Here is a brief excerpt from my book “Cultivating A Gospel Shaped Attitude” about the importance of taking personal responsibility for sin. If you like it, I invite you to read the rest of the book.
Taking Personal Responsibility for Sin
The most infamous episode in David’s life occurred during the spring of the year when he should have been out on the battlefield with the army of Israel, but instead stayed home. That night, David was walking on his rooftop when he spied a beautiful woman taking a bath. He sent for her, and they ended up committing adultery. As if that were not enough, David then had her husband killed in order to cover his tracks (2 Samuel 11). There are several points in this story where David had the opportunity to turn around and avoid this terrible sin altogether, but instead, he ran right past every warning sign placed in his path and plunged headlong into sin. David did not set out to get entangled in a web of his own creation, but nevertheless, one night of pleasure turned into a lifetime of pain. If the story stopped here, it would serve as an excellent example of human depravity and abuse of power, but the story does not end with David’s sin. God had a greater plan for David, so He sent the prophet Nathan to deliver a message (2 Samuel 12:1–15).
When Nathan arrived, he told David a story about two men, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had all of the flocks he could ever want, while the poor man had only one little ewe lamb. The poor man loved this lamb and took it to his home where it became part of his family. One day, however, the rich man had some guests over for dinner and didn’t want to kill any of his own flocks, so he took the poor man’s beloved lamb and served it for dinner. When David heard the story, he grew angry and announced, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity” (verses 5–6). Nathan then looked David straight in the eye and said, “You are the man!” When Nathan finished speaking, David’s heart was broken and he said, “I have sinned against the Lord.” (v.13)
This is a surprising twist in the story because up to this moment, David had done everything within his power to try to cover up and hide his sin. He hadn’t shown anything even remotely resembling remorse. But when confronted by the Word of God through Nathan the prophet, we see a change take place in David’s heart. For the first time in this entire episode, David took personal responsibility for his sin and displayed what it means to be poor in spirit.
David was not perfect; he sinned and he sinned greatly. That is why we relate so well to him: because he was a human being just like us and possessed the capacity to sin in the most arrogant and foolish of ways. He is not presented to us as an example of moral perfection, but rather as the recipient of God’s grace. When confronted by Nathan, he could have gotten defensive and attempted to continue the charade, but he didn’t. He could have continued trying to hide his sin or to deny that it ever happened, but he didn’t. Instead, when confronted by his sin, David took personal responsibility for what he’d done and turned to God in repentance and faith.
We can never fully experience the grace of God until we come face-to-face with the enormity of our sin and be willing to take personal responsibility for what we have done. The men and women we meet in the Bible are remarkably like us and subject to the same sinful passions, desires, and cravings we encounter every day. Some were proud and arrogant, refusing to admit their sin. Others were genuinely poor in spirit, turning to God for forgiveness. Over the years, I’ve seen both of these responses played out within the church. I’ve watched people who have committed terrible, unspeakable acts of sin take personal responsibility and turn to Jesus for forgiveness. And over the years, it has never ceased to amaze me how God can take those who are utterly broken under the burden of sin and put their lives back together after they take responsibility for their actions. But I’ve also seen those who have decided to go the other direction and refuse to admit their sin. There is nothing more tragic for a pastor than to watch the bitter root of sin growing in a person’s heart and eventually consuming every aspect of their life.