Read Psalm 51
“God is not looking for repayment, but repentance. What heals a broken relationship is sincere love and contrition” (Frederica Mathewes-Green). Psalm 51 is one of the Penitential Psalms, but I want to focus on a related but different word, contrition, as we consider this beautiful Psalm of repentance.
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (vs. 17, ESV). The Bible Knowledge Commentary says a contrite heart is a crushed heart. Contrition is defined as “the state of feeling remorseful and penitent” (Oxford Dictionaries). One of the reasons I believe this Psalm strikes us as such a beautiful song is the heartfelt transparency and ownership by King David of moral failure before God. The title clearly connects Psalm 51 with the Prophet Nathan’s confrontation of King David’s rebellious acts. The word, sin, in verse 1 carries the idea of rebellion and not simply doing something wrong, although that is true. David was exposed and he owned his guilt before the holy and righteous God of Israel. Much can be said about all of this Psalm but I want to highlight verse 5: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (ESV). The sin is not in the act of intimacy (God sees this as beautiful in the marriage relationship). Rather, the Psalmist is acknowledging that from the very beginning of our lives we are sinful and rebellious before God. God created humans in the image of God, but the rebellion of our first parents left us with the heritage of a sinful nature (cf. Genesis 1-3). Because of this, we then act out by sinning, disobeying, and rebelling against God. King David owns this. He is a sinner by nature and by his actions. This is true for every one of us. I find it fascinating that we all tend to move toward polarized and wrong extremes. When it comes to identifying ourselves as sinners, some will dismiss the idea and say that it is not that big of a deal or that everybody is in the same boat, so why does it matter. We run away from our guilt instead of owning it. Genuine contrition is when we fully claim our guilt before God and acknowledge it with our spoken words.
The other extreme is a person thinking they are so guilty or such a failure that not even God could or would forgive them. This dismisses the mercy and might of God, but it also fails to see that God delights in taking us from our worst condition to a transformed and renewed person. M. D. Futato introduces this Psalm with a somewhat lengthy quote, but worth sharing at this point: “Psalm 51 grips our hearts as it exposes our need that results from our moral failures in life. Our moral failures are not simply a matter of what we do. They are a matter of what we do because of who we are. Our need is for something outside of ourselves to make a radical difference within ourselves. Our need is for God—but not for just any god. Our need is for the God who will speak in truth about our desperate condition and who will act in love for our salvation” (Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol 7). The Gospel message tells us that God through Jesus Christ did act in love so we can find forgiveness and acceptance with God. No longer offering the repeated sacrifices of animals, Jesus Christ became like us and gave His life once and for all for us. When we are ready to own our sinfulness before God and accept this gift from Jesus Christ, we find forgiveness and new life! “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them…For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5: 17-19, and 21, ESV).
Do not miss the Good News of Jesus Christ offering us forgiveness and newness! But I also want to remind you that owning your sins and being contrite instead of making excuses or acting like we are worthless and can’t change will go a long way in restoring relationships with family and friends. Try it! I know God loves a “broken and contrite heart” and the significant people in your life just may love it too.