It was a brisk fall evening when the sport utility vehicle sped down our street, careened around an unexpected curve, lost control and mowed down our neighbors’ mailbox. Despite flattening the sturdy wooden post, it was going fast enough to plow through our front hedge and hit our parked SUV, spinning it backwards before slamming it into the corner of our house. The speeding car finally came to a stop on our front lawn. Despite the sturdiness of the vehicle, its front end was a crumpled mass of metal. The sixteen-year-old driver emerged from the mangled car without a scratch. He had been racing his buddies down our street and misjudged the turn in the dark.
As the teenage boys sat on the curb waiting for the driver’s parents and the police, they discussed the incident with great enthusiasm, seeming to revel in the excitement of having totaled not one, but two, eight passenger vehicles. Although this incident happened many years ago, I’ll never forget the behavior of the driver and his friends. At the time of the accident, my own boys were only six and four. I can remember making them study the smashed cars carefully so that they’d remember it when they were old enough to drive (one of them now is).
A few minutes after the accident, the driver’s father arrived on the scene. We exchanged insurance information and he muttered, “I’m sorry this happened.” He never had his son look us in the eye and apologize. The boy didn’t return the next day to help clean up the mess in our yard or to replace our neighbor’s mailbox. I’m not sure if he learned any valuable lessons from that incident, but I know my boys did.
I was reminded of that accident this week as I studied the concept of repentance and godly sorrow. These aren’t very popular topics in today’s culture. It seems we’ve become a society averse to accepting responsibility for our mistakes, let alone labeling them as sin and seeking forgiveness. We shift blame whenever possible. Or even worse, we try to rationalize why the wrong things we’re doing are actually justified. Many in our culture want to excuse or even condone sinful behavior altogether.
No one likes to admit they’re wrong, but for those who call themselves followers of Jesus, this needs to be something we do regularly. When we humble ourselves, admit our sins and seek God’s forgiveness, He offers it freely. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9, NIV) Here’s the catch: we can’t be forgiven if we don’t acknowledge our sin.
King David provides a great example of one who tried to avoid responsibility for his sins. You might remember when he committed adultery with Bathsheba, got her pregnant and then tried to avoid the the truth by ensuring her husband would be killed in battle (see 1 Samuel 11 & 12 for the story). When the prophet Nathan confronted him, he finally admitted his sin and sought forgiveness, prompting him to write Psalm 51.
“My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17, NIV)
David finally accepted responsibility for his actions and admitted he was broken by his sin. He acknowledged that what he had done was wrong. He approached God with humility and sorrow over his grievous behavior. And God forgave him.
We see a similar theme of the “contrite heart” in the apostle Paul’s writing:
“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” (2 Corinthians 7:10, NIV)
Godly sorrow involves repenting–literally and figuratively turning away from our sins and going a different direction. It is sorrow over the wickedness of our sins. It expresses grief, understanding the hurt we cause our heavenly Father when we engage in sin. Coming to God with a contrite heart enables us to experience the tremendous grace and forgiveness He offers us through the blood of Jesus.
Conversely, worldly sorrow is self-centered. It is focused on the painful consequences of sin, not on the offense it is to God. It is sorry the situation happened, but accepts no blame and has no intention of changing. (Sounds like my opening story, doesn’t it?) Worldly sorrow is an apology with words, but with no heart behind it.
It’s easy to get swept up in the attitude of our culture—to want to avoid responsibility for wrongdoing or to explain it away. We receive this message subtly, but constantly. If we follow Jesus, we must be on our guards lest we get lured into this way of thinking.
When was the last time you came before God with a contrite heart, deeply troubled by the hurt you’d caused Him through your sin? It’s never too late to get down on your knees and humbly ask for forgiveness. God has so much more to offer us than the world does. The first step to discovering that is our humble repentance.
Casting Crowns wrote a song based on David’s words in Psalm 103 that describe how God sees our sins once we confess them. Click on the link and be encouraged by “East to West.”