Most repentance efforts fail and by failure I mean two things: 1) the repentant person fairly quickly returns to their sin, and/or 2) the repentant person feels continued shame, guilt, and a barrier between them and God even though they have left that sin behind.
Repentance is not remorse. It is not to feel badly about your sin, or to confess and grieve over your sin. To repent means to turn around and go the other way. It includes confession and remorse, but it also includes a renewed commitment to a new order of things. A connecting back to the work of Jesus, calibrating to the Presence of His Spirit in you, and re-entering a daily walk of dependence upon the Spirit of God in every moment.
What is missing in our repentance? I think the answer is in the first two verses of Psalm 51. This is the Psalm David wrote right after being confronted by Nathan and recognizing the depth of his deeds with Bathsheba.
““Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.”
The key? Recognizing that you are a far worse person than even your sin reveals and that you are utterly dependent upon God.
David uses three words to describe his problem: transgression, iniquity, and sin. This digging through the layers of our sin problem is an essential part of effective repentance. David begins with his transgressions; a transgression is a willful violation of the law. When the speed limit is 55 and your son is driving 80, he is transgressing the law. And David’s transgressions were brutal. We often call it his “adultery” with Bathsheba, but let’s be clear - it was a rape.
While we are not informed of Bathsheba’s feelings, the truth is she had no choices in the matter because the King decided he deserved to have her. He rapes her and then kills her husband to cover his sin. He doesn’t just kill a man, but a man who had been one of his mighty men of valor, risking his life numerous times to save David’s. Not only that, but this murder results in the deaths of other soldiers who’s wives and children lose their husband/father to cover David’s sin.
How does a man who loves God so deeply, whom God calls “a man after my heart”, fall so far? The same way I do, and you do - iniquity. “Wash away all my iniquity”, David prays. Iniquity means “perversity” or “bentness” and refers to the broken and sinful depravity that flows in our veins since conception. “In sin did my mother conceive me”, David adds.
Embracing our iniquity helps us recognize that our transgressions flow from the contaminated spring of our souls - that not only did we transgress God’s law in this particular instance, but transgression is about the only thing that we naturally and consistently do. Everything about us, even our efforts to love and serve God and others, is polluted, resulting in sin (David’s third confession): “cleanse me from my sin”.
Sin is an archery term, referring to our inability to hit the bullseye. Everything we do falls short of the mark of perfection, for it is polluted by our iniquity. We are incapable beings, desperate for God and His help. We are fundamentally broken and it colors everything about who we are and what we do.
This confession of complete brokenness and utter dependence upon God is the entry point of effective repentance. Let your sin drive you to this place and to the reminder of your desperate need of God. Learning to live in this space will also empower us to walk more closely with God, leaning into His Presence and power so that we live for Him more effectively.