A Psalm of Repentance
August 02, 2020
Prayer for Illumination:
Lord God, to whom shall we go? You have the words of life. You have spoken in your holy Word and it gives life. Open our ears so that we can hear your Word spoken and live. This we ask through Christ our savior. Amen.
To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.
1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!
3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.
5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem;
19 then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar. 
This is the Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.
We’ve been studying the Psalms this summer. The Psalms are some of the favorite passages of Scripture for many. Many of us find comfort in the Psalms and turn to them to express our emotions. In college, during one of the lowest times of my life I turned regularly to Psalm 121, “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From whence does my help come? 2 My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth”. The psalm gave me the language to express my trust in God as my help even in the darkest moments of my life.
This morning we’re studying Psalm 51. Psalm 51 is a psalm confessing repentance for sin. When we first began this series, we looked at Psalm 6 another psalm confessing repentance. When we studied that psalm, we saw that God disciplines believers in order that we should repent of our sin. This morning as we look at Psalm 51, we’ll find language to our express our repentance.
Repentance is a biblical doctrine but it is often neglected. Rev. Richard Phillips says, “We are eager to talk about grace, forgiveness, and other seemingly more positive themes, but repentance is often left out. Some Christians consider repentance to be a legalistic offense to gospel of grace. Yet repentance is so necessary to salvation that Jesus began his ministry on this keynote. ‘The time is fulfilled,’ he preached. ‘The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel’”. Repentance is biblical and necessary for salvation.
As we examine this psalm, we’ll find language to express our repentance. Our headings this morning will be:
- Recognition of our sin
- Request for God’s mercy
- Renewed Heart
Recognition of Our Sin
Repentance begins with recognizing our sin. David recognizes his sin. He says, “blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! 3For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. 4Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.”
David says that he has transgressed; he says that he has iniquity; he says that he sinned. He is not downplaying what he has done. This psalm was written as his confession of sin after he went into Bathsheba while she was married to Uriah the Hittite. She became pregnant from that encounter. And David tried to cover up that sin by getting Uriah drunk and hoping he’d sleep with Bathsheba and everyone would assume the child was Uriah’s. Uriah didn’t though. He was supposed to be at war and he wouldn’t enjoy the benefits of the marital bed while he fellow soldiers couldn’t. So David had his commanding officer put Uriah in the middle of the fiercest fighting and abandon him. David had him killed. In these two acts David broke the sixth and seventh commandments. He thought he got away with it too until Nathan the prophet called him out for his sin.
David recognizes that he did wrong. He says he transgressed. Transgression means to overstep the boundary. David has overstepped the boundary of God’s law. He continues saying he has iniquity. Iniquity means perversion or corruption. David is saying he is corrupt. He finishes by saying he sinned. Sin means to fall short or to miss the mark. The Westminster Shorter Catechism gives a great definition of sin. It defines sin as “any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God”. David recognizes his sin. And he confesses it.
Verse 4 says, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight”. People often struggle with this verse because it seems as though David is ignoring how he has sinned against Bathsheba and Uriah. But that’s not what he is saying. He recognizes he has sinned against them. In verse 14 when he says “deliver me from bloodguiltiness” he is recognizing that he has sinned against Bathsheba and Uriah. Then what about verse 4? What does “against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” mean?
David is recognizing that sin at the most basic level is rebellion against God. Yes he sinned against Bathsheba and Uriah, but at the root of his sin was rebellion against God and his ways. God had said, “You shall not murder. 14 You shall not commit adultery.” And David did both of those things. By committing adultery with Bathsheba and arraigning the murder of Uriah, David was ultimately rebelling against God and his ways.
Every sin is rebellion against God and his ways. It doesn’t matter if it is a little lie or adultery or covetousness. All sin is rebellion against God. And every sin is deserving of death. “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Every sin is rebellion and a damnable offense. Some sins might have a greater affect in our lives but every sin deserves death.
Notice, David doesn’t say “I did something wrong; I did something that I shouldn’t have. No big deal”. That is not confession. That is not repentance. Last week as Jules and I were driving back from Ohio, we met some of my friends in northern Kentucky for lunch. As we were leaving, I missed the turn to get back onto the highway. I said, “I did something I shouldn’t have. I missed my turn. No big deal”. I simply continued on to the next light and meandered my way toward the highway. That wasn’t repentance.
Let me ask you, do you confess your sin by saying “I have rebelled against you O God by transgressing your law and I have missed the mark for how I am supposed to act” or do you say “I did something I shouldn’t have, no big deal”? One recognizes sin the other doesn’t. One is a biblical step in confession. The other is what you say when you miss your turn to get onto the highway.
David doesn’t just recognize sin, he recognizes the depth of his sin. In verses 1 and 2, David says “blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin”. The image is that sin is a stain. Blotting is what you do when you spill coffee on your carpet. You dab the stain until it comes out. David wants God to dab his heart until the stain of sin is removed.
“Wash me thoroughly” gives the image of laundry. Today we throw our laundry in a machine that washes it. In David’s day, someone would put their dirty clothes on the rocks in a river. Then they would walk over the clothes, scrub them, and slap them against the rocks to remove the dirt and grime. David wants God to scrub his heart and mind clean from sin. He knows that if God cleanses him, he’ll be whiter than snow.
