WHAT GOD CONSIDERS AS TRUE REPENTANCE ― DAVID THE DIVINELY APPOINTED EXAMPLE
There may be some among us who believe that the Lord’s words with regard to the exception of Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 is a “merciful provision”. It is not! It simply tells us where in the one case a man’s motive for putting away his wife is not adulterous. A merciful provision is when Yahweh, though holy, holy, holy, forgives sin without setting aside His principles of righteousness. An illustration of this is God’s work in Christ, and how God forgave David’s great transgression. God’s definitive answer as to what constitutes true scriptural repentance is revealed in Psalms 32 and 51―Psalms of David.
When David was confronted by Nathan in relation to his grievous sin with Bathsheba, he did not try to minimize his transgression. He did not try to use Scripture to justify it or deny it, but he confessed his sin; he acknowledged his transgression (Psalm 51:3). In the process he confessed his total inability to save himself and the Law’s inability to purge his sin. This is the first critical point. It is said that confession of wrong doing is not sufficient evidence of repentance in all cases of sin, and that is true. Mere confession for the sake of it is not sufficient in regard to any sin. But it is equally true that certain sacrifices the ecclesia may ask the sinner to make are just as insufficient for sin to be purged! For this is the basis of re-fellowship―the forgiveness of sin, is it not? (Read Psalm 51:1–4; 2 Corinthians 2:5–11) David knew God did not want him to go out and buy the biggest bullock he could find and sacrifice it so that he might earn forgiveness. “For you desire not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering” (Psalm 51:16). If David had said, “I will separate from Bathsheba”, as evidence of his repentance and remorse, would this have altered what had happened and purged his sins? The death of Uriah, for all external appearances legitimised David’s marriage with Bathsheba but it did not remove the sin; nor would a resolve to end his relationship with Bathsheba be an indication of David’s inner repentance, though in all probability many of his contemporaries did not see it that way.
As explained on pg. 11 paragraph 4 where the circumstances of ‘porneia’ exists, we ask the question “Does this give the innocent spouse the right to divorce and remarry? The Lord answers this in Matthew 19:9. Where no other commands of Christ is violated (i.e. suing at law) divorce from an unrepentant adulterous spouse is not a sin against either Christ’s teachings or against the spirit of them. However, Christ does not in his words encourage, let alone command it.” Also on pg. 12 paragraph 2 “The reason the Master is not as clear and decisive about the injured partner as he is about the guilty, is because the sons and daughters of God would not interpret Matthew 5 in isolation from all their Master’s other teachings in chapters 5-7; principles by which ‘we judge (or discern) ourselves truly, that we might not be judged’ (1 Corinthians 11:31).”
This point does not go undealt with in this most important record. “The servants of his house” did not understand David’s actions when the child Bathsheba bore to David died, and David arose from the earth where he had lain prostrate. The record tells us he washed and anointed himself, changing his clothes and went in before Yahweh and worshipped. “What is this thing that you have done?” David’s answer provides much insight for “the servants of the Beloved’s household” of today. Some may feel that evidence of true scriptural repentance consists of certain impractical attempts at retracement when the time for these has passed. Retracements because of changed circumstances are not to the glory of Yahweh, nor are these external so-called evidences of repentance actually stipulated in Yahweh’s word. What is however required are those mental and moral offerings, the sincerity of which Yahweh alone will be the ultimate judge of. “Why should I fast?” said David “can I bring him back again”. The death of the child, David knew, ended the purpose of his supplications. Remarriage after divorce Yahweh says (Deuteronomy 24:4) prevents any possibility of retracement. What ought to happen then in the practicalities of living with the consequences of the choices we have made is likewise illustrated in the divine record of David’s life.
