READ : 2 Samuel 12:1-13
St. Augustine said that the beginning of knowledge is to know yourself to be a sinner. But if you know that, what should you do about it?
Second Samuel chapter 11 tells the terrible story of David and Bathsheba. David, the good and godly king of Israel, first coveted his neighbor’s wife Bathsheba, then took her and made her pregnant, then lied to Uriah her husband, then had him killed to get him out of the way. In the conclusion of this story the Bible makes it very clear with what displeasure God reacted to this trampling of his commandments. Now, as we continue reading in the book of 2 Samuel, we see what God did about it.
The Lord sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.
“Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”
David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this deserves to die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”
Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! . . . .”
Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”
“YOU ARE THE MAN”
Picture this dramatic encounter between two of the Lord’s anointed servants, one a prophet, the other a king. The throne-room of the palace is filled with the low hum of background noise: odd snatches of conversation, soldiers milling about awaiting orders, now and then a burst of laughter, and the never-ending cries of supplicants pleading for justice or just for a favor. Suddenly the great room grows hushed as a commanding figure appears in the doorway and strides purposefully towards the throne. King David looks up and recognizes his old friend Nathan, the prophet of God. But Nathan hadn’t come to pay a social call. He begins to tell a story about a rich man, a poor man, and a little lamb. David gets caught up in the story, never dreaming that it was a parable about his own life.
The events that Nathan’s parable really referred to – David’s crimes involving Bathsheba and her husband Uriah – had taken place long ago, at least a year before. David, busy with the affairs of his kingdom, secure in his unchallenged power, may even have forgotten about them. Or at least he acted as if he had forgotten. And if anyone else remembered how Bathsheba had happened to become his wife, they weren’t about to bring it up to the king. So as Nathan spun out his tale about an arrogant and powerful man who took advantage of his poor neighbor and robbed him of his most precious treasure, King David got angrier and angrier until he could contain his indignation no longer. “This man deserves to die!” he shouted. For a moment there was silence. Then Nathan drew himself up to his full height, looked King David in the eye, and replied, “You are the man” (2 Sam. 12:7). It is one of the greatest moments in the Bible.
There is something about human nature that loves to hear other peoples’ sins denounced. Christians are no different. We often enjoy it when an agitated preacher thunders against the manifold wickedness of the world – all the immorality and godlessness of our modern culture. You know, homosexual behavior, abortion, filth in the media, pornography, materialism, secular humanism – all those sins conservative Christians love to hate. We listen to the litany. We nod our heads in agreement, we cluck our tongues for shame. We swell with righteous indignation. And suddenly, God points his finger and says, “You’re the one!”
I’m the one? What a shock to discover that when God is describing behavior that is hurtful and offensive to himself, he has me in mind. How do I react to that unpleasant truth?
“You are the man!” In an instant, it all came home to David: his sin, the enormity of what he had done, the terrible guilt he had incurred. He was devastated. All he could say was, “I have sinned.” This frank statement that David made to the prophet Nathan – and the expanded version of it in his 51st Psalm – offers a perfect model of how we should respond when God’s Word convicts us of our own sins.
WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU HAVE SINNED
Based on David’s example, let me suggest four things to do when God confronts you with the realization that you have sinned:
Acknowledge what you’ve done. It took great courage for Nathan to say what he said to David. It took even greater grace for David to admit what he did to Nathan – and to God. David instantly acknowledged the truth of the accusation: “I have sinned.” “I know about my sins,” he wrote later in Psalm 51:3, “and I cannot forget my terrible guilt” (cev). Ever since David had covered up his sin he thought it could successfully be hidden. But after God confronted him with it, David’s sin was always on his mind. It was never far from his conscious thought. No more cover-ups, no more hypocrisy, no more posing as the great, holy king and revered Psalm-writer. David freely admitted what he had done, what he was.
Think about how he might have reacted to Nathan’s accusation. He could have denied everything, or blustered, offering shabby excuses for himself the way modern politicians do. (“It wasn’t my fault. I’m not responsible for what I did. I was born with a weakness for beautiful women. Besides, you know what they’re like.”) Or David could have just had Nathan executed as a nuisance. After all, he was an absolute ruler, and people didn’t usually talk that way to kings in the ancient world – or if they did, they had a habit of losing their heads. But not with this king. David was great enough to accept the painful truth. He acknowledged his sin. He affirmed the justice of the charge against him.
