"Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you."
One of the secrets to the success of Alcoholics Anonymous is how someone who has been helped is encouraged to help someone else as a sponsor. Sponsors walk fellow alcoholics through the twelve steps of recovery, enabling them to discover and enjoy a new life of sobriety, free from the enslaving grip of addiction. Hands down, recovering alcoholics will tell you the sober life is the better life by far.
In Psalm 51:13, David is taking on the role of sponsor. He’s been at rock bottom and has personally experienced the process of recovery. Not as an alcoholic but as a sinner who has come to the end of himself and cried out for mercy.
The word “then” is important. “Then I will teach” represents a turning point from one who has experienced the reconciling grace of God to someone who takes on the role of the mentor who teaches others how to be reconciled. It sounds a lot like Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:18-20.
18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.
A POWERFUL LESSON
In context of Paul’s words, not to mention David’s, we learn a powerful lesson. We do not reconcile ourselves to God. God is the one who reconciles us to himself. As Paul said, “All this is from God.”
In the wake of personal revival in his own life, the King desires to teach others this powerful lesson about the unexpected ways of the Lord. And those ways are scandalously unexpected. After all, what does a sinner anticipate when the topic of God comes up? A moral lesson about how bad he is and how good he better get. He has been breaking the rules and it is time he began walking the straight and narrow. He better get his act together, unless he wants to pay the price for his sin.
It is true that the sinner has a massive sin debt. What is untrue is that he has the ability to pay any portion of it, much less the entire balance. In no statement so far in the Psalm has David given the slightest hint that he could pay even a penny of the mercy needed in order to be forgiven and reconciled to God. Not a penny.
Further, there is no evidence that the Lord expects us to pay it. He knows we can’t. That is why the Bible is, in its entirety, the message of gospel – or good news. God pays the debt we owe.
MY CONTRIBUTION VERSUS HIS
It has been said that when we come to God, we arrive on his doorsteps with nothing but our sin. That is my contribution to my salvation. I contribute pure unrighteousness. Jesus brings perfect righteousness.
Augustus Toplady wrote a hymn in the 18th century that has survived the test of time as a favorite still today. We know it as Rock of Ages. The lyrics are simple but gospel rich. The middle stanzas describe the lesson David will teach other transgressors.
Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law's demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone,
Thou must save, and Thou alone.
Nothing in my hands I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress,
Helpless, look to Thee for grace:
Foul, I to the fountain fly,
Wash me, Savior, or I die.
But what will cause a sinner to “come to Thee for dress,” or in David’s words, “turn back to you.” If he is guilty, why run to the one place where you’ve been told judgment is waiting to be meted out? Unless judgment has already been meted out on someone else in your place.
In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul says something that you may find shocking. Having just exposed the sin of the world and charged the Jewish believers with the same corrupt heart condition, he explains what motivates someone to turn back to God. In 2:4, he says it is “God’s kindness that leads you to repentance.”
How does kindness lead someone to confess their sins? I thought that was the job of fearful threats of impending judgment. Oh, there is a role for fear to play. Paul tells us that the just penalties demanded by the law are real. But threat of penalty is not what turns the sinner back to God.
That is the work of his kindness. After all, what would cause a hardened criminal to turn himself in to the local constabulary? Maybe knowing that clemency had already been granted. That with his confession, he would be forgiven of all charges.
So, what should we tell sinners about the ways of the Lord? Above all else, his ways are to show mercy to the repentant, restoring the criminal to the status of a forgiven, accepted, and beloved son or daughter. We need make no excuses. Don’t shift the blame or minimize the offense.
Just stop running and hiding. Turn around and look. You will not see an angry face but nail-scarred hands and feet, and a pierced side inviting you to come, confess, and believe. Arms open and ready to receive the very worst of sinners because the very best of Saviors has done all that will ever be required to welcome you home. Then, maybe you, too, will become a sponsor for other sinners who are desperate to experience and live the new life of grace.
This post is an excerpt from our devotional study course, Repentance and Renewal: How Moral Honesty Unlocks the Door to Spiritual Vitality. If you are interested in this resource for yourself, a small group, your family, church staff, etc., get the details here.