David did not appeal in his prayer of Psalm 51 to the Law’s schedule of sacrifices for his sin to be purged, but to that portion of God’s law that revealed Yahweh’s character, a character that he knew he had to strive to emulate so as to again be one with Yahweh. “Yahweh, Yahweh Elohim merciful and gracious, long-suffering and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin and that will by no means clear the guilty…” (Exodus 34:6–7). Note well the three things Yahweh mercifully and graciously forgives, which David takes up in Psalm 51:2–3 and Psalm 32:1–2: Iniquity—“deliberate transgression and perversity, the act of hiding and even justifying wrongdoing, which has become a dark aspect of our way of living”. Note well this definition, for some brethren and sisters may feel that they cannot break bread with those who have divorced and remarried for reasons other than the exception because they did it deliberately, though they have confessed their sin in the matter. This was the judgement without mercy of Ahithophel, Bathsheba’s grandfather! Transgression—rebellion and trespass. Sin—offences (sometimes habitual). David found divine inspiration to express his thankfulness in this passage in Exodus which significantly reveals God’s character in association with man’s desperate need.
“I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me”. Acknowledgement of sin, transgression, even iniquity is the beginning of this process of true scriptural repentance; but in the rending of soul and mind, in the agonising acknowledgement that we are guilty of such atrocities, it is from God alone we seek forgiveness. It is not from man in all his unmercifulness that we seek forgiveness, but from Yahweh, and if from Him alone, then it is against Him alone we have truly sinned and broken covenant, failing that unity of “the glory of the only begotten of the Father” to which we have been called (John 1:14; 17:22–23).
David knew what it was to fall into the hand of man in comparison to falling into the hands of God who judges righteously. David resoundingly in an exclamation of heartfelt gratitude acknowledges this truth in Psalm 32 when he receives the forgiveness of his sins, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom Yahweh counts no iniquity and in whose spirit there is no guile (deceit)”. It is a blessed thing indeed that the spirit through David did not say, “Blessed is the man whom his neighbour does not impute iniquity”. Man, who can only judge by the hearing of the ear and by the seeing of the eye, is unable to discern the intents of the heart; even man who is so quick to remind his neighbour of his shortcomings, though he himself is compassed about with iniquity.
David’s words acknowledge God’s conditions for forgiveness, not man’s. That which God requires is designed to cultivate the new man of the spirit to spring forth and bear much fruit from the “dry ground” of sin. But the precondition that allows God’s way to have its perfect work is gratefully acknowledged by David, “in whose spirit (mind or disposition) there is no guile”. Where guile is practised, iniquity is imputed and any outward form of repentance is but a cloak of hypocrisy to God. Guile is treachery, deceit, the concealment or perversion of the truth, so as to deceive and mislead, to delude, to cause to fall and betray.
The extreme form of guile is that of self-delusion and self-righteousness where someone, blinded by self-justification, sees their evil circumstances as the fault of others. This self-deception is illustrated in the Lord’s parable of the Pharisee and the publican, (briefly considered on page 6) who went up into the temple to worship. The Pharisee prayed “with himself” (i.e. his prayer did not ascend to heaven but was for self). “God, I thank thee, that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector, I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I get” (Luke 18:10–11).
Here is a man who justified himself and quoted Scripture in the process. He did not need God’s covering for sin; he kept all God’s commandments or at least thought he did! The tax collector however stood “far off” and would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven but smote his breast saying, “God be merciful to me a sinner (this is rendered “the sinner” in the Greek) Luke 18:13.
Here was a man who knew his need for God’s mercy or his propitiation, he who is Yahweh’s mercy seat. The feeling of this man’s overwhelming weakness compelled him to the confession that he was the sinner above all sinners. “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14).
If for whatever motive, or by whatever means we conceal iniquity and in effect say that we have no sin, then “we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us”. If however, “we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8–9).
David in his ungodly deceit perhaps reasoned that he could hide his adultery if he could legitimise the deceit. “For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he lives; but if the husband be dead she is loosed from the law of her husband” (Romans 7).Yet the true state of our heart’s guile is when we practice deceit with God. We know we cannot hide anything from God (Psalm 32:3–4), but the depravity of our hearts so blinds us, God’s presence becomes an abstract and distant concept, even his promises once so nigh to our daily living, are made remote.
