Read Psalm 51:1-19
Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me.
Do not banish me from your presence,
and do not take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and make me willing to obey you.
I can’t imagine the depth of David’s anguish as he came before the Lord carrying the guilt and shame of the Bathsheba affair. He had committed adultery, he had conspired to commit murder, he had murdered a gifted and loyal soldier, he had covered his tracks for several months—and all the while he was miserable.
But when a courageous prophet named Nathan stood before David, the most powerful man in the world, a man who held the power of life and death over pesky little prophets like Nathan, and confronted the king with this evil—his evil—David repented. And in this moving prayer of contrition before the Lord, which is what Psalm 51 really is, King David openly and fully expressed to God the depth of shame and humility that revealed why, in spite of such a horrible sin, he was still a man after God’s heart.
This psalm provides a great case study in authentic repentance. David wasn’t wanting just to off-load his guilt by getting this sin off his chest. He wasn’t just attempting to get a pass by coming clean. He wasn’t just feeling sorry because he had finally been caught. Not at all! David recognized the utter horror of having offended a holy God. He realized the indescribable pain of having messed up the lives of people over whom he had just played God. He fully confessed his wicked act, and the wicked heart that had led to the act. (Psalm 51:5) And by so doing, David cast himself upon God’s infinite mercy, recognizing that only then could he be granted a heart that was truly clean, tender to the Lord, and willing to do the things that God desired. (Psalm 51:10-13,17)
I cannot imagine the depth of David’s guilt and the excruciating pain of his shame! Or can I? Have I not offended the Lord just as coldly and willingly as David? Have I not murdered, conspired, been willfully unfaithful and concealed sin before a holy God who demands holiness in me? Yes—I have! Not visibly, but certainly in my heart—at the very core of what makes me fully me—which Jesus pointed out is just as offensive to a holy God and corrosive to my spirit as the physical act of sin. (Matthew 5:21-28)
You see, I am David in this psalm. And so are you. And we are in no less need of the mercy and grace of Almighty God than this heartbroken king. And not only are we, too, in need of a God who will forgive all of our sins, but we are in desperate need of a merciful God who will create within us a clean heart and grant us a willingness to fully obey.
True repentance—what a grace! We need to access it more often, I suspect. And when we do, it is only then that can we know the deepest and best joy of all: The joy of our salvation! (Psalm 51:12)
“Wherever there is a pulverized and penitent heart, there grace also is,
and wherever there is a voluntary confession not gained by pressure,
there love covereth a multitude of sins.”