Confession that Pleases God: Part 2
Passage: Psalm 51:1-9
This morning, we are going to finish our series on the different types of psalms. I hope you’ve enjoyed our short trip through this book, and specifically through the various types of psalms. I hope that learning about the different types of psalms will help you understand Psalms better so that you can gain more from it. Psalms is such a rich book that is worth the effort of digging into what it says.
We are going to finish the series today by considering the second half of Psalm 51. By way of review, David wrote Psalm 51 following a series of grievous sins. In particular, David committed adultery with Bathsheba and then conspired in the death of Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband and one of David’s most trusted soldiers. Last Sunday, we looked at vv. 1–9. In these verses, David focuses on the wickedness of his sin and his desperate need for mercy. As a result, the primary focus of last week’s message was to highlight the severity of sin and the importance of seeking God’s forgiveness. I realize that it wasn’t exactly a feel-good message, but good things don’t always feel good. Cleaning out a wound or setting a bone hurt, but they are good. And hopefully, God used his Word to confront us profitably even if it was painful.
This morning, we will consider the final ten verses of the psalm. With v. 10, Psalm 51 takes a significant turn. Verses 1–9 are rather dark as David considers the wickedness of his sin, but with v. 10 his focus shifts from the past to the future. He shifts from what he had done to what he wanted God to do in him. You could say that David shifts from doom and gloom to hope and confidence. David’s sin is not the end the story; he believes that by God’s grace he can be restored. And so while the primary focus of last week’s message was our need to see the severity of our sin and be broken over it, the focus of today’s message will be our need to hope in God’s restoring power. I said last Sunday that there are six sections to this psalm that I am going to summarize in six challenges about how we should respond when we sin. We looked at three of those sections last Sunday. Verses 1–2 call us to “Plea for mercy while remembering God’s merciful character.” Verses 3–6 call us to “Acknowledge the wickedness of your sin.” And vv. 7–9 call us to “Plea for purification.” This morning, we will pick up with vv. 10–12 which tell us that when we sin, we must…
Plea for a renewed heart (vv. 10–12).
Each of these verses is a prayer for the future. First, David asks God to…
Cleanse my heart (v. 10).
The first line of v. 10 continues the focus on forgiveness from the previous section. To be “clean” is to be purified from sin. David is asking God to remove the stain of sin and to make his heart pure. I want to emphasize that David is asking God to cleanse his heart because he could not do it himself. Only God can forgive sin and satisfy the demands of his justice. Ultimately God did this for us when Jesus bore the punishment for our sin in his body on the cross. And so when God forgave David, he did so ultimately by looking forward to the coming death of his Son. And when we sin, we can seek forgiveness with confidence knowing that God is able to cleanse our hearts because Jesus already provided for our cleansing.
But something else is also on David’s mind. The Law prescribed sacrifices to remove the guilt of sin. Now, vv. 16–17 will clarify that the sacrifices were not ultimately what brought forgiveness. They were only effective as they symbolized true repentance. But as far as the tabernacle worship was concerned, God had prescribed sacrifices that could make a sinner clean and restore him to worship. But David had committed two capital crimes, and there was no an animal sacrifice that could atone for them. According to the Law, David should have been executed, and he understood this. Second Samuel 12 is very clear that both David and the Prophet Nathan understood what David deserved. All David could do was to plead for mercy. And through Nathan, God promised to grant that mercy. It good for us to remember often that ultimately none of our sin deserves forgiveness. We deserve God’s judgment, but praise the Lord that he is merciful.
David goes on in the second line to plead for more than the removal of guilt and a pure standing. David prays that God would transform his heart when he prays for a “steadfast spirit.” To be steadfast is to be “firmly established” or grounded in truth. In vv. 5–6 David admitted that his sin had been the product of a wicked heart that defied God’s transforming work. He knew that if his heart did not change, he would sin again. Therefore, he prayed that God would transform him. This is an aspect of confession that we better not overlook. It’s not enough to just repeatedly beg for mercy; we ought to plead that God would keep us from falling again. And so v. 10 covers two vital aspects of confession. We need God to remove our guilt and transform our hearts. In v. 11 David asks God…
Maintain your grace.
