or deed or word, and to experience that forgiveness, that purity of heart. The Bible is so clear about this. But there’s also a big confession, where you really get your heart right with God, and you might get by yourself, and you’ve heard me say this before, get a piece of paper and kneel before the Lord and say, “Lord, I have sinned, and I’m going to be specific.” It’s one thing to say, “I’m a sinner.” It’s another thing when you start getting specific. Does God get specific?
The woman at the well, when Jesus met her and He wanted to argue theology with her, she was happy to talk about theology, but when He said, “Go call your husband,” she became very uncomfortable because He named something specific. Make a specific list. You don’t remember every sin you’ve committed, but the Holy Spirit is going to bring things to your attention, and all those things cost Jesus His life, so first of all, He knows. You’re not confessing because you’re informing God, right? And you write it down. And then kneel if you’re able. Put that on your bed, kneel before the Lord, and say, “Lord, You’ve promised that if I confess my sins, that You are faithful and just to forgive me and to cleanse me from all unrighteousness. I’m a sinner. I’ve broken Your law. I’ve lied,” or whatever it is. And you put these things before the Lord, and you say, “Lord, I know Jesus died for these things, and I know they’re wrong. Forgive me. Give me victory. I not only want to confess, I want to forsake.” Can you do that without God? Will He help you? Does He want you to get victory? He wants to help you. Does He want to hear you pray that prayer?
If you have a child with a shoplifting problem, returning to this old analogy, you know they have a problem, they know they have a problem, but you have to wrestle that stuff out of their pocket every time you leave the store… But if they finally come to you without being caught and say, “I have sinned…” It’s one thing when it appears on 60 Minutes, and then you say “I have sinned.” It’s something else where you’ve just been caught by the Holy Spirit and you’re convicted and it’s the Lord dealing with you. Lay this list before the Lord and then praise Him and say, “Lord, I believe Jesus died for every one of these things. He suffered for every one of these things, and I don’t want to hurt Him anymore. Help me genuinely repent and forsake these things that are hurting You. Create within me a new heart.” Isn’t that what David prayed for in Psalm 51?
I left one out. I don’t know if you caught it, but we’ve only had 9. Now number 10, “I have sinned.” Luke 15. It’s the prodigal son. A lot of us have grown up surrounded with the trappings of Christianity, maybe members of the church, like that boy, had a good father, good home, but he thought things were better in a far country. “Too many restrictions in Dad’s house. Dad is legalistic. He has rules for everything. Work, work, work.” So he thought, “I’m going to be free”; ran off to that foreign country. But he ended up in a pig pen after the famine. Everything was gone. Nobody gave him anything, and he said, “How many of my father’s hired servants have food enough and some to spare!” And he came to his senses, and he said, “You know what I’m going to do, I’m going to arise and go to my father, and I’ll say to him, Father,” here’s those three words. Want to say them with me? “I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.” I’m willing to come back, Lord, and serve You because there’s bread in the Father’s house.
What did the father do when he came home? Did he say, “I knew you’d come back empty. How much do you have left in that checking account?” He didn’t chastise him. He did not scold him. He embraced him, and he sent for the best robe. Why do we need to humble ourselves and confess and repent? So we can grovel and feel guilty? No. God wants to lift you up. Humble yourself in the sight of God, and He will lift you up. The gospel is good news, and when a person embraces that salvation, that’s good news. But before you can appreciate the good news, you have to know there’s a problem.
We have a problem with sin every day. There’s a devil out there. How many know that? If you’re not feeling any temptation or any problems with the devil, that means you’re probably just drifting downstream and you’re not trying to swim against the current. But if you’re trying to follow Christ, you’re going to go against the current in this world. Do you know that? We need to have honest hearts with God and say, “Lord, I’ve sinned. Forgive me for my sins.”
I’m not embarrassed, well, I am a little embarrassed, to say to you, “I’m a sinner.” Now, if you’re waiting for me to make some sore declaration, you’re going to be disappointed. But I believe that God forgives. It’s the only way I can stand before you. And no, I’ve not done… I’m faithful to my wife, my taxes… You’re not going to find anything like that. But we all wrestle with selfishness and pride and sin, and even just the things that we think. God wants us to be pure in heart. I long for that. I want to be ready when Jesus comes, don’t you? I want to have that new heart. I want to be a new creature. God is offering that, but it starts with realizing who we are and having a genuine repentance and being willing to confess to God. I want to be totally God’s, 100%. Is that your prayer? That’s mine.
We’re going to sing about it. It’s our closing song, number 308, “Wholly Thine.” “I would be wholly Thine.” Let’s stand as we sing.
From week to week, we have different kinds of messages. Today was a little more of a basic gospel message, and it invites an opportunity to make an appeal, to open the doors of the church and to invite people who may want to come to Christ. If you’ve not made that decision, might have some people out there that find their repentance has not been the right kind of repentance, and you need a new beginning with the Lord. We sometimes see a little bit of ourselves in these vignettes we’ve considered. If God is speaking to you, and if you feel led of the Lord and you’d like to come and say, “Lord, I need to reconsecrate myself to You right now,” and you would like for special prayer, come. Come to the front as we sing verse 2 together, 308.
Before we sing the third verse, just ask everybody. I know some of you are in the balcony, and you might be thinking, “I need a new beginning.” Some of you in the back there, you’re thinking, “In my heart, I want to come forward. I can say I have sinned, and I want to be clean. I want to have that repentance not to be repented of” that we read about in the scripture reading. If you’d like to just lift your hand and say, “Lord, I have sinned. I want to be clean. I want to be completely transformed by the power of the gospel and have that new heart.” Amen.
Our Father in heaven, Lord, we come before You as Your people and as individuals, and we can all resonate with this simple sentence, “I have sinned.” We’ve all sinned, Lord. Only One came into this world without sinning, and that was Your Son, and He’s our only hope of everlasting life. Lord, we can see from what we studied today that the devil has a lot of counterfeit examples of repentance and confession. We want the genuine article. Help us to have Your mind and Your Spirit. I pray that each of us in our hearts can want the purity with the right attitude. Please bless us. I pray that we can experience not only repentance and confession that pleases You, but then, Lord, lift us up. Give us that new heart. Give us the joy of the Lord. Bless each of these people in a special way who’ve responded this morning. Fill them with Your Spirit. Help them to know that even though we fall, that You can still use us to be Your witnesses. And then, Lord, even as a people, a group, a church, we admit that we have sinned before You. But we know as we’re entering these last days, we want to be a people You can use. We want to be faithful. Bless us with revival, Lord. I pray that we can be witnesses as we go from this place, where we work, in our school, in our daily interaction, that we can just reflect Christ. Thank you for Your goodness and the hope that You give us, and we ask all these things, and we praise You and pray and believe in Jesus’ name. Amen.