Would you like to revolutionize your marriage? Then try starting with a little repentance. It’s amazing how much healing can occur between a husband and a wife when 10 little words are said: “I am so sorry for what I did. I repent!”
As we grow as believers in Jesus Christ and become surrounded by more and more Christians, it’s easy to put on a façade. Often we aren’t willing to admit where we are spiritually because we’ve become skilled at hiding our weaknesses.
But for Christian husbands and wives who want a strong marriage, there comes a time when we have to own up and be honest about ourselves. Will we live our lives bare before the Lord? Will we open ourselves up to our spouses? If so, then we need to learn how to be repentant.
Face-to-face with sin
If you are looking for an example of repentance, go no further than 2 Samuel 12. You probably know the story. The prophet Nathan came to King David to confront him about committing adultery and murder. Nathan told David about two men who lived in the same city. One was rich and had a large number of sheep and cattle. The other had only one little female lamb that he treated as a member of his family. The rich man took the poor man’s lamb to use as a meal.
"As surely as God lives," David said to Nathan, "the man who did this ought to be lynched! He must repay for the lamb four times over for his crime and his stinginess!"
Then Nathan stunned David with his reply: "You’re the man!" (2 Samuel 12:5-7, The Message).
It’s interesting that David had a lot of self-righteousness when it came to somebody else’s sin. But when he realized that he was the man who had sinned, he begged for mercy.
After finally coming face-to-face with his sin of adultery, David penned Psalm 51. It begins, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love, according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. … cleanse me from my sin! … Against you, you only, have I sinned ...”
David was far more than sorrowful for his sin. He was repentant.
Psalm 51 gives us a picture of what genuine repentance looks like. Applying it to marriage, here are three characteristics of a repentant spouse:
1. A repentant spouse trusts the character of God. In Psalm 51 David says, in essence, “God, I know I’ve messed up beyond the worst level of messing up. What I need is the God who will deal with me based on His commitment to covenant, not my failure of the covenant.” Twice he mentions God’s merciful character. “Have mercy on me, O God,” he pleads.
It’s important to trust the character of God before you focus on your sin. If you focus on your sin first, you’ll get depressed. You’ll get frustrated. You’ll feel locked in. But if you put your mind on the character of God, then you’ll have encouragement to deal with your sin.
We need the gospel, not self-righteousness. We need to submit ourselves to the beauty of the character of God so that Christ’s righteousness can cover our sin and deal with it.
How does this look in marriage? If you and your spouse mention your sin to each other all the time, then all you’re going to do is argue. “Well, you sinned against me!” … “No, you sinned against me!” But if you focus on God’s mercy, looking at all God has done for you, then the situation seems very different.
A deeply-repentant spouse first sees the attributes of God: His mercy, love, grace, long-suffering, spirituality, omniscience, omnipresence. When God’s attributes permeate your relationship with your spouse, your mind will be more on the Lord and your marriage. You won’t just be focusing on the faults of your spouse, and you’ll be better equipped to deal with your sin.
2. A repentant spouse owns the extent of his or her sin. David says, “I know my transgressions.” Now, the word here for “know” means to be acquainted with something intimately. When he says, “I know my sin,” that means he is able to absolutely, unadulteratedly acknowledge what he did. One of the most authentic and powerful things Christians can do is own their sin. You can’t even get saved until you do that.
If you want a godly marriage, you better get used to learning how to repent. I fight with it every day myself. I have to fight self-righteousness! I have to fight not wanting to acknowledge stuff. I have to fight unforgiveness and anger.
In Psalm 51, David not only talked about knowing his sin, but also said that God would be justified in saying to him whatever He wanted to. “Against You, and You only, have I sinned and have done what is evil in Your sight, so that You may be justified in Your words.”
David didn't waste a lot of words when he admitted that he had sinned against the Lord. How often have you presented a paragraph of information to your spouse explaining why you have sinned? David didn’t do that. He owned his sin. Likewise, in marriage we need to face up to our individual offenses.
3. A repentant spouse yearns for long-term transformation. Just look at what David says in Psalm 51:6, “Behold, You delight in truth in the inward being…and teach me wisdom in the secret heart.”
When David says “delight,” he is talking about what God likes inside of His people. He is saying to God, “You desire the places that I’ve closed off from You to be reopened in my life, for You to deal with.” In this passage David is getting beyond the sin of adultery and getting to the heart that led to adultery.
Jesus Christ did not die on the cross so that we would have the same old, nasty, funky, trifling, hard heart in our marriages. He says in Ezekiel 36:24-28 (The Message): “… I’ll give you a new heart, put a new spirit in you. I’ll remove the stone heart from your body and replace it with a heart that’s God-willed, not self-willed. I’ll put my Spirit in you and make it possible for you to do what I tell you and live by my commands. …”
Whiter than snow
No matter where we are in life, each of us is in desperate need of the cross of Christ. And that’s what David expresses in Psalm 51:7, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean. Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”
The gospel gives freedom to our lives and to our marriages. Jesus has already paid for our sins. He gives us the ability to look into our spouse’s eyes and say, “I am so sorry for what I did. I repent!”
© 2013 Eric Mason. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Eric Mason resides in Philadelphia with His wife and two sons. He is co-founder and lead pastor of Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia, PA. In addition to his role at Epiphany Fellowship, Eric serves as the president of Thriving, a ministry dedicated to aiding ethnic minorities to be resourced and trained for ministry to the urban context. He is also the author of Manhood Restored.
You can listen to Pastor Mason give a talk about this subject on a recent FamilyLife Today® broadcast.
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