Unfortunately, this verse is sometimes grossly misapplied. It has been used to argue that we can lose our salvation or the indwelling of the Spirit. But David is not concerned with the Spirit’s indwelling as we know it in the church age. Rather, he is praying that God would not remove what we often call the “theocratic anointing.” The OT often speaks of the fact that God placed a special anointing on Israel’s political leader to enable him to lead more effectively. King Saul’s reign exemplifies the significance of this anointing. In 1 Samuel 11 when he first became king, the Spirit came upon him (v. 6), and God transformed a shy young man into a mighty king. But when he rebelled later in life, 1 Samuel 16:14 states that God removed the Spirit from him and replaced it with an evil spirit who tormented Saul and made him ineffective. David had seen first hand the effects of God’s judgment, and he couldn’t stand the thought of losing this theocratic anointing. And so this verse is fairly distant from how God relates to us. The NT is clear that the indwelling we experience is permanent and cannot be taken away. So what does this verse mean for us? While we can’t lose the indwelling of the Spirit, God can certainly remove his hand of blessing from our lives. We can lose the joy and peace the Spirit gives, and we can lose his power to serve him effectively. And we ought to pray, “Lord, please forgive my sin and maintain your hand of grace on my life. Keep me in your presence, and use me to impact others for your glory.” David’s third request is…
Restore my joy (v. 12).
This verse includes two requests. First David asks God to restore his joy. David acknowledged in v. 8 that he had not experienced joy since his sin. His grief felt as if his bones were being crushed. David knew that this grief was not the normal state of God’s people, and he prayed that God would restore the joy that he once enjoyed. Certainly this would be to David’s benefit, but David is not just asking for happiness. He asked for the joy of salvation because ultimately he wanted to be restored to God who is the true source of joy. He is praying, “Lord let me experience you so that I experience your joy. It’s a good reminder that the worst thing about sin is that it separates us from God and his grace. When we sin, we should long for forgiveness because we long for God. There is some debate about whether “spirit” in the second line is a reference to the Holy Spirit or the human spirit. And so is David praying that God’s Spirit would sustain him or that God would strengthen his spirit to conform to his will? Either way, David is praying for grace to press forward in obedience to God.
Again, David wasn’t just selfishly concerned to duck the consequences of his sin. No, vv. 10–12 plea that God would renew David’s heart so that he could be right with God, enjoy fellowship with God, experience his grace, and honor him with his life. David understood that God’s greatest gift his himself. We can learn a lot from David’s example. When I sin, my greatest desire must be that I want to be right with God so that I can manifest his grace. Don’t let your heart deceive you. Sin and the pleasures of this life will never satisfy your heart like vibrant, pure walk with God can. The fifth challenge of this psalm and the second one for today is that when you sin…
Plea for renewed praise (vv. 13–15).
These verses are pretty incredible because David is the king of Israel, and he has committed some terrible sins. The natural desire of someone in David’s position would be to hide his sin from the nation as much as possible. That’s certainly what our politicians try to do. But rather than trying to hide his sin in embarrassment, David anticipates how he can glorify God for the grace he receives. He makes two basic requests. First…
Use me to teach others (v. 13).
