It’s no secret that repentance can look real even when it isn’t. We have all met Christians who have “repented” but, in reality, only switched the track on which their selfishness runs. Worse than that, we can remember when we have done the same thing!
Repentance is not a one-time act in the life of a follower of Jesus Christ. As mentioned in a previous post (“Repentance”), we are aiming for a horizon (lined out in the Beatitudes.) As in any flight, this requires frequent “course corrections” and adjustments to keep our course aligned with that horizon.
How do we know our repentance is real and not just a product of our emotions or an effort to save our reputation? How can we keep from only shedding “crocodile tears” when we should be seeking real life change?
The answer lies in the stories of Saul and David. Both were kings. Both had committed serious sins. Both were confronted by prophets for their sins but only one of them repented for real. The other king produced and directed a touching repentance show – crying “crocodile tears” – putting his life into a shallow dive from which it never recovered. The story this second king is told in 1 Samuel 15.
A few years after being anointed king of Israel by Samuel the prophet, Saul was busy establishing the kingdom of Israel and fighting its enemies on every side. This included the nations of Moab, Ammon, Edom, the kings of Zobah, and the Philistines. He also had some skirmishes with a group called the Amalekites (1 Samuel 14:47-48). After this, Samuel the prophet came with a message from the Lord to Saul that he was to utterly wipe out the Amalekites – men, women, children, and all livestock – because of what they did to the children of Israel when they were wandering in the wilderness.
At first Saul obeyed, gathered an army, and then destroyed the almost all the people – he kept the Amalekite king and the best of the animals alive. God quickly informed Samuel about Saul’s disobedience and the prophet went to confront Saul with his sin. When confronted, Saul protested that he did obey the command of God by bringing the king of Amalek and allowing the people to bring the best of the animals to sacrifice to the Lord.
After Samuel rebuked Saul with the declaration that “to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams,” Saul raised the curtain on his repentance drama. His opening lines were spot on – “I have sinned” (1 Samuel 15:24) as he confessed that he trespassed against God’s commandment and feared the people more than God. But the plot took a twist as Samuel prepared to leave Saul – never to see him again. Saul begged the prophet to go with him as he returned to the people to worship the Lord. Samuel refused and started to walk away and, as he did, Saul grabbed Samuel’s robe in desperation and it tore. Samuel used this as an illustration of how God was going to tear the kingdom away from Saul and give it to someone better. Saul continued to beg Samuel help him save face and return with him to worship the Lord in front of the people. Samuel finally relented and returned with Saul to worship and then went on his way, leaving the king to his stubborn and rebellious ways.
On the other hand David, who was Saul’s successor, committed two sins that were much worse than Saul’s (see 2 Samuel 11,12). First, he committed adultery with Bath-Sheba. After he found out she was pregnant with his child, he tried to hide his sin by calling her husband, Urijah, back from the war under the guise of getting news of how it was going. When Urijah chose to lodge with David’s servants instead of going home to be with his wife, David conspired to have him killed in battle.
David was confronted by the prophet Nathan – and through him, God pronounced a severe judgment on David ‘s family because of his sin. When confronted, David responded like Saul – “I have sinned” (2 Samuel 12:13) but the similarity ends there. David’s repentance was real and is on full display in Psalm 51. You might call this psalm an “Anatomy of Real Repentance.” It is worth some serious study – there is a lot to learn there – but let’s look at a few key points.
To truly repent is the beginning of eternal life. It opens the door to a relationship with God Himself – the Creator of heaven and earth! The blood of the lambs and bullocks of the Old Testament were God’s “placeholders” – speaking of the blood of His only begotten Son, Jesus – cleansing us like David was cleansed.
Look over Psalm 51 for yourself. Study it. Ponder it. Pray it to God from your heart. Real repentance is the most important thing you can do in your life.