It’s true that King David paid severe consequences for his sin; in fact, he prophesied judgment upon himself. He told the prophet Nathan that the rich man who stole the poor man’s lamb should restore it fourfold (see 2 Samuel 12:5-6). And that’s just what happened in David’s life: The baby that Bathsheba birthed died within days. And three of David’s other sons—Ammon, Absalom and Adonijah—all had tragic, untimely deaths. So, David did pay for his sin with four of his own lambs.
Yet the Bible clearly shows that whenever we return to the Lord in genuine, heartfelt repentance, God responds by bringing absolute reconciliation and restoration. We do not have to end up like Saul, descending into madness and terror. Nor do we have to “fade away” from life, biding our time in quiet shame until the Lord takes us home. On the contrary, the prophet Joel assures us that God steps in immediately when we return to him: “Rend your heart . . . and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil” (Joel 2:13).
Amazingly, God then gives us this incredible promise: “I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten. . . . And ye shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, that hath dealt wondrously with you: and my people shall never be ashamed” (Joel 2:25–26). The Lord promises to restore all.
Understand, when this prophecy was given, God had already pronounced judgment on Israel. But the people repented, and God said, “Now I’m going to do wonderful things for you. I’m going to restore everything the devil has stolen.”
Beloved, God’s tender mercy allows even the worst sinner to say, “I’m not a drug addict. I’m not an alcoholic. I’m not an adulterer. I am a child of the living God, with all the rights of heaven in my soul. I no longer live under condemnation, because my past is fully behind me. And I don’t have to pay for any past sins, because Jesus paid the price for me. What’s more, He said He’ll restore everything to me.”
If there had been no prophet like Nathan—no piercing, prophetic word—David could have ended up like Saul: spiritually dead, with no Holy Ghost guidance, having lost all intimacy with God.
As David listened to Nathan’s loving but searing word, he remembered the time a previous king had been warned by a prophet. David had heard all about the prophet Samuel’s warning to King Saul. And he had heard about Saul’s halfhearted response, confessing, “I have sinned.” (I don’t believe Saul cried from his soul, as David did, “I have sinned against the Lord!”)
David saw firsthand the ruinous changes that befell Saul. The once godly, Spirit-led king continually rejected the Spirit’s reproving words, delivered by a holy prophet. Soon Saul began to walk in self-will, bitterness and rebellion. Finally, the Holy Ghost departed from him: “Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king” (1 Samuel 15:23). “The Lord . . . departed from Saul” (18:12) and Saul ended up turning to a witch for guidance. He confessed to her, “God is departed from me, and answereth me no more, neither by prophets, nor by dreams: therefore I have called thee, that thou mayest make known unto me what I shall do” (1 Samuel 28:15).
David remembered all the madness, ugliness and terror surrounding this man who had shut out God’s word. Suddenly, the truth pierced his own heart: “God is no respecter of persons. I have sinned, as Saul did. And now here’s another prophet, in another time, giving me a word from God, as Samuel gave to Saul. Oh, Lord, I’ve sinned against you! Please don’t take your Holy Spirit from me, as you did from Saul.”
David wrote, “I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight. . . . Purge me. . . . Create in me a clean heart. . . . Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy Holy Spirit from me” (Psalm 51:3-4, 7, 10-11).
I believe one of God’s greatest gifts of mercy to His Church is His faithful ministers who lovingly reprove us of our sins. I know that as a loving shepherd, I must be careful of my tone, but I can’t apologize for preaching convicting truth. What happens to the Church when pastors no longer point people to their iniquities? Consider where King David would have ended up if he had not had Nathan to show him his wickedness (see 2 Samuel 12).
You have to understand, Nathan had seen David fly off the handle often so he was well aware that the powerful king could have slain him at any time.
Nathan could have said, “I’ll just be a friend to David. I’ll pray for him and be there when he needs me but I have to trust the Holy Spirit to convict him.” What would have happened then?
I believe that without Nathan’s convicting word, David would have fallen under the worst judgment known to humankind—the judgment of having God turn you over to your sin, to stop all of the Holy Spirit’s dealings in your life. Yet, that’s exactly what is happening to many Christians today. They choose to listen only to soft, flesh-assuring preaching. Where there is no convicting word, there can be no godly sorrow over sin. Where there is no godly sorrow for sin, there can be no repentance. And where there is no repentance, there is only hardness of heart.