In this context God’s “ways” must refer to how God forgives sinners who come to him in humble repentance. David is telling God that if you restore me, I will not keep your grace silent. I will tell everyone who will listen about what you have done for me and what you can do for them. And David anticipates that through his proclamation, sinners will be converted. They will follow David’s example of repentance and experience the same grace David had received. I think it’s very likely that Psalm 51 and Psalm 32 are in a sense the fulfillment of this promise. David didn’t hide from what he had done; instead, he wrote Psalm 51 so that others could learn from his example and experience the same grace he had received. And God has answered this request far beyond what David could even imagine. He is answering David’s request right now among us, and who knows how many millions of believers in the last 3,000 years have learned the ways of God and been moved to repentance by David’s example. Again, David’s example is instructive because we are normally embarrassed by our sin, and we are more concerned about protecting our name than about glorifying God’s name. Now, we ought to be careful about broadcasting our sin because doing so is oftentimes not profitable. But very often, you can have a powerful ministry to others by appropriately sharing how you have struggled with sin, experienced God’s forgiveness, and seen him change you. Don’t let shame or embarrassment keep you from a powerful opportunity to teach others about the ways of God and to encourage them in their own struggle. David’s second request is…
Use me to glorify your name (vv. 14–15).
Both of these verses begin with a request for grace and follow with a promise to glorify God in response. David begins by asking God to forgive him for “the guilt of bloodshed.” This is a reference to the murder of Uriah, and, as a side note, it is strong confirmation that the psalm’s title is accurate. David acknowledges that he has blood on his hands. Again, the Law provided no means to remove that blood, but if God forgave David, he promised “….” This isn’t a quiet, private praise. The verb that David uses describes a loud passionate song. Verse 15 follows with a similar request. Again, David begins by acknowledging the significance of his sin. David’s guilt had shut the lips of Israel’s shepherd king who had authored numerous powerful psalms. But if God forgave and opened David’s lips, he would “show forth…” Again, David would glorify God publicly for what he had done.
Application: And so vv. 13–15 challenge us regarding an important aspect of confession. A true confession isn’t just concerned to duck the consequences of sin; rather a true confession proceeds from a heart that longs to be right with God so that I can be used of God. Is that the longing of your heart? What do you want from your Christianity? Of course, there are many good answers to this question, but if all of your answers revolve around you (You want to avoid hell, you want happiness and friendship), then your love for God has a lot of growing to do. A mature faith is in awe of God’ grace and longs to be used for his glory. May God build in all of us a deep love for God that results in an insatiable desire to be used for his glory. The final challenge of this psalm is that when you sin…
Pursue God’s pleasure (vv. 16–19).
I’d like to summarize these final verses in three statements. First…
God cannot be paid off (v. 16).
Verses 16–17 summarize the central message of this psalm and heart of repentance in powerful terms. David is essentially asking himself what is the basic characteristic that God is looking for from those who have sinned. In answering this question he describes one of the core attributes of genuine godliness. He begins by noting what God doesn’t want. In the ultimate sense, God wants something more than sacrifice. Of course, David is here speaking of the animal sacrifices that were prescribed in the Law. We might be confused by this verse because why would David say that God doesn’t want something that he had commanded Israel to give. We know from other texts that David offered large sacrifices at various times such as when he brought the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem; therefore, David is not repudiating sacrifice. Rather, we should read vv. 16–17 as searching for God’s ultimate desire. What does God desire above all else. In the ultimate sense, God does not desire sacrifice. Why is that? The answer is that God cannot be paid off. Instead…
God desires humble repentance (v. 17).
