Psalm 51: Confession
March 4, 2022
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
The most famous of all the penitential Psalms, Psalm 51 is of perennial brilliance. It comes out of the fire of the personal experience of David and his sin of adultery and of murder. The prophet Nathan had confronted him and now David confessed his sin.
Perhaps there is guilt that is stirring your conscience? There is no one righteous, not even one (Romans 3:10). We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). He who says he has no sin deceives himself, and the truth is not in him (1 John 1:8). But if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Would you use this Psalm 51 as your confession this morning?
Note how David appeals to God to have mercy on him. There is no record of excuses or recounting of other virtues to balance his sins. David does not tell God all the good that he has done for God. “Think of all the battles that I have won, God; surely they count for something!” David does none of that bargaining; he simply pleads for mercy. And he does so on the basis of God’s promise, his covenant “steadfast love” (51:1). Would you this morning ask God to have mercy on you for the sake of Christ, the fulfillment of this steadfast love?
Note then how David says, “Against you, you only, have I sinned” (51:4). That is quite an extraordinary statement when you think about it. David had sinned against a lot of other people. He had sinned against Bathsheba. Against her husband. Against his commanding officers. Against his whole army. Against his household. And against all of God’s people. There were a lot of people he had sinned against! But in the most profound of ways, all sin is really only against God. Why? Because God is the one who decides what is right and what is wrong. It is God’s law that we break when we sin, and therefore we sin against him. Would you, then, confess to God your sin?
It is relatively easy and fashionable in some circles these days to confess the sins that we have done in vulnerability and disclosure to others. Certainly, David does not hide his sin. He writes a psalm about it! But the confession is to God. That is far harder. To get down on our knees and ask God for his forgiveness. “Against you, you only, have I sinned.”
David recounts the truth that he was born in iniquity (51:5), as we all are. Our sins are merely an expression of our sinful nature. We sin because we are sinners; we are not sinners because we sin. But we still have a will; it is still our choice. We ourselves sin.
David also now realizes that God will not put up with pretense. “You delight in truth in the inward being” (51:6). How hard it must have been for David to live the lie after he had committed adultery. How it must have burned against his conscience. God does not take delight in hypocrisy. He delights in truth in the inward being. Would you uncover your sin before God, name it, be specific, and be honest with God to ask for his forgiveness?
And then David realizes it is only God who can heal him and save him. “Purge me with hyssop,” (used for cleaning ceremonial artifacts), “and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (51:7). David does not need anyone else to do it. He needs God to do it!
David asks God that he would hear “joy and gladness” and that the “bones that you have broken rejoice” (51:8). Often there are physical symptoms, as well as emotional symptoms, of repressed sin. Our physical bones, our bodies, ache with the pressure of hiding our sin. Our minds and our hearts are heavy, without joy, with the pressure of hiding our sin too.
And then these famous words:
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. (51:10-12)
Would you ask God to create in you a clean heart? To renew a right spirit within you? He can do it! Ask him!
David is fearful that God would take his Holy Spirit from him. Why is that? This is the feeling that a sinning Christian has. Our assurance goes. We are not sure whether we are going to heaven or to hell. We seem to flounder between eternities. It is all God’s way of putting spiritual pressure on us to confess. When we do, then, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit” (51:12). Joy comes back—and new strength to do what is right.
And “then” (51:13) the attention goes back to service. A right confession leads to renewed witness and service. He will “teach transgressors your ways.” Someone, when they have confessed, then desires to help, to serve, to teach, to do good works, to evangelize, and to disciple.
But it must come from God: “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise” (51:15). God must open David’s lips. He must give David a new message, a new confidence, a new certainty from which he can speak. God is not looking for animal sacrifices. (“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” 51:17.)
But then, when restored, David will, out of the renewed relationship he has with God through confession, offer renewed sacrifices to God (51:19). Confession is good for the soul. What is there that you need this morning to confess to God? Do it now without delay. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (51:10). He will hear your prayer. He promises to forgive those who ask for forgiveness. Whoever believes shall never perish but have eternal life. A broken and contrite heart he will not despise (51:17). Go to God now and ask God to forgive you.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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