We all sin. No matter how much we desire to obey God, there are times we fall short. Irrespective of the maturity of our faith, the passion of our worship, and our zeal for Christ, we will stumble and sin against the Lord. When that happens we must acknowledge our sin, repent, and ask God for forgiveness. Unfortunately, too often we take an approach that compounds the consequences of our sin and magnifies the gulf between God and us.
For example, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they hid themselves. They knew they had done wrong and didn’t want to face the consequences. When He confronts them with their disobedience, Adam deflects blame away from himself. “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate” (Genesis 3:12, NKJV). Adam seems to suggest he has no culpability in the matter. God is partially to blame for giving him the woman and Eve is partially to blame for providing him fruit from the tree.
Not to be outdone, Eve adopts a similar approach when God questions her. “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (vs. 13). Her defense points to the slimy snake as the source of her sin. But for its treachery she would have remained holy. Adam and Eve’s unwillingness to accept fault for their choices, to confess their disobedience, and to ask forgiveness drove a wedge in their relationship with God.
Another way many of us deal with sin in our life is to complain about God’s standards and insist His expectations are unreasonable. The nation of Israel demonstrated this time and again. God reveals their attitude when He tells the prophet Ezekiel, “The children of your people say, ‘The way of the Lord is not fair’” (Ezekiel 33:17, NKJV). Rather than admit their iniquity, they instead insist that God is wrong to hold them to His standards. They refused to be held accountable for their actions and attitudes.
Another common response is to ignore God altogether and not even acknowledge His words. We tend to do this whenever our rebellious heart refuses to concede some aspect of life to God. We simply ignore His call on that area of life. This is exemplified by the nation of Israel numerous times in the Old Testament. Zechariah tells us that they, in response to God’s commands, “refused to heed, shrugged their shoulders, and stopped their ears so that they could not hear. Yes, they made their hearts like flint, refusing to hear the … words which the Lord of hosts had sent by His Spirit” (Zechariah 7:11-12, NKJV).
Their unwillingness to heed God’s commands not only resulted in disobedience but also severed their relationship with Him. Their hearts became hardened. They were desensitized to God’s ways and grew more distant from Him with each act of rebellion. There are dire consequences when that happens. Paul tells us that at some point a sinner’s heart becomes so hardened that God gives them up to their lusts, vile passions, and debased mind (see Romans 1:22-28). At that moment they reach the point of no return, allowed to chase darkness without any further conviction from the Holy Spirit.
So how should we respond when God uses His Holy Spirit to convict us of sin in our lives? David provides a sound blueprint. When the prophet Nathan confronts him with his adultery and murder David cries out, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:13, NKJV). He does not offer excuses, deny his behavior, or shift the blame onto someone else. He confesses his sin and pleads for mercy. Psalm 51 captures his response in great detail and I encourage you to read it slowly. Allow David’s response to saturate your soul and provide a model for repentance and reconciliation with God.
Have mercy on me, O God,
because of your unfailing love.
Because of your great compassion,
blot out the stain of my sins.
Wash me clean from my guilt.
Purify me from my sin.
For I recognize my rebellion;
it haunts me day and night.
Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;
I have done what is evil in your sight.
You will be proved right in what you say,
and your judgment against me is just.
For I was born a sinner—
yes, from the moment my mother conceived me.
But you desire honesty from the womb,
teaching me wisdom even there.
Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Oh, give me back my joy again;
you have broken me—
now let me rejoice.
Don’t keep looking at my sins.
Remove the stain of my guilt.
Create in me a clean heart, O God.
Renew a loyal spirit within me.
Do not banish me from your presence,
and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and make me willing to obey you.
Then I will teach your ways to rebels,
and they will return to you.
Forgive me for shedding blood, O God who saves;
then I will joyfully sing of your forgiveness.
Unseal my lips, O Lord,
that my mouth may praise you.
You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one.
You do not want a burnt offering.
The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.
(Psalm 51:1-17, NLT).
David does a number of things in his prayer to God. He confesses the specifics of his sin, proclaims God’s standards are just, and admits his tendency to sin. He then pleads for God’s mercy, compassion, and forgiveness. He asks God to restore his joy and give him an obedient heart. He concludes by asking God for two things: an opportunity to share His ways with other rebellious people, and for a voice that sings praises to God.
The next time God lays conviction on your heart, don’t ignore it. Resist the temptation to justify your behavior. Avoid shifting the blame to someone else. Instead, follow the pattern offered by David. Confess, seek mercy, ask for God’s cleansing and restoration, and share His truth and love with others. Finally, sing with a grateful heart that He hears and answers your prayer!