What is repentance unto life? The Westminster Shorter Catechism addresses this issue, explaining that it is a turning from sin that is motivated by grief and hatred for the sin as well as an “apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ” (WSC 87). Knowing that God loves to show mercy to the penitent encourages us to confess and forsake our sin. A benefit or blessing that the Lord promises, namely, mercy to repentant people (1 John 1:8–9), is one reason we turn from our love of self and sin and begin to love our Creator.
Certainly, the Lord would deserve our love and honor even if He were not to give us blessings. Because of His holy nature, we owe Him all glory (Isa. 6:3; Rev. 4:11). Yet God shows Himself gracious and kind in that He gives us additional reasons to love and adore Him. One of these, as we see in today’s passage, is that the Lord hears and answers our prayers for mercy.
We do not know the circumstances that lay behind Psalm 116, but clearly God had saved the author from some great distress. It is possible that the psalmist was facing death, either from disease or at the hand of an enemy, for in verse 3 he speaks of being entwined in “the snares of death” and suffering anguish due to the “pangs of Sheol [the grave].” However, the language does not require that; it may just be poetic hyperbole describing a grievous but not life-threatening situation. Regardless, what the psalmist faced was severe and something from which he could not have rescued himself.
The psalmist called on the Lord and was delivered (vv. 4–9), and his love for God was thereby deepened. Perhaps if we were to call on our Lord more often, our love for Him would be strengthened as well. It is simple, after all, to affirm certain truths about God’s character—that He is loving, merciful, and powerful to answer prayer. But do we really believe these truths about Him if we do not regularly call on His name? Maybe the distress that we feel in this fallen world would be lessened if we were to call out to the Lord for deliverance. Praying to Him gives us the opportunity to see Him move in specific ways, with the result that our love for Him is increased, as well as our gratitude for His blessings, and both of these will drown out our doubts and discomforts. Let us pray regularly for God’s deliverance from both our major and minor difficulties that we may love Him all the more.