We Have Sinned

Jeremiah 3:25: We lie down in our shame, and our confusion covereth us: for we have sinned against the LORD our God, we and our fathers, from our youth even unto this day, and have not obeyed the voice of the LORD our God.

1 John 1:10: If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

“We have sinned.” How many times do we hear that or a similar expression these days? Do we hear the Prime Minister use it? No. What about other important national figures? No. They think they can deal with any situation that comes along, even when they are completely out of their depth. Such is the pride of man. Yet, in the Bible, it’s just this kind of expression that God is looking for. We are sinners before a holy God. A simple acknowledgment of that fact would be the first step towards being helped by Him.

But our pride prevents us from acknowledging that. We think we’re so good, and that we are more than capable of coping without God. So we try to bumble along without Him. It takes a major national disaster to come along, before it becomes possible for any of us to recognise how much we really are in need of Him. 

Jeremiah 29:13

And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.

During the Second World War, our King called for days of prayer and humiliation. We didn’t win the war because we were better than our German neighbours, but because God answers national prayer. Would that our leaders today would call the nation to prayer. To acknowledge God. To humble ourselves before Him. That has always been the way out of a difficult situation throughout history. And God ordained it to be that way:

2 Chronicles 6:28-31

If there be dearth in the land, if there be pestilence, if there be blasting, or mildew, locusts, or caterpillers; if their enemies besiege them in the cities of their land; whatsoever sore or whatsoever sickness there be: Then what prayer or what supplication soever shall be made of any man, or of all thy people Israel, when every one shall know his own sore and his own grief, and shall spread forth his hands in this house: Then hear thou from heaven thy dwelling place, and forgive, and render unto every man according unto all his ways, whose heart thou knowest; (for thou only knowest the hearts of the children of men:) That they may fear thee, to walk in thy ways, so long as they live in the land which thou gavest unto our fathers.

And the church should be leading the way in this. Surely the role of the church is to get people to recognise their sin before God and to show them the remedy. Not only to call nations to repent, but also to call each one of us, as individuals, personally to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ to save us from our sins. After all, that’s what Christ came into the world to do. He is a Saviour to all those who call upon Him. Our national church used to be a lot better at calling men to do these things than it is now. 

Whatever we think of the Church of England’s “Book of Common Prayer,” it’s a lot better than anything we get in most churches today. Part of every service calls specifically for a confession of sin:

“ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father, We have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep: We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts: We have offended against thy holy laws: We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders: Spare thou them, O God, which confess their fault: Restore thou them that are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesu our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake, That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.”

The Communion service prayer of confession goes further:

“ALMIGHTY God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men; We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed, by thought, word, and deed, against thy Divine Majesty, provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us. We do earnestly repent, and are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; the remembrance of them is grievous unto us; the burden of them is intolerable. Have mercy upon us, Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; For thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, forgive us all that is past; And grant that we may ever hereafter serve and please thee in newness of life, To the honour and glory of thy Name; Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.”

And, relevant to our current situation, there is a specific prayer in times of plague:

“In the time of any common Plague or Sickness:

O Almighty God, who in thy wrath didst send a plague upon thine own people in the wilderness, for their obstinate rebellion against Moses and Aaron; and also in the time of King David, didst slay with the plague of Pestilence threescore and ten thousand; and yet remembering thy mercy didst save the rest; Have pity upon us miserable sinners, who now are visited with great sickness and mortality; that like as thou didst then accept of an atonement, and didst command the destroying Angel to cease from punishing, so it may now please thee to withdraw from us this plague and grievous sickness, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.”

Where do we find such material in most churches today? Even the Church of England itself has watered it down in their modern service books, and in any case, many of their ministers think it’s quite all right to skip over this part of the service altogether.

When was the last time you heard the Archbishop of Canterbury, or any leading clergyman, talk about sin? They’ll talk about climate change, gender reassignment, Brexit and any other topic of the day, but our own personal sins? It’s not a subject we are encouraged to talk about. Because modern society doesn’t want to talk about it. Yet it’s exactly such that the Lord wants us to acknowledge.

