Taking Personal Responsibility for Sin

Screen Shot 2013-03-26 at 4.21.03 PMHere 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.

How Often Do You Have to Repent in Order to Be Sure?

679216_w185As a follow up to my review of J.D. Greear’s book, I would like to share with you a question that one of my church members asked on my Facebook account the other day.  Greear wrote, “Great “recipe” for reflection here! I’ve read it three times and will probably read it again before this day is through! My only question is, how much of the repentent behavior is enough to cross over the line of being assured and not being assured? I guess that what I am asking is, when is the repentent behavior “good enough”? I’m a little unclear on that point!”  I shared the following response with him and he gave me permission to post it here.  I hope this helps:

“That is a great question Keith. The Scripture shows us that “repentance” and “faith” are not one time events but rather the two primary ongoing activities of the Christian life. While they each have a clear and definite beginning point at our conversion, we never really grow past the need to repent and believe. In our lives, the fact that we continue to come to Jesus in repentance and faith provide the evidence that we have truly been converted. Let me show you from the Bible what I mean.

In Mark 1:15 Jesus says, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” The two words “repent” and “believe” lay out for us the response to the message of the gospel. In the original Greek these words are both in the present tense, indicating that they are not just actions that we take in the past but instead represent ongoing activities. These actions have a definite and clear beginning point, but they continue throughout the lifetime of the believer. In his book, Greear states it this way, “Salvation is a posture of repentance and faith toward the finished work of Christ in which you transfer the weight of your hopes of heaven off of your own righteousness and onto the finished work of Jesus Christ. The way to know you made the decision is by the fact that you are resting in Christ right now… The posture begins at a moment, but it persists for a lifetime.”(p.48)

Greear points out that the Apostle John almost always spoke of faith in terms of an ongoing (present tense) activity. For instance, in John 3:36 he writes, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life but the wrath of God remains on him.” One of my favorite instances is in 1 John 5:13 where John writes, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” (see also John 9:36-38; 10:27-28) In each of these instances, the Bible is not referring to something that we do only once in our lifetimes but rather to an ongoing posture.

This should not be taken to mean that there is not a moment of salvation or conversion. Greear is careful to point out that the Bible speaks of salvation as occurring in a moment: we are “born again” (John 3:1-3); our sins are washed away (Acts 22:16); Christ;s righteousness is credited to us (Rom 4:5); w are transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light (Col 1:13)…” (p, 44) But he states, “The way that you know you made the decision, however, is not by remembering with absolute clarity the moment you made it, but because you are seated now. Many people know exactly when that point of decision was for them…For others, however, the moment is less clear….Either way, what we are to do now is to maintain the posture of repentance and faith.” (p.44-45) In other words, the evidence or assurance of our salvation is not gained from being able to point to one specific moment in our lives, but rather that we are continuing in a posture of repentance and faith.

Now back to your specific question, “My only question is, how much of the repentent behavior is enough to cross over the line of being assured and not being assured? I guess that what I am asking is, when is the repentent behavior “good enough”?” There is not a formula for measuring out the amount of repentance and faith in a person’s life. Both of these are postures of our hearts. Throughout our lives as Christians we will become aware of certain behaviors or attitudes that are sinful must turn to Christ in repentance and faith. The fact, that we are willing to “repent” and “believe” is the evidence or assurance of our salvation.

I hope this helps. For another helpful review of this book, please see  Tim Challies.