"The sins of the holy are not counted but covered." – Martin Luther
The importance of repentance is hard to overstate. After all, Jesus’ first exhortation in his public ministry was, “Repent!” (Mark 1:15), and if it was that high on Jesus’ list, we probably ought to pay attention to it. But how do we do it well?
Psalm 32 is a wonderful place to explore the nature and process of deep repentance.
1. Be honest about your need for repentance (verse 2)
How happy is the man the LORD does not charge with sin, and in whose spirit is no deceit!
Repentance requires honesty. In fact, no one comes to God with true repentance on their heart unless they first acknowledge their need for forgiveness and reconciliation with God. Only the person who has ceased trying to cover up their sin with self-righteousness and deceit can experience deep, lasting change that comes through repentance.
2. Acknowledge the danger of sin and damage of guilt (verses 3 & 4)
When I kept silent, my bones became brittle from my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy on me; my strength was drained as in the summer’s heat.
Let’s face it; you are seeking repentance because God’s Spirit has convicted you. While we often blame others for our stress and general moodiness, sometimes we feel bad because we’ve done bad things. The psalmist describes physical and emotional symptoms associated with a guilty conscience. The point here is to honestly assess the consequences of your sin, which means assessing personal consequences and the impact your sin has had (and will continue to have) on others.
3. Fully confess your sin (verse 5a)
I acknowledged my sin to You and did not conceal my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD.”
Deep repentance demands full confession. Though it seems counter-intuitive, the only way to be truly covered by Christ is to fully expose your sin. With an eye to step 4 below, fight to be utterly transparent before God about the depth and breadth of your sin.
4. Hide in God (verses 5b-7)
You took away the guilt of my sin. Therefore let everyone who is faithful pray to You at a time when that You may be found. When the great floodwaters come, they will not reach him. You are my hiding place; You protect me from trouble. You surround me with joyful shouts of deliverance.
Much like Adam and Eve who hid behind inadequate, self-made coverings to mask their sin and shame, we like to hide behind self-made righteousness and blame in order to make ourselves appear more acceptable than we really are. If you want to change, to really change—which is the mark of true repentance, by the way—then you must hide in God.
It’s not enough just to repent of your overt sins. It’s not enough to just say, “I admit to my wrong behaviors.” All kinds of people repent that way, especially religious people with an image to maintain.
A Christian doesn’t just repent of their outward sins, but also of their attempts to hide behind self-made righteousness. Stop hiding in your effort. Start hiding in God.
5. Seize the hope (verse 10)
Many pains come to the wicked, but the one who trusts in the LORD will have faithful love surrounding him.
How can you be sure God will forgive you? His unfailing love. Recall and find assurance in the great promises God has made throughout history, and how they have been fulfilled in Christ:
● The promise to Adam and Eve to crush the enemy
● The promise to Abraham to claim and protect a people
● The promise to Moses to provide a way for sinful people to meaningfully relate to a holy God
● The promise to David to provide a once-and-for-all eternal King for his people
Throughout history, right on up to the moment where you are repenting before God, he has been saying, and continues to say, “I love you, I will not fail you. I am enough.”
Look to the promises of God, seize the hope, and “be glad in the LORD and rejoice, you righteous ones; shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” (Psalm 32:11).