The divine testimony of David’s life notes several prominent sins he committed, and yet in only one case is a distinction made. “David did that which was right in the eyes of Yahweh, and turned not aside from anything he commanded him all the days of his life, save only in the matter of Uriah the Hittite” (1 Kings 15:5). It is essential to understand the reason for this record; David did not immediately confess and repent before Yahweh of this grievous transgression. Instead he concealed the matter hoping time would heal his smitten conscience. True repentance is a forsaking of the practice of guile. Again it must be stressed; sin, transgression and iniquity are imputed when we attempt to justify our wrongdoing by deceit. When we refuse to face the truth about our failing and resolve not to forsake, but to justify even legitimise sin, this is the moment God imputes iniquity. While one remains in this state of mind of practising guile, sin cannot be removed.
But note well and consider by God’s grace the antithesis, “I acknowledged my sin unto thee and my iniquity have I not hid, I said, I will confessmy transgressions unto thee Lord and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah.”―pause and calmly think of that! (Psalm32:5). Note: scriptural repentance is based on sincere confession, not works. It is upon this fact that Paul builds his doctrine of justification by the righteousness of faith Romans 4: 4–8. Failure to see this blinds us to the New Testament doctrine of how the blood of Christ cleanses us from sin!
Notice that the forgiveness is total and immediate, never to be brought up by God again. “The Lord put away” (2 Samuel 12:13) David’s iniquity, though many in Israel would never forget. It is man who made this into a perpetual reproach, but God considered it in the light of David’s humility, resolve and confession, as water spilt on the ground, never to return. This is the memorial Psalm 32. Brethren and sisters we ought to consider it carefully in its personal and ecclesial implications.
The psalmist wants us to fellowship his experience in the bitterness of his despair, because like him we fail, not just on certain notable occasions, but unlike David, repeatedly and foolishly. We despair and wonder what God could ever see in us worth perpetuating. Yet with the psalmist we can ascend like eagles, soaring the incalculable heights of heavenly grace, the ecstasy of the verdict of the guiltless; which David as the representative of all “God’s beloved” (the bride of Christ) shall receive and will exclaim, “Oh the blessedness of transgression forgiven and sin covered…”
God did not even wait for the confession to pass David’s lips but in the very moment he resolved to confess; “I said, I will confess my transgressions to the Lord and you forgave…” Instantly, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, like the prodigal son when he resolved to confess his sins and go to his father and say, “Father I have sinned against heaven and before thee,” in that very moment, though as yet so far off from his father’s house, God grants forgiveness. The record graciously adds that the father, who lovingly awaited his son’s return, searching the horizon for that lost sheep, rejoiced with exceeding joy and went out to meet him who has resolved to return.
Now if we compare this, the divine example, with that of man’s judgment in the elder son who brought railing accusation against his brother before the father, what would man’s judgement have been of David sin? Certain death for David and Bathsheba without a doubt, even as God through Nathan in his parable, compelled David to confess (2 Samuel 12). God alone could put away David’s iniquity. We should never lose sight of this point, both personally and ecclesially, in dealing with cases of divorce and remarriage for reasons other than the exception. It is “God that hates putting away” (Malachi 3). He who puts away his spouse (innocent of porneia) has sinned against God, and his transgression against spouse and the ecclesia is a symptom of his breaking covenant with Yahweh.
As we have seen, the forgiveness of sin is the only possible scriptural position for re-fellowship, and this can only be attained by sincere repentance shown by a full recognition of the evil and confession of sin. In the case of one who has put away an innocent spouse and remarried, such recognition and confession of sin must then be followed by a determination to “sin no more”. In the context of Matthew 5:27–32 and Matthew 19, this would mean the determined resolve, patterned after the Lord’s example of prayer and the use of scripture to forsake evil desire that leads to covetousness, divorce and remarriage.