The Decision to Return to God
Do you feel trapped by a bad habit or tormented by guilt? Repentance is the key to finding freedom and joy again. Begin by reading the story of David and Bathsheba, which is found in 2 Samuel 11:1-12:25.
A. What attitudes masquerade as repentance?
Someone may pray, “Lord, I really regret getting caught. Now, everyone knows about my wrongdoing.” Or, “God, I’m really sorry I sinned. I certainly hope I can do better next time.” These types of responses are usually prompted by guilt or embarrassment rather than a heartfelt sense of remorse. They include no commitment to responding differently to the temptation in the future, and no admission that our choice to rebel against the Lord is harmful to us and others. Believers talk to God this way when we simply want to escape the conviction of the Holy Spirit or feel better about ourselves. That’s why a “confession” like the ones above is not genuine repentance.
- What factors can motivate a person to avoid responsibility for wrongdoing?
- How can sadness over sin be an effective tool in a believer’s life (2 Cor. 7:8-10)?
B. What does genuine repentance involve?
1. We must confess.
Christians shouldn’t just say, “Lord, I’m sorry for my mistake.” Rather, they should acknowledge, “Lord, I have sinned against You.”
- What physical symptoms can accompany unconfessed sin (Ps. 32:3-4)?
- What does God guarantee if we admit our transgressions and forsake them (Prov. 28:13)?
- Describe the promise outlined in James 5:16.
Note: Given its context, this verse most likely refers to spiritual healing in which a particular sin no longer holds us in its grip.
2. We must acknowledge that any transgression is primarily against God.
Although others may be hurt by our sin, believers should recognize that our greatest offense is against the Lord.
- After Nathan confronted him, David composed Psalm 51. Why did he feel that God’s judgment was just and blameless (Ps. 51:4)?
This doesn’t mean that David failed to recognize the wrong he had done against Uriah and Bathsheba. However, he realized that his sin was chiefly against the Lord.
- In light of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for our sins, why are our transgressions always against the Lord?
3. We must take full responsibility for sin.
Anytime we try to blame someone else for our wrongdoing, repentance is incomplete. Ultimately, each individual involved in a sin has made a decision to rebel against God. David didn’t rationalize, “Lord, I wasn’t the only one involved. You know it takes two. She should have been more careful. I am only human.”
- What was the king’s immediate response when confronted with the specifics of his sin and God’s judgment (2 Sam. 12:13)?
- Why do you think he didn’t even mention Bathsheba?
- Do you tend to pass the blame to others, or do you typically own up to your sin? Why?
4. Repentance involves total honesty with God.
The Lord wants us to be honest about our sin, weaknesses, and frustrations. Truthfulness promotes fellowship. As long as we are open with Him, He can continue to work with us.
Trouble starts when believers make excuses: “Now, Lord, I just made a mistake. After all, everybody has faults. Nobody is perfect.” Responding like this avoids the real issue. It is therefore dishonest. Those who constantly deny their guilt will not mature spiritually or find freedom from sin.
- Why do you think the Lord appreciates “a broken and contrite heart” (Ps. 51:17)?
- David wrote that God desires “truth in the innermost being” (Ps. 51:6). In other words, we need to be totally honest with ourselves and the Lord. Are you usually able to do this regarding your sin and weaknesses? Why or why not?
C. What happens when we delay our repentance?
After David committed adultery, he didn’t confess it immediately or even of his own accord.
- Why do you think Nathan’s story was so effective at revealing God’s perspective on David’s sin (2 Sam 12:1-6)?
The Bible teaches that the Lord disciplines those who are disobedient.
- What was the consequence of the king’s sin (2 Sam. 12:14)?
David’s failure to repent sooner increased the severity of the penalty for his rebellion. But if we deal with our sin genuinely, openly, and immediately, God often lessens the harshness of His chastisement. Why is that? Because if He sees that we have purposed to obey next time, stern correction is usually not needed.
The longer we put off repentance, the greater God’s discipline. Those who are wise will repent quickly.
- Is the Lord prompting you to repent of a particular sin? If so, pray about it, or write a short confession in the space below.
Closing: False confession keeps us trapped in guilt and sin. Genuine repentance allows us to experience renewed fellowship with the Lord. When God convicts you of wrongdoing, honestly admit your sin and turn away from it. You won’t regret it.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, help us to be obedient children who keep short accounts with You. May we quickly repent of sin. Thank You for graciously restoring us to fellowship with You. In Your precious Son’s name we pray. Amen.
Adapted from Charles Stanley’s "Handbook for Christian Living” (1996).