David was called a man after God’s heart (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22), and yet in 2 Samuel 11 we see a series of serious moral failures that ultimately lead to murder. How do we square these realities? Clearly having a ‘heart for God’ does not mean one will not ever sin, or even that one’s sins are small. David and Saul are contrasted in several ways through their respective stories; one critical way is their response to the Lord’s conviction of sin. When the prophet Nathan confronts David, David quickly and simply replies: “I have sinned against the Lord. (2 Samuel 12:13)” No denials, no excuses, no casting of blame upon others – he owned it. As we are moving through this part of the Story of Everything I encourage you to read Psalm 51, a psalm of David written following Nathan’s rebuke and David’s confession. It gives us a great understanding of David’s heart for the Lord, and of what godly repentance looks like.

True repentance means:

1) Recognizing our sin.

Within the first two verses David speaks of his transgressions, iniquity, and sin, which speaks to his rebellion against God, the distortion of character that leads to sin, and the missing of God’s mark. He recognizes the depth of his sin, calling it evil and he knows it requires a thorough cleansing (v2). Sin is more than outward action; it is firstly an inward rebellion against God’s authority and goodness that warps us as image bearers of God.   

2) Knowing we sin against God.

David says: “Against you, you only, have I sinned. (Ps 51:4)” This may seem unusual given the impact upon others that David’s sin had. Certainly there are times we can, and ought to, make amends with those we sin against. However, David recognizes that all sin, ultimately, is against God. It is not my rules you break, or your rules I break, but God’s.

3) We appeal to God’s mercy.

David prays: “Have mercy upon me, O God.” Since it is God we sin against, it is God we appeal to for mercy. Note the basis of our appeal is not a promise to do better, but God’s steadfast love: “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to your steadfast love (v1)”.

4) Having a broken and contrite heart

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” True godly contrition yields deep remorse for our sin, yet also, with the strength that only comes from true humility, a deep rejoicing in God’s limitless mercy: “let the bones that you have broken rejoice (v8)” Working through the process of repentance with the Lord is both painful and joyful!

5) Receiving comfort

Broken hearts do not mean downtrodden hearts. The reality of our sin may cause us to wonder how on earth God could love us, and abide with us. Take courage that the grief we have over sin is a sure sign of the Lord’s Spirit working in us to hate what he hates. Thus, he takes pleasure in our prayer to “restore to me the joy of your salvation. (v12)”

6) Growing in obedience

Ultimately, repentance means turning around. We turn from sin and toward God. The sacrifice the Lord asks for is not a token of repentance from a cold heart, but a living sacrifice that serves God with the strength God supplies (cf vv16-19).