A Sinner's Prayer...A Savior's Response!
Renew a right spirit within me! (KJV)
Then Peter came to Him (Jesus) and said, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.’ (NKJV)
In Christ Jesus, to whom we look both for instruction and for strength, dear fellow redeemed:
King David, a penitent sinner, prayed to the Lord under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, “Renew a right spirit within me!” He had committed adultery with Bathsheba. He had arranged the death of her husband, Uriah the Hittite. He had attempted without success to hide his sin from God and also from the people living around him. But the Lord led him to repentance. His conscience ached under the weight of the lies he was living. In Psalm 32, which was also written at this time, David confessed: “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; my vitality was turned into the drought of summer” (vs. 3-4). Consequently, when the LORD sent Nathan the prophet to confront David with his sins, he unloaded the burdens of his heart—confessed those sins and was forgiven. In response to God’s grace and mercy, David prayed: “Renew a right spirit within me!” David did not want to be separated from God and to be subject to Satan any longer. He wanted the Spirit of God to illumine his heart and give him an attitude perfectly in tune with his heavenly Father. He wanted the LORD to occupy the depth of his soul and to direct him in the ways everlasting!
“A right spirit,” that is a fitting, a true, a spirit sincere in its desire to please God and to walk before Him in faithfulness, is something for which we all, as sinners, need to pray, especially in the area of our relationships with others. It is in connection with such relationships that Peter asked the question in our text and the Lord Jesus provided His answer.
Jesus had just settled an argument that arose among His disciples over who among them was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. He did so by calling a little child into their midst and pointing out that “whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4). He had then gone on to speak of the importance of individual souls. In other words, the kingdom of God is not about individual greatness, but rather about the greatest of God’s love for individuals. He searches for them as a shepherd searches for a lost sheep, and we, Jesus says, are to be concerned then about those among us who are lost too—lost in sin and captured by Satan, even as was David during those dark times of his impenitence.
But Peter’s spirit was not yet “right” at this point. He was still dealing with the vestiges of pride and fear. Certainly there must be a limit to the patience and love I extend to my brother, he thought. What if he should sin against me repeatedly? Is it not unmanly to allow someone simply to walk over me? Would not such unconditional love on my part simply reinforce bad behavior on his part? Surely after repeated offenses forgiveness should be withdrawn and any opportunity for reconciliation removed! All of the other rabbis thought so! In fact, it was their considered opinion, based on no less an authority than Amos the prophet (cf. Amos 1:6), that the LORD Himself only granted forgiveness for a sin three times, and thereafter invoked judgment upon the sinner. Surely, man, in their opinion, should not show more patience with a sinner than God!
Peter, however, recognized that Jesus was no ordinary rabbi, and so he felt compelled to go beyond traditional interpretations. Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Peter no doubt thought himself on very safe ground. After all, he had doubled the rabbis’ suggestion and even added one more occasion. Surely this would be acceptable to Jesus, but Jesus’ response revealed something entirely different. Jesus knew that Peter had to pray David’s prayer, “Renew a right spirit within me,” and so He said to Peter, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven!” Jesus’ answer reveals that Peter, and you and I, are to continue to forgive without limitation...time and time and time again! It takes a “right spirit” to possess such a forgiving attitude. Consequently, Jesus wants each of us, as He did Peter, to embrace A SINNER’S PRAYER—Renew a right spirit within me! OUR SAVIOR’S RESPONSE came in the form of a parable that provides the key to possessing a right spirit.
In response to Peter’s question, Jesus told the parable of the “Unmerciful Servant.” In brief a king had a servant who owed him 10,000 talents—a debt he could never repay. It was determined to sell the servant and his family into slavery, but in response to the servant’s fervent pleas, the king was moved with compassion to forgive him the entire debt. That servant, upon being forgiven, approached a fellow servant who owed him just a small debt of 100 denarii. When his fellow servant could not pay, the servant, who had been treated with such compassion by his king, showed no compassion whatsoever to his fellow servant, but had him cast into prison. The king upon hearing of his servant’s lack of compassion revoked his actions, reassigned the debt, and delivered the man to the torturers until all had been paid.
What is the key to a right spirit? It is recognizing with humility that we all, individually, are the servant who owed God a debt in view of our many sin, which we can never repay. We are not minor sinners—you and I—but rather are head over heels in sinner’s debt before our God. Oh, yes, we must confess that by nature we are sinful, but we have added untold numbers of sins of commission—sins we have committed in thought, word, and deed; as well as untold numbers of sins of omission—sins where we have failed to do what we should have done in thought, word, and deed. We deserve God’s just judgment. Yet in spite of our many sins and even in view of the fact that our judgment would be just—God has had compassion on us. He has reconciled us to Himself by placing our sins on Jesus (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21). He proclaims to us a gospel of forgiveness, life, and salvation and urges us to come to Him with the burdens of our sins confident that as we confess them to Him they will be washed away (cf. 1 John 1:9).
What then should be our response? Our response should be one of overwhelming love—both towards God and towards our fellowmen. As the hymn-writer, we exclaim, “What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss to bear the dreadful curse for my soul!” (Worship Supplement, 723:1) As the apostle John would later write, “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). A “right spirit” loves the Lord!
With regard to our fellowmen, however, how often do we not find ourselves regressing from a right spirit to a wrong spirit—as both pride and fear interfere within our relationships? Consider your personal relationships—within your home with your husband or wife, with your children, your parents, or your siblings; here at church with your pastor, or one of the teachers, or with one of your fellow believers; or one the job site with your boss, or one of your workers, or with a co-worker. How often in our dealings are we not like unmerciful servant, who grasped his fellow servant by the throat and would not forgive. Oh, we can think of one hundred and one reasons why our particular situations are different. We have just cause not to forgive, or so we think, but in the end when we trace back all of our reasons for stubborn lack of forgiveness, they are reduced to our personal pride and our individual fear.
We need to pray with the sinners David and Peter, “Lord…renew a right spirit within me!” The apostle Paul points our eyes and hearts to our Father’s love and our Savior’s sacrifice when he writes, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). There is the secret—the key for each of us to possess a right spirit—remembering the grace and compassion extended to us by our heavenly Father in connection with Jesus Christ!
My dear friends, let us pray: “Renew a right spirit within me,” knowing that our Savior will respond by enabling us to love and forgive as we indeed have been loved and forgiven. Amen.
—Pastor Paul D. Nolting