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A Contrite Heart


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True repentance reflects contrition, a godly remorse for offending God. Here the sinner mourns his sin, not for the loss of reward or for the threat of judgment, but because he has done injury to the honor of God.

. . .

Contrition has lost much of its meaning in our culture. It is not difficult to convince people that they are sinners, for not one in a thousand is going to say that he is perfect. The common response is: “Sure, I’m a sinner. Isn’t everyone? Nobody’s perfect.” There are few, if any, who claim they are blameless, that they have lived lives of ethical consistency, keeping the Golden Rule in every situation. The rub is in acknowledging the intensity of our sin, the extreme godlessness of our actions. Because we are all sinners and know that we share a common guilt, our confession tends to be superficial, often not characterized by earnestness or a sense of moral urgency.

Psalm 51, a contrite sinner’s prayer for pardon, was composed by King David after he committed adultery with Bathsheba. David did not approach God with excuses. He did not ask God to consider the circumstances that produced his sin or the loneliness of his government position. David did not seek to minimize the gravity of his sin in God’s presence. There were no rationalizations and no attempts at self-justification, which are so characteristic of guilty people.

David said, “I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me . . . you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment” (vv. 3–4). In other words, David believed that God was absolutely justified if He gave him nothing but absolute punishment. David exhibited what God has said He will not despise: a broken and contrite heart.

David then pleaded for restoration to God’s favor: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit” (vv. 10–12). He understood the most crucial element of confession: total dependence on God’s mercy. David could not atone for his sins. There was nothing he could do and nothing he could say to undo what he had done. There was no way for him to “make it up to God.” David understood what Jesus later made clear—that we are debtors who cannot pay our debts.

Confession is like a declaration of bankruptcy. God requires perfection. The slightest sin blemishes a perfect record. All the “good deeds” in the world cannot erase the blemish and move us from imperfection to perfection. Once the sin has been committed, we are morally bankrupt. Our only hope is to have that sin forgiven and covered through the atonement of the One who is altogether perfect.

When we sin, our only option is repentance. Without repentance there is no forgiveness. We must come before God in contrition. David put it this way: “You will not delight in sacrifice . . . The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Ps. 51:16–17).

Here, David’s profound thoughts reveal his understanding of what many Old Testament figures failed to grasp—that the offering of sacrifices in the temple did not gain merit for the sinner. Sacrifices pointed beyond themselves to the perfect Sacrifice. The perfect atonement was offered by the perfect Lamb without blemish. The blood of bulls and goats does not take away sin. The blood of Jesus does. To avail ourselves of the atonement of Christ, to gain that covering, requires that we come before God in brokenness and contrition. The true sacrifices of God are a broken spirit and a contrite heart.

—R. C. Sproul, Does Prayer Change Things? (Tyndale, 2009), 55, 56–59.



Posted 2018·03·29 by David Kjos
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Posted in: Does Prayer Change Things? · Prayer · R C Sproul · Repentance

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