We ended last time with a brief overview of repentance. We saw that repentance involved sorrow for sin, hatred of sin, a loathing of ourselves because of our evil natures, and an acknowledgment of the seriousness of sin. Now we will see from Scripture how the child of God lives continually in repentance.
It is a common misunderstanding to speak of repentance as an activity which takes place only during certain times in the life of the child of God; that the child of God repents only when he has committed a grievous sin. Knowing that repentance is a continuing activity (fleeing from sin and turning to God), it is better to speak of repentance in that manner. While there may be times in the life of the child of God that there is no fleeing from sin, this is not the general rule. God uses means to bring us to repentance and the normal state of the child of God is that he is, throughout his life, growing in repentance.
After reading Psalm 51, which gets to the heart of the matter concerning repentance, we can see the on-going activity of repentance. David confesses in verse 3, “My sin is ever before me.” This Psalm was written by David after Nathan the prophet came to him and admonished him concerning his sins of adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah. These sins were not something that crossed his mind once and were quickly forgotten, rather they burdened his thoughts continually. Elsewhere, in Psalm 25:7, David prays, “Remember not the sins of my youth.” David still grieved over the sins he had committed years ago; not because he doubted that they were forgiven (that would have been unbelief), but because they were sins against a just God and David recognized the abiding evilness of his nature. “Against Thee, Thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in Thy sight” (51:4). David, living a life of repentance, came more and more to loathe himself according to his evil nature.
Another very important truth concerning repentance is learned from Psalm 51. This Psalm clearly teaches that repentance is a work of the Spirit which begins in the “inward parts” (vs. 6). Repentance is not something which is a mere outward act and confession. It is not a mere outward conformity to the law of God. If this were the case, we would not bother ourselves with repentance and we would have no need of the Spirit. The unregenerated man is capable of putting on an outward “show” of repentance. But God looks beyond the actions and the words to the “inward parts”, from which proceeds true repentance.
In verse 7 of Psalm 51 we read of the “purging” and the “washing” performed in the heart of David. It is David’s prayer that this happen. In verse 10 we read, “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” This is the desire of David and God promises to us and certainly performs this operation continually by His Spirit (vs. 11, 12) in us. It is only by this work of the Spirit within us that we are able to walk a godly walk of repentance. This truth also is evident from the Psalm in verses 12-19. When the heart is clean, the “tongue” will sing of God’s “righteousness” (vs. 14). When the heart is clean, “transgressors” will be taught the ways of God (vs. 13). When the heart is clean, there will be a “broken spirit” and a “contrite heart” (vs. 17).
A summary of what we have briefly discussed concerning repentance can be found in verses 16 and 17 of Isaiah 1. In those two verses we read, “Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.” Repentance at its heart is a continual ceasing from evil and learning to do well, and this only by the work of Christ in and through us.
Another aspect of repentance which is well worth discussing is the relationship between repentance and close communion with God, fellowship with Him, and walking in the truth. The two go hand-in-hand. It is impossible for one to be living impenitently and having fellowship with God. Likewise, those who are living in covenant fellowship with God will find that they more and more flee from sin and impenitent sinners. Two Psalms (as well as others) demonstrate this relationship. It is from the viewpoint of separation from the unrepentant that it is good to read Psalm 26 and Psalm 1.
Before we continue, it is good that we read these two Psalms. They are very comforting concerning the promise of God to those who walk in the truth. They are also very sharp concerning our antithetical walk. It is hard to imagine hearing these Psalms being read by most today in false and departing churches. In times of “tolerance” and “love” and “let’s be nice” theology, these Psalms (as well as others) simply don’t fit into the “nice” category of what people want to hear. Neither do they want to sing these truths any more. Nevertheless, it is good that we take a little closer look at Psalm 26.
Early in the Psalm (vs.2), we see again how this life of separation from sin and impenitent sinners proceeds from the heart. The “heart” and especially the “reins” referred to in verse 2 speak of that which is the most inward part of man. And it is that inner man from which proceeds this kind of life.
In verses 3 of this Psalm, David says, “For thy lovingkindness is before mine eyes: and I have walked in thy truth.” It is clear from this confession of David that he is living in close communion with God. The confession of David in verses 4 and 5 demonstrates how fellowship with God and separation from the ungodly go together. David says, “I have not sat with vain persons, neither will I go in with dissemblers. I have HATED the congregation of evil doers; and I will not sit with the wicked.” And not only will David separate himself from the wicked, but he will “compass” the Lord’s altar (vs. 6). It is also interesting to note from this Psalm that David says a number of times that he desires to be in God’s house and among His people. Along with the “compassing of the altar” David confesses that he loves the habitation of God’s house (vs. 8) and that in the congregations he will bless the Lord (vs. 12). Not only does he shun the company of God’s enemies, but he desires and seeks out the fellowship of God and His people.
John Calvin, in his explanation of verses 4 and 5 of this Psalm, writes,
The words sitting and walking, denote sharing in counsel and fellowship in working, according to what is said in the first Psalm.
Psalm 1 also shows to us the sharp antithesis between delight and meditation on the law of the Lord and keeping the society of the wicked. First, after reading this Psalm it is evident that one will not be found delighting and meditating on the law of God and at the same time “fellowshipping” with the ungodly. Secondly, this Psalm shows us the two distinctly different outcomes of both activities. There is a reward for the man who delights in the law of the Lord. Similarly, there is a reward for the man who delights himself among the ungodly. The “ungodly” are like the “chaff which the wind driveth away.” They shall “perish.” The blessed man is like a tree planted by a river which brings forth fruit in season. He is prospered in all he does.
John Calvin, commenting on this Psalm, points out that one cannot apply himself to the meditation of God’s law, “who has not separated himself from the society of the ungodly.” How true this is. When we are immersed in the pleasures of this world, sometimes the farthest thing from our mind is God and His law. This becomes all the more true when we are involved in the pleasures of this world with those who hate God, for they design their pleasures so that they might put all thoughts of God out of their minds.
Finally, it is important to notice the progression of intimacy with the ungodly, pointed out in verse 1 of Psalm 1. First one “walks.” Then he “stands.” At last, he “sits.” As one becomes more ensnared as he associates with the wicked, he is drawn closer into the bosom of the world and farther from the fellowship of God. This the Psalm warns against. “Blessed is the man” that delights in the law of the Lord and meditates on the Word.
Next time, Lord willing, we will look further at our calling to separate from those who are living in sin.