"I was wrong." These could well be the most difficult words you will ever say! Can you pronounce these words? Do you admit your mistakes? Are you in the habit of acknowledging your errors and correcting them? Or do you try at all costs to make yourself appear right and make everyone else, perhaps even Jesus Christ Himself, wrong, so that you may maintain your own "rightness"? This is an important question — your Christian growth depends on it, and so may your very salvation! God's people all make mistakes from time to time. They all sin and err in judgment occasionally. By the very fact of their humanness, they are prone to stumble. But that's what the process of conversion is all about. Christians are striving to overcome their human nature and bring their lives into harmony with God's commandments in every way. Spiritual growth results from acknowledging sins and faults, confessing them before God and turning from them. God's true servants are distinguished from the false not by being without fault, but because they admit their faults and repent of them. The others refuse to admit mistakes, and in doing so resist the Spirit of God and miss their opportunities for great Christian growth. In which group are you?
The prophet Samuel was called to anoint two notable men as kings over Israel. Both these men were given every opportunity to succeed. God was with both of them when they were first appointed king. Yet one ended up rejected, a failure, eventually even stooping to consulting demons about major decisions. The other is called a "man after God's own heart," and will rule as king over Israel in the world tomorrow. Why? What was the difference between these two men? Much could be written about the differences in character between Saul and David. One major factor stands out, however: King Saul did not truly repent. His acknowledgments of errors and sins were shallow and insincere. On the other hand, the Bible records David's deep, heartrending prayers of genuine repentance as examples for us. "God is with you," Saul was told emphatically (I Sam. 10:7). Saul really couldn't have hoped for a better start, could he? Yet in the matter of Amalek, Saul made a serious mistake. God's instructions were explicit enough: "Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them. But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey" (I Sam. 15:3). Yet Saul compromised with God's instructions, fulfilling only part of them. Notice: "He also took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were unwilling to utterly destroy them. But everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed" (verses 8-9). Notice that God's Word puts the blame on Saul and the people, not on the people alone. Yet when confronted by Samuel, Saul declared, "The people spared the best of the sheep and the oxen, to sacrifice to the Lord your God" (verse 15). What a classic case of buck-passing! "I didn't do it — it was the people's fault!" Putting the blame on others is a common trait in this world. Yet if Saul had been a "man after God's own heart," he would have accepted responsibility for his own sin. Even when confronted and rebuked by Samuel, Saul's confession appears flimsy. "I have sinned," he admitted, "yet honor me now, please, before the elders of my people and before Israel, and return with me, that I may worship the Lord your God" (verse 30). Saul's major concern was not the gravity of his sin, but his image before the elders and the people. What a contrast with David's deep, yearning, heartrending prayers of repentance, as he acknowledged his sins! What, then, of David, this "man after God's own heart" (Acts 13:22)? Was he without sin? No, he sinned and made mistakes, certain of which are recorded in the Bible for us today. In this he didn't differ from Saul, his predecessor. But David's willingness to admit his mistakes, deeply and genuinely repent of them and turn from them distinguished him from Saul in a great way. On one occasion, King David allowed Satan to influence him to take a census of the people of Israel. What happened? "And God was displeased with this thing; therefore He struck Israel" (I Chron. 21:7). This was such a serious sin in God's sight that 70,000 Israelite men died as a result of the pestilence God brought on the land (verse 14)! Immediately after this phase of the punishment, the angel of God stood ready to destroy throughout the land. Now let's notice David's reaction at this point: "And David said to God, 'Was it not I who commanded the people to be numbered? I am the one who has sinned and done evil indeed; but these sheep, what have they done? Let Your hand, I pray, O Lord my God, be against me and my father's house, but not against Your people that they should be plagued'" (verse 17). David took the blame squarely on his own shoulders. This showed real character. What would you have done?
A sin repented of
How readily we all call to mind David's sin of adultery with Bathsheba! In all its detail, we recall how David took Bathsheba and committed adultery with her (II Sam. 11:2, 4). To make matters worse, David then engineered the murder of Bathsheba's husband, Uriah the Hittite, who, by all indications, was a righteous and loyal man, faithful to God and to his king (verses 9-11,14-15). The sin of adultery was in itself a direct violation of one of the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:14). The murder of a righteous man compounded the sin (verse 13). But how readily do we remember David's sincere, overwhelming, wholehearted repentance? David wrote, "When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me" (Ps. 32:3-4). Maybe you have had this experience — perhaps you are going through it right now. David was aware of his sin, yet for a period of time failed to take it to God, confess it and truly repent of it. Finally, however, "I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,' and You forgave the iniquity of my sin" (verse 5). Admitting sin is the first step. We can't expect God to forgive us for sins we haven't confessed. "He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy" (Prov. 28:13). Then — and only then — can we declare with David: "Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity" (Ps. 32:1-2). The beautiful 51st Psalm is eternal witness to what made David a man after God's own heart. It is a fitting outline of how to truly repent before God when we sin and stumble. Try reading it on your knees before the Almighty and making it your personal prayer of repentance.
A false apostle — and a true one
The New Testament tells of a man who tried to purchase an apostleship in God's Church. Simon Magus, who held great sway over the people of Samaria because of his sorceries (Acts 8:9-11), selfishly and ignorantly tried to buy the power to grant the Holy Spirit (verse 19). Rebuked by God's servants, Simon asked for forgiveness, but showed no sign of admitting his sin: "Pray to the Lord for me, that none of the things which you have spoken may come upon me" (verse 24). When we ask for cheap grace, without admitting our errors, we are simply following in the footsteps of one of the first and most influential heretics of the New Testament! Unlike this false apostle of the first century, Jesus' true apostle of the 20th century, Herbert W. Armstrong, does not hesitate to admit error and change when wrong is discovered. Mr. Armstrong has written: "It seems almost no one will confess it when he sins, let alone repent and turn away from continuing in the particular sin. Even admitting an error or an unintended wrong goes against human nature. Yet a child of God must do it... When God brought me to repentance, it was like that. I say to others, 'Come on in — the water's fine!' It has never been so hard, since, to admit wrong, or confess even sins to God. I have had to admit error more than once." This willingness to admit one's mistakes is not a negative characteristic, but rather a positive qualification absolutely required of those who seek to serve Jesus Christ. We must respect those who admit their mistakes, rather than denigrate them for errors. Would that all of us could fully demonstrate this righteous willingness to confess errors! How many of us still refuse to admit when we are wrong?
Admitting mistakes yields growth
For a child of God, the entire process of admitting errors, turning from them and correcting them yields spiritual growth. None of us will succeed in going through life without making mistakes, for "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). When we sin, we must be corrected: "Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but grievous" (Heb. 12:11). But notice! "Nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it." Admitting error — accepting correction — is growth! This is a life-or-death matter! We will never be in the Kingdom of God unless we admit our mistakes, for "the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps" (Jer. 10:23). Follow in the footsteps of the men and women after God's own heart. Admit your mistakes, turn from them; grow and qualify for God's Kingdom!