How To Use This Information on Repentance vs. Penance In A Counseling Situation



Having biblically established the Biblical mandate for repentance, we will now turn our attention to giving some practical and personal advice regarding how a person can help a fellow believer who has confessed to an immoral affair to understand biblical repentance and the dangers of penance. Because this case has to do with a person who has confessed to an immoral affair, one of the most natural places in Scripture to use to help this person understand biblical repentance is Psalm 511. There are five general principles that can be taken from the first twelve verses of Psalm 51 and applied to the counselee’s situation. First of all, God’s Word condemns the sinner (based on the title of Psalm 51). Sometimes that comes through another person, as it did with David, but other times it is through the direct reading of God’s word. It is important to convey to the counselee that God is clear, the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23), and there is a choice, either to agree with God, or to rebel against His assessment of the severity of your sin. Second, we see that we should cry out to God to be gracious and cleanse us from our sin based on God’s lovingkindness and great compassion (Psa 51:1-2). Remind the counselee that God’s forgiveness is not based on what we do, because our works are filthy rags to Him (Isa 64:6), but rather God’s forgiveness is based on God’s own character (Psa 51:1-2). Christ did not die because people had worked to pay for their sin, or punished themselves for disobeying God – no, rather Christ died while we were still sinners (Rom 5:8), while we were enemies of God (Rom 5:10)! Thirdly, sin is primarily against God (Psa 51:4-6). It is essential that the counselee understand that while sin does effect others (2 Sam 24), our sin is first and foremost against God – it is breaking His standard and doing what is evil in His sight (Psa 51:4). God is blameless and just (Psa 51:4), while we are born sinners (Psa 51:5) – He is not responsible for our sin, we are! We are fallen sinners, we are not good people who sometimes do wrong things2 but are, of ourselves, wicked to the very core of our hearts (Jer 17:9-10). God’s standard is perfection, not only outwardly, but inwardly (Psa 51:6) and we cannot meet that standard, but fall far short (Rom 3:23). Fourthly, we should ask God to purify and renew us (Psa 51:7-9). Remind the counselee, that although on our own there is no hope of restoration of a right relationship with God, there is hope because God forgives! And when God forgives it is not some superficial band-aid on a cancer patient, but is real forgiveness that cleanses to the core! Christ is our hope, for in Him we have “the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:13). While we may be tempted to sulk and become depressed because of our sin, this should not be our goal, rather renewal should be our desire, based on the completed work of Christ. Stress the fact that when we sin, our joy is taken away (Gen 4:6-7), but because of Christ’s finished work on the cross, the crushing weight of sin is lifted – we can be restored! And finally, we must recognize our utter reliance on God for the will to please Him in the future (Psa 51:10-12). Convey to the counselee the danger of trying to work off our sin through various good deeds or self-imposed suffering, for the fruit of self-effort is death (Rom 8:13). In our own strength we cannot do what God wants, but rather we produce the exact opposite (Gal 5:19-21). We must rely on God to produce faithfulness in our hearts towards Him (Psa 51:10-12), and use the means by which He has ordained for our sanctification, walking in the Spirit (Gal 5:22-25). As believers we live by the Spirit (Gal 5:22a), therefore we must urge the counselee to walk by the Spirit, putting to death the flesh, and because of his regenerated heart, live as God would have him to live from this time forth. And when sin is again committed, confess it, turn from it to God, knowing that “He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9b).

1David Covington. “Psalm 51: Repenter’s Guide” Journal of Biblical Counseling 20, no. 1 (Fall 2001): 21-39.

2Ibid., 33.

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