David states that what God really desires is not an animal sacrifice bought with money; instead, what he really wants is a “broken…” To be contrite means that I humbly acknowledge that I am a sinner, I have sinned against God, and I am terribly sorry. We see this heart very clearly in the opening plea of the psalm, “have mercy upon me O God.” Being “broken” describes my will. Rather than having a stubborn will that refuses to pursue any will but my own, God desires a broken will that humbly says, “Lord, I am yours, and I will follow you wherever and however you desire. I will not hold anything back from you.” There is a powerful irony here because God only accepted animal sacrifices that were unblemished and spotless. But when it comes to our hearts, he wants them to be broken and contrite. In fact, there’s nothing God desires more than a broken heart. But why? From a human perspective, an animal sacrifice would seem to be far more costly than the kind of confession that is recorded in this psalm. But I think we all understand that this is not ultimately the case. We know this from our human relationships. If a man cheats on his wife, all of the flowers and elaborate gifts in the world are hollow if the man isn’t committed to change. Money can never replace true repentance and a deep resolve by the man to love his wife and honor her the rest of his life. Truly, in any relationship with people or with God, the most precious gift we can give is our heart. Sadly, many people miss this. They don’t want to face God’s judgment and so they will show up at church consistently, put large gifts in the offering, and take other steps that have a form of godliness. But these things are ultimately hollow because they then turn around and live for themselves. There are massive compartments of their lives that they will not give to God. They are ultimately committed to themselves and their passions. But God sees right through it, and he is not impressed. Maybe that’s where you are today. Maybe you lived like the devil this week, and you plan to do it again next week, but you came to church today so that God doesn’t get too angry with you. I hope you will see today that God isn’t an idiot and you cannot fool him. And you have wasted your time by coming today unless you repent. Hopefully, most of us have not come with such a stubborn heart. Most of us want to honor and obey God. But we still have pockets of our lives where sin tends to dominate. I hope we will all be reminded today that God wants your heart because he wants a relationship. That’s always what we want in a relationship. If you have sin in your heart, then confess it from a contrite heart and renew your commitment to give everything to the Lord. If you do so, there is great hope because God will not despise or turn away from a broken and contrite heart.
And so come home. Even if you have wandered far away and have done terrible things, God will not despise a true confession. Jesus death is more than enough to cover any sin you have committed and his resurrection power is strong enough to renew a steadfast spirit and help you change. Maybe you need to be saved today. You’ve always assumed that salvation ultimately comes down to your works. If I do enough good things to outweigh my sins, I might be able to make it. But hopefully you have seen today that you can never do enough good works. You need grace because you are a wicked sinner. And Jesus provided that grace when he took the punishment for sin in his body on the cross and rose again in victory. All you need to do to receive that grace is to come with a broken and contrite heart that says, “I am sorry for my sin, and I want to live my life for you.” If you do so, God will not turn you away. Notice finally that…
Humble repentance results in righteous sacrifice (vv. 18–19).
In the conclusion to the psalm, David acknowledges that his sin had the potential to affect the entire nation, which it actually did through Absalom’s rebellion. And son in v. 18 he prays that God would show favor to Jerusalem. Building the walls would represent strong defenses and a strong city. There would be some hard times ahead, but God ultimately fulfilled this promise and blessed Israel again. But David wanted more than physical blessing. He wanted vibrant fellowship with God through worship. And so in v. 19, he looks forward with confidence to the restoration of tabernacle worship that would come with God’s forgiveness. And so this psalm that began with grief and despair ends with great hope, not because of something good in David but because David knew that God is merciful and kind. Praise the Lord that we serve a merciful God.
In sum, the message of this psalm is that God forgives and restores the sinning believer who humbly acknowledges the depth of his sin and longs to walk with God and glorify his name. I’d like to conclude by summarizing what this psalm teaches us about the nature of true confession.
- I must acknowledge the wickedness of my sin and not make excuses for it. A true confession begins with calling sin what it is, rebellion against God. You will not get far in overcoming sin until you are honest about what it is.
- I must be broken over my sin and hate it the way God does. It’s not enough to be honest about my sin; I must be committed to change.
- I must admit that I cannot cleanse myself; only God can cleanse me. As long as you think that it is up to you to fix the problem, God will not be pleased. You must realize that there is nothing you can do to appease God. You must humbly cast yourself on God’s mercy.
- I must desire forgiveness primarily in order to walk with God and glorify God, not simply to escape consequences. God’s grace provides us with many blessings, but we should never forget that God is his greatest gift and to serve him is our greatest blessing. A godly confession longs for God above everything else.
- I must believe God’s promise to restore, change, and use me. The Scriptures are clear on this point. God’s grace is unlimited because the cross has infinite power. Believe the promises of God and press forward in hope that God will make you whole.