Confess your sin. After admitting that he had sinned, David immediately went on to confess his sin verbally to God in prayer. Again from Psalm 51: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge” (Psalm 51:4, niv). No euphemisms here, no verbal dancing to obscure the ugly truth. David didn’t talk about “making a mistake” or “suffering a lapse in judgment” or “disappointing his family.” He didn’t go on about how unhappy his other marriages had been, or how he had really found love for the first time with Bathsheba. He didn’t bring up all the hardships he had experienced in his life. He didn’t claim that his appetite for women was a result of having been denied love in his childhood. No, none of that. David just confessed his sin. He named specifically what he had done. He called his sin what it was. He acknowledged whom he had offended. “You are really the one I have sinned against,” David said to God. “I have disobeyed you and done wrong” (Psalm 51:4, cev).
Not that David’s sin didn’t also affect others – it did, obviously. But all sin is fundamentally an offense against God. When we confess our sins, we accept responsibility for them, calling them what they are, refusing to manufacture excuses for ourselves. Above all, we recognize how our sins offend God and disrupt our relationship with him.
- Ask forgiveness for your sin. “Have mercy on me, O God,” David cried (Psalm 51:1, niv). “Please wipe away my sins. Wash me clean from all my sin and guilt” (vv. 1,2, cev). To ask for forgiveness is to ask for that which we can never deserve. Therefore our only appeal can be to God’s mercy. There is no reason why God should forgive us, other than that he is gracious and compassionate. He takes pity on us when we are powerless to help ourselves, when we have no arguments to justify our behavior, and when we have nothing to offer him in return for his goodness. No matter what we have done, no matter how great our sins may be, Christ is far greater. He can save us, he will forgive us if we ask him for mercy.
- Turn from your sin to a new life. Verbal confession of sin is a start. But true repentance involves more than just words. Words and tears of remorse are fine for a beginning, but by themselves they are not enough. Genuine repentance also means turning decisively away from our sinful behavior. “Create in me a clean heart, O God,” prayed David, “and put a new and right spirit within me” (v. 10). The process of repentance isn’t complete unless we leave our sins, forsaking them for renewed fellowship with God. And because we could never do that in our own strength, we too must cry out to God for his Spirit to give us a new and a clean heart, a fresh start in life.
But here’s some good news. The good news is that when David repented, God did forgive him. “Purge me with hyssop,” he writes, “and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I will be whiter than snow” (Ps. 51:7, niv). And the Lord did just that. David was cleansed, washed, forgiven for his sins – although their social and relational consequences remained. Like the aftershocks of some great earthquake, David’s sin with Bathsheba and Uriah continued to make itself felt through the years. The effects of that sin filled his life and his family history with bitter sorrow. But even though we may continue to suffer consequences because of sins that we have committed in the past, we no longer have to suffer for them. God does not punish us for sins that have been forgiven. He may discipline us by allowing consequences to remain, but such treatment is instructional, not retributive. By God’s grace our sins are completely forgiven when we turn to him in repentance and confession; their guilt is forever removed. We are washed clean in his sight, whiter than snow.
I read about a 19th century expedition of exploration which was searching for a water passage above Canada from the Atlantic Ocean into the Pacific. The explorers’ ships became ice-bound and they were stuck fast for months. When one of the crew fell ill and died, a grave was somehow carved out of the ice and snow. The man was buried in the middle of that frozen arctic wasteland. For miles around, as far as the eye could see in any direction, there was nothing but white emptiness. His comrades took a piece of wood from the ship to mark the grave, and on it they wrote this text from Psalm 51, David’s words: “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”
Jesus Christ can do that for you in his great love, by his precious grace. What David could not have known was that it is the blood of Christ which makes this wonderful cleansing from sin possible. When we confess our sins to God, we can also ask him to forgive us for Jesus’ sake because Jesus died to pay the penalty of those sins. If you know and understand that, it should make you all the more ready to repent, and then all the more eager to tell others of God’s amazing grace.
Have you confessed your sins and asked God to forgive them for Jesus’ sake? Why wouldn’t you want to do that? Why would you wish to hang on to them or keep on hiding them when you can be made clean for the asking, washed whiter than snow?