Up until a few years ago, I understood the action of repentance to be asking God for forgiveness each time I committed sin. This, in part, is true; however, there was another aspect to repentance that I was unaware of. Apparently, repentance involves not only the acceptance that we’ve done wrong, but a willingness to right that wrong. Then it goes even further, as we approach how to right our wrongdoing. It seems to get more and more complicated, but is worth the struggle to sort out since repentance is on the top tier of God’s list of priorities. After all, the ultimate act of repentance is what leads us dirty, rotten scoundrels to realize that only Christ’s shed, red blood can cover us with clean, white robes. Beyond that moment, guidance towards knowing what to repent of, who to repent to, and how to repent, overall, is an ongoing lesson. It includes a learning, a burning, and a turning; not necessarily in that order.
David helps us out by enlightening us as to what true repentance looks like in a soul that beholds God. Within the passage of 1 Chronicles 21, the first verse tells us that “Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.” David complied and this was evil in the sight of God (22:7). “David said to God, ‘I have sinned greatly by doing this. Now, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing'” (22:8). Here he shows us the beginning of repentance, the learning of how we’ve committed wrongdoing and, most tellingly, sinned against God. David goes directly to God, readily accepting that he has sinned, desperately seeking forgiveness and begging for God to relieve him of his guilt towards Him.
When we approach God as David did in this instance, even though we know that we have Christ who stands in our place before God, we tend to relay a similar request: one that says we’re sorry, so please take away the painful guilt. We are all well aware that God will forgive, but sometimes He will pursue us with penalties (or more softly worded, consequences) for the sins we’ve chosen to indulge in. In this case, God gave David three options to choose from to carry out against him: three years of famine, three months of being swept away by his enemies, or three days of the sword of the Lord (22:10-12). This is where we can read of the burning realization that’s before David of how gravely he sinned against God, as he says, “I am in deep distress. Let me fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is very great; but do not let me fall into the hands of men” (22:13). David is now not only aware of his wrong, he’s in the process of accepting that he is going to have to suffer for it. Take note though, accept he does, without record of pleas, excuses, or blame games. I love this about him.
God began to carry out the third choice made by David, three days of the sword of the Lord, with a plague that killed seventy thousand Israelite men, and followed with an angel that proceeded to destroy Jerusalem. Then His mercy set in as He grieved the calamity fallen on the people and said to the angel, “Enough! Withdraw your hand” (22:14-15). David then pleads with God, not to cease His wrathful anger, but instead, to redirect it onto him. “Was it not I who ordered the fighting men to be counted? I am the one who has sinned and done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done? O Lord my God, let your hand fall upon me and my family, but do not let this plague remain on your people” (22:17). Could this be a version of turning? Where David is so painfully accountable for his sin that he’s openly asking for God to turn His wrath onto him? Generally, a turning as part of repentance is meant to imply that we do an about face, a 180, by turning our backs on the sinful behavior/action and, instead, walk in the direction of righteousness. Either way we paint the definition of turning, it does play a part in genuine repentance.
So in our lives, that abound with committed transgressions against one another, that ultimately end up being sins against God, how can we put repentance into practice? We can certainly take some cues from David. His unhesitant stance to own up to his mistake, his ability to be fully accountable for his poor choices, and his readiness to accept whatever effects his sin caused, without selfish regard for his, or his family’s, well being. That’s a tall order, but a true one. As we encounter future scenarios where we’re called to repent, to right our wrongs, may we do so with each other as we do with God and also embrace Jesus’ imperative in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,” ever so closely.