Theme: Looking Honestly at Ourselves
In this week’s lessons, we see how our entire lives should be characterized by repentance.
Scripture: Psalm 143:1-12
An understanding of repentance as affecting all of life needs to be recovered by evangelical churches today, and a better understanding of Psalm 143 may be one way to begin to go about it. In April 1996, the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals held a conference of key evangelical leaders in Cambridge, Massachusetts, out of which came “The Cambridge Declaration.” One of the papers presented at this conference was by Sinclair B. Ferguson on the matter we are considering, the nature of repentance. Ferguson discussed the errors of the Middle Ages against which Luther was reacting, but he argued that at least five features of that old medieval Christianity are noticeable now in contemporary evangelicalism. 

Repentance has increasingly been seen as a single act, severed from a life-long restoration of godliness.

The canon for Christian living has increasingly been sought in a “Spirit-inspired” living voice within the church rather than in the Spirit’s voice heard in Scripture.

The divine presence was brought to the church by individuals with sacred powers deposited within them and communicated by physical means.

The worship of God is increasingly presented as a spectator event of visual and sensory power, rather than a verbal event in which we engage in a deep soul dialogue with the Triune God.

The success of ministry is measured by crowds and cathedrals rather than by the preaching of the cross, by the quality of Christians’ lives, and by faithfulness.1

If we put these insights into our reflections on Psalm 143, we can say that repentance needs to be present in each of the items mentioned in the psalm. I listed them earlier: David’s dangerous condition, his remembrance of God’s past works, his plea to God for guidance, and his desire for God’s preserving grace to live and serve him. Repentance must be part of each of these matters too, for none of us does even the best of what we do without sin. Luther once said wisely, “I have learned that even my repentance needs to be repented of.” 
So we begin with the first stanza (vv. 1, 2). Verse 1 asks for mercy from God, and verse 2 explains why. It is because the writer, like all men and women, is unrighteous; he sins constantly. 
Some commentators regard this as a weak confession because it is neither personal nor specific. It does not say, “I have sinned,” as the other penitential psalms do. Nor does it say what sins the writer has committed. True enough. But this opening stanza is profound in other ways. For one thing, it acknowledges the universality of sin, an awareness echoed in the New Testament. Romans 3:20 says, “No one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” Galatians 2:16 adds, “By the law no one will be justified.” 
1Sinclair B. Ferguson, “Repentance, Recovery, and Confession” in James Montgomery Boice and Benjamin E. Sasse, editors, Here We Stand: A Call from Confessing Evangelicals (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1996), pp. 137-145. 
Study Questions:

What four things does David ask of God? How does each one specifically fit your own situation?
Why do we need God’s mercy? Where are verses 1 and 2 echoed in the New Testament? 

Application: Do you devote proper time and thought to your confession of sin, not only for your words and actions, but even concerning your thoughts and motivations?
For Further Study: Studying the Psalms helps us to understand better God as he is, and also ourselves as we are—which shows us our sin and our need to repent. James Boice’s clear and practical teaching on the entire Psalter is available in paperback. Order your copy of the three-volume set, and take 25% off the regular price.

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