For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Psalm 32:3-4
Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses famously began, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Matthew 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” We who celebrate the Reformation agree that repentance is the ongoing lifestyle of the faithful Christian, and we all know the joyous relief of coming clean before the Lord.
It is also true that God will not bless a hard, unrepentant heart. He cannot, in effect, endorse impenitence. Psalm 32 makes that clear from David’s experience of misery. God does cover the many sins we are oblivious to. For Jesus’s sake, his bountiful forgiveness frees us constantly, with grace upon grace, in keeping with our justification by faith alone. But when the Holy Spirit convicts us of a specific sin—if, rather than face it, we deny it and bury it, we risk the disciplines David suffered. God’s hand was heavy on David, so that his energy drained away as on a humid summer afternoon. God loves us enough to convince us that hypocritical God-avoidance cannot succeed.
There is, obviously, a reason why we hate owning up. Maybe nothing is more painful and humiliating than facing ourselves and seeing ourselves as we really are and admitting the ugly truth of it all. We’d rather die than go there. So the Lord helps us get there by making us thoroughly miserable, until we finally break, and our hearts crack open, and the confession pours out. Then, the relief!
I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Psalm 32:5
It was when David came out in confession that, to his astonishment, he was “surrounded with shouts of deliverance” (verse 7) among God’s penitent people.
A strong evidence of revival power is when we get so fed up with our wretched excuses that we fall at the Lord’s feet, admit everything, and there discover new depths of his mercy and grace. This is especially compelling when our confessions become public, as that is appropriate. Consider this eyewitness account of revival in Korea from a missionary there in 1907:
“Then began a meeting the like of which I had never seen before, nor wish to see again, unless in God’s sight it is absolutely necessary. Every sin a human being can commit was publicly confessed that night. Pale and trembling with emotion, in agony of mind and body, guilty souls, standing in the white light of their judgment, saw themselves as God saw them. Their sins rose up in all their vileness, till shame and grief and self-loathing took complete possession; pride was driven out, the face of man forgotten. Looking up to heaven, to Jesus whom they had betrayed, they smote themselves and cried out with bitter wailing: ‘Lord, Lord, cast us not away forever!’ Everything else was forgotten, nothing else mattered. The scorn of men, the penalty of the law, even death itself seemed of small consequence, if only God forgave. We may have other theories of the desirability or undesirability of public confession of sin. I have had mine; but I know now that when the Spirit of God falls upon guilty souls, there will be confession, and no power on earth can stop it.”
The Lord is moving in our own day too, and we are grateful. But we have not yet been laid hold of by this spirit of repentance. We are not yet consumed by this urgency to get right with God and with one another, however embarrassing it might be. We seldom hear such cries of repentance.
But the accusations surfacing in Hollywood and Washington are reminding us that the passage of time does not make sin go away. How could it be otherwise? Where does the Bible say that a sin has an expiration date, so that we can wait God out until he doesn’t care any more? Where does the Bible say that we can dismiss a sin with, “That’s water under the bridge, we’ve moved on”? God hasn’t moved on—not if Psalm 32 still holds. Anyone we have mistreated has not moved on. And neither have we. The fact that we come up with glib excuses reveals our guilty anxiety behind our smiles.
If we want the mighty blessing of God upon our churches and ministries, we will indeed live in ongoing repentance, as Jesus commanded and as Luther protested. God longs to bless us. But if we turn away from repentance, perhaps thinking, Our image must not suffer, and we’re not sure we even want that much blessing, then we might be admitting that our image matters more than our integrity and that we don’t really want God to take control anyway. And he knows how to take a hint.
But what if we break? What if the pent-up anguish of long-unconfessed sins gushes out in repentance before God and one another? We too will be “surrounded with shouts of deliverance,” and the blessing we are experiencing now will seem a mere prelude to the mighty outpouring God will send down.