Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. —1 Corinthians 10:27 (KJV)
From 2008 until 2013, millions of TV viewers followed the dark story of lead character Walter White in the critically acclaimed series Breaking Bad. As a struggling high school chemistry teacher, White descended quickly into the murderous world of illegal drug production—crystal meth in particular—after being diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. He tried to justify his increasingly wicked actions as the means to take care of his family’s financial future after his death. In the series’ final season, White admitted to his estranged wife that his descent into evil had been completely self-centered and intentional. He did it for himself. Some analysts of the show point to that scene as a turnaround for White, a long overdue moment of honesty, confession, and repentance.
The Bible also tells a dark account of someone who broke bad. Ironically, this man was a beloved king, a man after God’s heart, a ruler who seemingly had everything. One spring evening, a sleepless King David of Israel strolled onto his palace roof and spied a beautiful young woman bathing in the distance. In a moment of grave spiritual weakness David yielded to temptation. He then descended rapidly into an increasingly sinful scenario in which he committed adultery, deceit, and murder (2 Sam. 11). He might have continued on this downward spiral into wickedness had not the Lord sent a prophet to confront the king. When the prophet revealed that God knew everything the king had done, David confessed, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Sam. 12:13).
King David later wrote Psalm 51 as a deep expression of repentance for breaking bad. The psalm teaches us some vital truths about sin and God’s forgiveness. Indeed, these truths foreshadow the reason God’s Son, Jesus Christ, came into the world.
All have sinned. King David acknowledged that he possessed a sinful nature from the moment he was conceived (Ps. 51:5). We all do. “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Rom. 3:10). “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). From the time of the garden of Eden, sin gained such a stranglehold on human nature that we are all capable of doing monstrously wicked things under sin’s sway.
God alone can break sin’s death-grip on us. It took God’s sinless Son coming in human flesh and giving His life on the cross to break sin’s curse. Christ freed us to live as God intended us to live. King David may not have understood the full reality of Christ’s future coming as the Savior, but he knew that God alone could blot out his rebellion, wash away his guilt, and cleanse him from his sin (Ps. 51:1-2). David believed that the Lord was a God of grace who could and would forgive him of his most heinous actions. Because of Jesus Christ, we believe that too. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). “For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift” (Eph. 2:8).
Confession and repentance are a prelude to the joy of salvation. Almost every verse of Psalm 51 overflows with an attitude of confession and repentance. New Testament writers echoed this truth. John wrote, “If we confess our sins, [Christ] is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Peter declared to his hearers in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost, “Repent and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). The apostle Paul told the philosophers in Athens, “Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God now commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has set a day when he is going to judge the world in righteousness by the man he has appointed. He has provided proof of this to everyone by raising [Jesus] from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).
King David learned what we too can learn from his psalm of confession: breaking bad doesn’t have to be the epitaph of our lives. God is full of compassion. In Jesus Christ, He will forgive those who return to Him in faith.
David Briscoe is a content editor at Lifeway for Explore the Bible resources.