On the witness stand, Michael Cohen raised his right hand and promised to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
“I have done bad things, but I am not a bad man.”
Who cannot relate to the inward wrestling we experience when faced with wrongdoing? When our misdeeds are exposed, we cannot escape the truth.
But oh, how we try.
We want to believe we are better than our bad behavior. We want others to believe that about us, too.
Three words describe our responses to falling short of God’s righteous standards: regret, remorse, and repentance.
Three postures illustrate the difference:
Regret: a boy paces back and forth, wringing his hands. “That was really stupid of me. I wish I’d made a better choice.”
Remorse: a woman sits, head in her hands, crying. “How could I have done this? What will people think of me? I’m so ashamed; my life will never be the same. If only I could turn back the clock and start over.”
Repentance: a man on his knees, hands lifted to heaven in surrender. “I was so wrong; I have done harm. I can never repair the damage I have done. I have no excuse, and I deserve full punishment for my sin. Lord, please forgive me.”
Every child experiences twinges of regret. What teenager has not been remorseful? What human being is sinless?
And yet . . . how easy it is to justify ourselves. And not just our childish misdeeds or boorish behavior as adults, but real transgressions against God’s moral law.
Like Michael Cohen, we want to say, “Okay, I may have sinned, but I am not really a sinner. I’m better than what my wrong actions might indicate.”
We want to add, “And besides, you’re not perfect either, you know.”
Since the Garden of Eden remorseful humankind has engaged in coverups. Adam and Eve donned fig leaves and hid from God behind trees.
Confronted by the Holy One, Adam blame shifted. “That woman You gave me, she’s at fault.”
But coverups and self-justification are no remedy for wrongdoing. Scripture is clear: “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.”
Israel’s first two kings both disobeyed God. When King Saul offered an illicit sacrifice, Samuel confronted him with a question no transgressor wants to hear. “What have you done?”
Saul’s response, in essence: “My troops were deserting me. You didn’t show up on time. The enemy is mustering forces against us. I had to seek the Lord’s favor. What else could I do?”
“You have acted foolishly,” Samuel responded. And the kingdom was removed from Saul’s family.
Most would agree that King David’s sins – adultery with Bathsheba and having her husband killed – seem of much greater magnitude than Saul’s. David also tried to cover up his iniquities.
The prophet Nathan had the unenviable task of confronting the sinful king. “You are the man!”
The king could have said, “Off with his head!”
Instead David replied, “I have sinned against the Lord.”
And he does not follow up with “but I am not a sinner.”
In Psalm 51 we see the “hands up in full surrender” posture of a true penitent. We hear the anguish of soul that takes full responsibility for sin and cries out for forgiveness:
1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
Let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
Here’s my prayer: “Lord, give me a heart of repentance like David’s. Thank you for the forgiveness you freely provide to those who turn to you in faith, trusting in our Messiah’s atoning sacrifice. Help me to walk humbly before You, in full obedience to Your will for my life, that You may be glorified.”