First John 1:9 commands us as Christians to regularly confess our sins to God as part of our progressive sanctification: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Here is a simple, clear statement of our need for repentance. We should preach this truth; we should teach this truth to our families and to our churches.
We know we should repent of sin, but the question for this series of posts is this: Is there really any value in singing repentance? We know we need to live lives of repentance, but do we really need to sing repentance? And should this really be part of corporate worship? Shouldn’t worship be all about praise? Why would we want to interrupt rust with repentance?
We have a whole section of hymns in Hymns to the Living God dedicated to repentance and faith. After we published the hymnal, I received an email from a pastor who said he had just preached on repentance, and he looked for a hymn to go with his sermon, but he couldn’t find a single hymn on the subject in his church’s hymnal. I just received another email yesterday from a former student of mine who is a music minister who said he was just searching for songs of repentance and so he found that section in our hymnal most useful. Most hymnals have few if any songs of repentance, and the fact is that these hymnals are reflective of the churches. Corporate repentance is missing from most church worship today, let alone singing repentance.
So why should we sing repentance in our corporate worship? I can think of no better way to address this topic than to look at a God-inspired song of repentance.
A Song of Ascents. 1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord! 2 O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy! 3 If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? 4 But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. 5 I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; 6 my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning. 7 O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. 8 And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.
I would like to look at this psalm over the next several weeks in a couple different ways as we discuss the importance of repentance through singing in corporate worship. First, I want us to fairly quickly walk through the basic message of the psalm, but then I want to go deeper and look at what the psalmist is trying to do with this psalm as a work of art—as a song, and in so doing, I hope that we will be able to better understand the significance and power of using songs to express repentance toward God in the context of corporate worship.