As parents, we’ve all heard some version of this:
“He started it!”
“I meant to fill in the blank (clean my room, take out the trash, etc.) right after I finish this game.”
“It’s not fair!”
“I just forgot.”
Likewise, as a Christian educator, I hear similar things from students. It’s not an outright denial of the behavior, but rather a deflection or blame-shift.
But it’s not just kids. Once sin entered the picture, we all have the tendency, even reflexively, to shift the blame. Remember when God confronted Adam in the garden? What was Adam’s response? Adam replies: “The woman you gave to be with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate.” Adam tries to blame the woman and God, but it doesn’t work. Adam will share in the pain of sin’s consequences.
What each of the above phrases (or similar phrases) have in common is an attempt to deflect or shift blame, to dilute the guilt. It’s an attempt to escape full ownership of the behavior. But as Christian parents, we must coach our children on how to take ownership. In other words, we must teach them how to repent. Repentance isn’t about mere behavior modification. It’s about coming to terms with the nature of our sin, but also about taking hold of God’s grace. Even in the wreckage of Adam’s sin, there’s the promise of God’s grace and the full and final restoration to come.
“Repentance” often doesn’t feel like a positive word because it reminds us of our sin. It conjures up negative feelings of guilt, regret, or even shame. But the biblical concept of repentance represents an opportunity. It’s first and foremost an opportunity to be reconciled with God, and then others. Ongoing repentance in the life of the believer is an opportunity for refreshment and renewal. We can even say that repentance is an opportunity for our joy.
What is exactly is repentance? It includes confession and sorrow, but perhaps most importantly, its means turning away from the sin. It means that we agree with God about our sin, which produces the turning away.
Psalm 51 is a psalm of repentance penned by King David under the inspiration of the Spirit. David was guilty of grievous sin, yet he repents. Let’s look at Psalm 51 as a model of repentance.
- “Against you—you alone – I have sinned and done this evil in your sight.” (v 4)
The context of this psalm is David’s sin with Bathsheba. Surely, David also sinned against Bathsheba. He also certainly sinned against her husband Uriah when he sent him to the front line of battle to be killed. He also sinned against God’s people when he failed to be the righteous king God expected. So, what does this verse mean? When we understand this verse in the larger context of Scripture, we see that sin is first and foremost a vertical offense against a just and holy God. Proper repentance requires that we understand this.
Notice also that David doesn’t shift blame. He could have said something like “Lord, you made me king, I’m just doing what kings do!” Or “Lord, you could have kept Bathsheba off that roof, and you could have kept me from seeing her.” Yet, David simply owns his guilt.
- “Surely you desire integrity in the inner self.” (v 6)
We may sin with our words, our deeds, and our thoughts, but sin is ultimately a matter of the heart. We sin from our heart, and it’s in our hearts that we must be made right.
- “Create a clean heart for me and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (v 10)
We need to apologize and confess to others when we hurt them. In some cases, it may be appropriate to offer restitution. But in any case, what we most need is for God to make us new. What we need is something only God can do. That’s why Jesus says “Truly I tell you, unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
- “You do not want a sacrifice, or I would give it.” (v 10)
Apologies and restitution are necessary, but these must flow from a repentant heart. Apologies and restitution can even be a form of manipulation without actual repentance. Ever heard the phrase: “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness, than permission?” Apologies often come easy. Buying a gift is easy. Repentance is hard. Repentance requires humility.
If anybody had the means to make-up for his sin, David did. He could offer any gift imaginable. David could offer tens of thousands of burnt offerings, but no sacrifice is a substitute for repentance.
- “The sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit. You will not despise a broken and humbled heart, God.” (v 17)
What is the right response to our sin? Sorrow, brokenness, humility.
- Then you will delight in righteous sacrifices, whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.” (v 19)
Once David’s heart is right, then he can offer pleasing sacrifices to God.
Let’s recap the model of repentance in Psalm 51:
- Full ownership of the sin (David doesn’t deflect or blame)
- Confession and humility (David doesn’t dilute his sin)
- Renewal from God (David looks to God, not good deeds, as the means to renewal)
- Giving of pleasing gifts to God (Once David’s heart has been renewed, then he can offer sacrifices.)
Far too often we short-circuit the repentance process by either blame shifting, or simply trying to cover our sins by doing good things. When we fail to properly own our sin, confess our sin, and humble ourselves, we’re ultimately undercutting our own joy, and risk damaging our most valued relationships.
Repentance initially doesn’t feel good, because we must wrestle with the fact that we’re not as good as we thought. But it’s absolutely necessary. The moment you become a Christian you repent from your sins. But you are also agreeing to a lifetime of repentance as the Holy Spirit works in your heart.
We live in a culture which constantly trains us to shift and deflect blame for our wrong doings. But we will never experience the joy of the Christian life unless we practice repentance. Otherwise, we remain shackled to our sin.
There’s a real danger is not repenting. Besetting, or habitual sin, robs us of joy and spiritual vitality. Too many professing Christians aren’t growing in their faith. Too many professing Christians are spiritually hobbled because of a lack of repentance.
Sin may offer us fleeting pleasure, but it’s always a loss. It never adds value to our lives. Certainly, we never reach anything close to perfection this side of heaven, but the same Spirit that enacts repentance in our hearts, and will give us real, tangible victory over our sin.
The only reason repentance is even possible is because of Christ. Apart from Christ, we’re dead in our sins. Apart from Christ we remain under judgment, destined for hell. But because he lived the perfect life we couldn’t, died in our place, and rose from the dead, we can draw near to a just and holy God. We can be reconciled, redeemed, saved. Repentance is the fruit of God’s grace.
We must coach our kids to see repentance as an opportunity. If our kids are not yet believers, it’s an opportunity to be reconciled to God forever. If your kids are believers, repentance is an opportunity to be refreshed.
Let us reflect on this passage from Psalm 32:
3 When I kept silent, my bones became brittle
from my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was drained
as in the summer’s heat. Selah
5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not conceal my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah
All Scripture quotations from Christian Standard Bible (CSB).