God used Nathan the prophet to unveil David’s heart (2 Sam. 12:1-4). He told the king a story about two men in a city, one rich, the other poor. The rich man had many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb. One day, a friend visited the rich man, who, instead of taking a lamb from his numerous flocks, stole the poor man’s pet lamb, which he slaughtered to prepare a meal for his visitor.
Hearing the story, David, the former shepherd, burned with anger against the rich man and declared his judgment on him. People who have slipped away from a close walk with God are often harsh in their judgment of others. Those who are walking with God aren’t too quick to condemn others because they know their own need. But David had become impatient, arrogant and judgmental. ‘The man is worthy of death!’ While the words still hung in the air, Nathan replied, ‘You are the man.’
Who can imagine the pain and anguish David felt at that moment? Surely, though, the pain was mixed with relief as the foul boil was lanced by the faithful prophet’s words, and shame was mingled with the security that reality brings in its wake. At last everything was out in the open and before God. ‘You are the man,’ said Nathan, but he didn’t stop there.
The Lord said, ‘I anointed you king over Israel. I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave you Israel and Judah. If you’d wanted anything else, I’d have given it to you. I love you, David. Why did you take what I never gave you?’ God’s tender love broke David’s heart.
That’s God’s attitude towards you when you sin. He doesn’t grab a big stick. Rather, he reminds you, ‘I’ve anointed you with my Spirit. You’re my child and heir. I’ve delivered you from death and have given you my kingdom as your inheritance. You have security, peace, joy, purpose and so much more. I’ve gladly given you all these things, and if you’d wanted anything else, I’d willingly have given you more. I love you. Why, then, have you taken what I haven’t given you?’
If you’ve ever questioned whether David really was a man after God’s heart, look at his response now. The man who sinned knew how to repent and come back to God. There was no hint to self-justification, no argument, no mention of Bathsheba’s equal blame. David was broken and no longer tried to hide his sin; he even wrote his confession for all to read. Psalm 51 reveals how deeply he understood the horror of sin and how painfully aware he was of what he’d done.
If you want to know whether you’re a child after God’s heart, you must note how you respond when your sins are found out. How do you react when your sin is exposed? ‘It was her fault as much as mine.’ ‘Everyone else is doing it.’ ‘I couldn’t help it.’ ‘I found forgiveness last time, so let’s get this over with.’ ‘If I sin again, I can be forgiven – God is very gracious.’ These glib responses reveal your desire to get rid of the uncomfortable feeling of guilt, but they show no understanding of the horror of sin. They don’t reflect David’s attitude – his terrible consciousness that he’d offended a holy God.
Let your response be, ‘O God, you know my sin. I have no argument; what I’ve been doing is evil in your sight. I know I’m guilty. Please forgive me. I loathe this sin and I want to be free.’ When you hunger and thirst for righteousness, you will be satisfied. God will cleanse you and set you free.
‘Even adultery is not the unforgivable sin. It is a terrible sin, but God forbid that there should be anyone who feels that he or she has sinned himself or herself outside the love of God or outside his kingdom because of adultery. No, if you truly repent and realise the enormity of your sin and cast yourself upon the boundless love and mercy and grace of God, you can be forgiven and I assure you of pardon. But hear the words of our blessed Lord: “Go and sin no more.”’
Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 1959, p261