Most religious leaders, just like those in Christ’s day, don’t understand the truth about God. They’re more interested in their church, their organisation, and their status in it, rather than the truth. It has always been left to God to raise up prophets, outside of the main religious establishment, to speak for Him. We should be listening to the prophets of the Bible, not great church leaders who know nothing:

Isaiah 64:5

Thou meetest him that rejoiceth and worketh righteousness, those that remember thee in thy ways: behold, thou art wroth; for we have sinned: in those is continuance, and we shall be saved.

Jeremiah 14:7

O LORD, though our iniquities testify against us, do thou it for thy name's sake: for our backslidings are many; we have sinned against thee.

Daniel 9:8

O Lord, to us belongeth confusion of face, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against thee.

But, alas, even if we do listen to the prophets and confess our sin as we ought, our repentance so often turns out to be such a light thing. I’m not sure whether that’s because we simply don’t realise how sinful we really are, or if it’s because we don’t want to realise how sinful we really are. Probably a mixture of both. 

As we get older and look back at our fleeting life, we ought to become more and more aware of our sins as the years go by. Surely we should be able to see what a terrible mess we’ve made. What good have we actually achieved? What good haven’t we achieved and should have done? Who have we let down? Have we truly loved our neighbour as ourselves? If we ask ourselves questions such as these, surely there is only one conclusion to come to - that we’re rotten to the core. And we’re all like this. All of us desperately need to be saved from our sins. If we really can’t see any of that, we’re blind, and we’re just going to carry on in the same self-centred way:

Ephesians 2:12

....having no hope, and without God in the world....

We must come to see our past for what it truly is:

2 Samuel 14:14

For we must needs die, and are as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again....

Genesis 47:9

And Jacob said unto Pharaoh, The days of the years of my pilgrimage are an hundred and thirty years: few and evil have the days of the years of my life been....

But we needn’t dwell on the past, because there is a Saviour. We can look to Him to take all our sins away. The only thing we should be looking back on, is how the Lord has led us through the wilderness of this world, despite ourselves. We must now make sure we keep our eyes focussed ahead on what’s to come, because the Lord has so much more in store for His people. It can only get better:

Philippians 3:13-14

Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

Let’s look at a few characters from the Bible, and see how they saw their own sin:

Firstly, take a look at this bunch of likely lads: Pharaoh, Balaam, Achan, King Saul, Shimei and Judas. What have they all got in common? All of them mouthed the words “I have sinned” when they found themselves in a sticky situation, yet none of them truly meant it. They only said those words to get out of the mess they were in at the time. There was no true heartfelt repentance in any of them. They knew jolly well they’d go back to their old ways again as soon as they were free from their temporary difficulty.

And then there’s king Ahab. He was the most wicked king the northern kingdom of Israel ever had:

1 Kings 21:25

But there was none like unto Ahab, which did sell himself to work wickedness in the sight of the LORD, whom Jezebel his wife stirred up.

But after the prophet Elijah prophesied against him and his wife, he changed his behaviour, and it was quite impressive:

1 Kings 21:27-29

And it came to pass, when Ahab heard those words [Elijah’s prophecy], that he rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his flesh, and fasted, and lay in sackcloth, and went softly. And the word of the LORD came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, Seest thou how Ahab humbleth himself before me? because he humbleth himself before me, I will not bring the evil in his days: but in his son's days will I bring the evil upon his house.

There’s no record of him acknowledging his sin in words, but in his actions, he humbled himself, and at least outwardly showed some kind of repentance. And what’s more, the Lord saw it and recognised him for what he’d done. He didn’t actually commend Ahab personally, but through Elijah, He gave a promise that the evil to come wouldn’t be in Ahab’s lifetime, but in that of his son.

This was a temporary respite. The evil would come, Ahab’s sin was too great to avoid it altogether, but because he walked softly and humbled himself outwardly, the Lord was good to him. Was he saved to eternal life? We’re not told. But it becomes clear he wasn’t, for two reasons: Firstly, if he had been one of the Lord’s people, the Lord would surely have given the promise directly to him, rather than indirectly to Elijah. And secondly, if it was true repentance, we would have seen him trying to undo all the evil things he had done in the land. But there’s no record of that. Instead, three years later, we find he persuaded Jehoshaphat to go to war, followed his own false prophets, ignored the one true prophet of the Lord Micaiah, and tricked Jehoshaphat to put on his kingly robes in battle while he went in disguise. He was killed anyway as it happens, but we see from this that he hadn’t really changed in his heart at all.