The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church: “I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner. . . . For godly sorrow worketh repentance” (2 Corinthians 7:9–10). Paul said his outcry against the Corinthians’ sin produced a godly sorrow in them that led to repentance. In turn, that produced in them a hatred for sin, a holy fear of God, and a desire to live upright. Yet this never would have happened if he had not preached a sharp, piercing, convicting word.
The reason Paul spoke so strongly to the Corinthians was, “That our care for you in the sight of God might appear unto you” (7:12). In other words: “I wasn’t trying to unnerve you or condemn you. I exposed your sin so that you would see how much I love and care for you. When the Holy Ghost knocks on your heart, sometimes it sounds like harsh pounding. But it’s actually God showing you His tender love.”
Until the past few years, separation was a defining characteristic of Christ’s Church. Being set apart was a clear command from God’s Word and a part of every Christian’s calling. But today there seems to be very little distinction between the Church and the world. This is tragic, because God has set His people apart for His kingdom purposes—to be instruments of change with the very aim of making a difference in the world.
A lot of churches today seek to appease the world. They compromise Christ’s gospel and, as a result, a lot of Christians allow themselves to conform to the world’s values rather than to those of Jesus.
This can’t make God happy. When the lost souls of this world face serious life crises and are confused, with no source of hope, the Church is meant to embody the difference they are looking for. Our lives are to be distinguished by hope, joy, peace, love, and giving. But a lot of followers today have erased those distinctions by creeping toward a line of compromise—and even crossing it at times. As a result, the lost and hurting see Christians’ lives as no different from their own.
Jesus addressed this when He said to His disciples, in essence, “The world sees Me one way, but I have revealed Myself to you in full. You’ve seen that the peace I offer isn’t received by the world. I’ve demonstrated to you the values of My kingdom—how to live, believe, walk and serve the Father. Those values are in stark contrast to the world’s and you are to live out My kingdom values. If Satan has no part in Me, he can have no part in your lives, either” (see John 14:27).
When God speaks of separating from the world, He doesn’t mean removing ourselves from it. The separation He desires takes place in the heart. It is reflected in our desires, our choices, our lifestyles. For an older generation of Christians, being separate meant not drinking, smoking or partying. Those are outward things, but God is addressing much more. He’s asking, “Is your heart still linked to the world in a way that excludes Me? Do you draw peace and self-worth from what the world says about you or from how I see you?”
Among the mighty warriors I have had the privilege of knowing, I count Delores Bonner, an African-American woman who lives alone in Bedford-Stuyvesant, one of Brooklyn’s toughest neighborhoods. She has been a medical technician at Maimonides Hospital for more than thirty years. Carol and I met her one year at Christmastime while we were bringing gifts to some poor children in our congregation.
Delores had a full apartment that day—but these children were not hers. She had brought them from a nearby shelter to meet us. Their natural mother was too consumed with her own problems to be present even for an occasion such as this.
“How did you come to meet these children?” I asked.
She modestly mumbled something that didn’t really answer my question. Only from others did I learn that right after her conversion in a prayer meeting at the church in 1982, she became concerned for children in the streets and in the crack houses. God touched her heart, and she started bringing the children to Sunday school. At first she packed them into taxis; later on someone heard what she was doing and bought her a car. Today she has a van so she can transport more children and teenagers to hear the gospel.
This is only part of Delores’ story. On Sundays between services, she oversees the crew that cleans the sanctuary so it will be ready for the next crowd. On Saturdays she goes out with the evangelism teams, knocking on doors in the housing projects to share God’s love. On weekdays I find her on her knees upstairs with the Prayer Band, taking a shift to intercede for people’s needs. She did the same thing on a ministry trip to Peru, where she joined others in calling out to God on my behalf as I preached in an outdoor meeting.
Delores is a woman of quiet determination, the kind shown in 1 Chronicles 12:18, where it says, “The Spirit came upon Amasai, chief of the Thirty, and he said: ‘We are yours, O David! We are with you, O son of Jesse! Success, success [peace and prosperity] to you, and success to those who help you, for your God will help you.’” Once again, the merging of divine and human effort is clearly shown.
Jim Cymbala began Brooklyn Tabernacle with less than twenty members in a small, rundown building in a difficult part of the city. A native of Brooklyn and longtime friend of both David and Gary Wilkerson, Cymbala is a frequent speaker at the Expect Church Leadership Conferences sponsored by World Challenge throughout the world.