It was just an outward display of humility. A very good one, and one that the Lord commended. And here’s an example of how the Lord is so good to us. Even if our repentance is only external, not internal, the Lord can still take note of it and give us temporal blessings, in order to encourage us to go that one step further and make our repentance internal, from the heart, and therefore real. This Ahab never did.

And then there’s Manasseh. He was the most wicked king the southern kingdom of Judah ever had:

2 Chronicles 33:9-10

So Manasseh made Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to err, and to do worse than the heathen, whom the LORD had destroyed before the children of Israel. And the LORD spake to Manasseh, and to his people: but they would not hearken.

The evil things he encouraged Judah to do, were the tipping point that caused the Lord to judge the whole nation by sending them into exile:

Jeremiah 15:4

And I will cause them to be removed into all kingdoms of the earth, because of Manasseh the son of Hezekiah king of Judah, for that which he did in Jerusalem.

But, after fifty terrible years of his reign, he was taken in chains to Babylon, and there he humbled himself and truly repented:

2 Chronicles 33:11-13

Wherefore the LORD brought upon them the captains of the host of the king of Assyria, which took Manasseh among the thorns, and bound him with fetters, and carried him to Babylon. And when he was in affliction, he besought the LORD his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, And prayed unto him: and he was intreated of him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD he was God.

But how do we know that his humility wasn’t just outward and superficial, like Ahab’s? We know it was true repentance for three reasons: Firstly, we’re told he “knew that the Lord, he was God.” In other words, he came to know the Lord personally for himself. Secondly, just as in Saul’s conversion, he became a man of prayer:

Acts 9:11

Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth.

Thirdly, we’re also told that during the last five years of his reign, he desperately tried to reverse all the evil things he had done in Judah. It didn’t work, because the nation didn’t go along with him. The land of Judah was so seared in heart by now, that not even the reign of good king Josiah, Manasseh’s grandson, could turn them back to the Lord again, and they had to reap their judgment. But Manasseh saved his own soul by humbling himself and crying to the Lord. That’s always the way.

And then there’s king David. He mouthed the words “I have sinned” more than once in Scripture, and we find that every time he meant it from the heart:

2 Samuel 12:13

And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the LORD. And Nathan said unto David, The LORD also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.

2 Samuel 24:10

And David's heart smote him after that he had numbered the people. And David said unto the LORD, I have sinned greatly in that I have done: and now, I beseech thee, O LORD, take away the iniquity of thy servant; for I have done very foolishly.

We have many psalms written by him to prove beyond doubt that his repentance was real:

Psalm 51:1-6

Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For 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: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.

Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.

He, just like Manasseh, was given a true view of himself by the Lord. And that’s what we need to have - a true view of the sinful, self-centred state of our own soul. A true view of ourselves can only humble us to the dust. After the Lord comes into our lives, there should be no more room for pride in our hearts ever again:

1 Samuel 2:3

Talk no more so exceeding proudly; let not arrogancy come out of your mouth: for the LORD is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.

Only the Lord can change such hardened creatures as we are, and break our pride altogether. Then our attitude will be totally changed for good, and for ever.

Many people feign repentance, and it may bring tears, but it’s only in order to try to avoid some kind of judgment. True repentance, on the other hand, would never attempt to avoid any judgment for sin, it would accept it as just and right. And that in turn would cast us solely upon God’s mercy. Here are some examples of true repentance in the Bible:

Joseph’s brothers:

Genesis 42:21

And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us.


2 Samuel 24:17

And David spake unto the LORD when he saw the angel that smote the people, and said, Lo, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly: but these sheep, what have they done? let thine hand, I pray thee, be against me, and against my father’s house.


Job 40:4-5

Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth. Once have I spoken; but I will not answer: yea, twice; but I will proceed no further. 

Job 42:5-6

I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.


Jonah 1:12

And he said unto them, Take me up, and cast me forth into the sea; so shall the sea be calm unto you: for I know that for my sake this great tempest is upon you.

May we all recognise our sinful, selfish nature, and the judgment we personally deserve for it. But may we also come to the Lord, and truly repent in our hearts:

Luke 18:13

And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.