David recognizes that sin is more than skin deep. Sin has affected him even before he was born. “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” David is saying that he didn’t sin just this one time. He was a sinner at heart. He sinned because he is a sinner. The prophet Jeremiah who lived about six hundred years after David writes, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)” David recognizes that at his very core he is a sinner. He recognizes his heart is deceitful above all things and desperately corrupt.
This is what we call original sin. We are all born in sin because of Adam and Eve’s sin. And it has affected every aspect of us. Sin has stained our hearts, minds, and wills. It has affected the totality of us. Sin has affected how we think. It has affected our emotions. It has bound our wills. We’re not as sinful as we could be, but every aspect of each and every one of us is affected by sin. David recognizes that sin is more than skin deep.
I know that this is not popular and that there are people who teach we sin only because we’ve had bad examples. We don’t want to admit that sin is more than skin deep. We don’t want to admit that the reason we sin is because we are sinners; that at heart we are sinners. But we are. We sin because we’re sinners; at heart we are sinners. And sin has affected how we think, it has affected our emotions, it has bound our wills, and it has affected our bodies. Our hearts are deceitful above all things and desperately corrupt. We are totally depraved.
If you don’t think you’re that sinful, ask your spouse. They see all of you. They see the best of you and they see the worst of you. They see the sin you are blind to.
Do you recognize how sinful you really are? Do you recognize that sin has affected all aspects of your person? Do you recognize that you have been sinful from birth? Or do you think that you’re basically good and only occasionally sin; that your heart is not deceitful and desperately corrupt?
Request for God’s Mercy
David recognizing his sin caused him to request God for mercy. He begins this psalm saying, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions”. He pleads for God to be merciful. He knows that he deserves death and damnation for his sin. He sees just how deep that sin is and how there is nothing he can do about it. So pleads for God to be merciful. He knows that God is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 103:8).
He has heard of how God saved Israel under the Judges. After Joshua and before King Saul, Israel would regularly forsake God and worship Baal, Asherah, and the other Canaanite idols. Then God would give them over to the Philistines, Amorites, Ammonites, and Moabites as punishment. Israel would eventually repent of their sin and God would show mercy and save Israel because of his steadfast love for them.
David knows that he deserved death and damnation for sin so plead for God to be merciful to him. And he knew that God has had a steadfast love for his people, slow to anger when they sin, showing them grace so that they turn from their sinful ways. So he requests that God be merciful in dealing with him and gracious toward David.
David requests God’s mercy in transforming him. In verse 10 he says, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me”. He knows that sin has affected all aspects of him and that there is nothing he can do about it himself. He knows that if he is to ever change, God must be the one change him. He knows that God must take his old heart and replace it with a heart that is cleansed, a heart that has been washed and blotted clean. So he pleads for God to be merciful and transform his heart.
Do you request for God to be merciful to you? Do you recognize that because of your sin you deserve death and damnation? Does that cause you to fall down on your knees and beg for God’s mercy?
The good news is that God has been merciful to his people. The good news is that Jesus Christ died in the place of all who believe – past, present, and future. He bore hell on the cross for his Church. There on the cross God has shown mercy to sinners deserving death and damnation by bearing their condemnation himself. According to his steadfast love, he fulfills the promise that he made to Eve in the garden. In the garden he promised Eve that eventually a descendant would come from her that would save the world the effects of their sin in listening to Satan. That promise was fulfilled in Christ Jesus at the cross.
If you look to Christ for your salvation and rest in his life, death, and resurrection God has been merciful to you. He has taken your sin and placed it on Christ and he has given you Christ’s righteous standing before him. God shows his mercy in pardoning all who recognize they deserve death and damnation for their sin and trust that Christ has borne their condemnation on the cross.
If you trust that Christ bore hell for you on the cross, then God has shown you mercy in creating in you a new heart. Even before you believed, he showed mercy in taking your old heart of stone and giving you a heart of flesh. By giving you a new heart, he created a clean heart and a right spirit in your. It was this new heart that was sensitive to your sin. It was because he had given you a new heart that you were heartbroken over your sin.
That’s just what God promised he would do. God spoke to the prophet Ezekiel and said, “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances” (Ezekiel 36:26-27). He is the one who takes our hearts of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh. And it is because he has given us a new, clean heart that we recognize our heart and are heartbroken over it. It is because he has given us a heart of flesh that we cry out for God to be merciful to us in dealing with our sin.
That’s just what Jesus says in John 3 when he says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew.’ 8 The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:5-8).
God has shown us mercy by creating in us a new heart that recognizes our sin and is heartbroken over it. The same heart that is now broken over sin can experience the mercy of God at the cross.
David has recognized his sin and requested God’s mercy. And God has been merciful to David. Experiencing that mercy has renewed David’s heart. He says, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. 13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.” David having experienced the mercy of God in the new birth and in forgiveness of his sins has resulted in him desiring to be obedient to God’s ways and teach other’s his commands. David’s repentance has produced a joyful obedience to God’s laws and a desire to teach others to follow God’s ways.
True repentance always leads to a joy-filled desire to obey God. In Matthew 18, Jesus tells a parable about a servant who had a massive debt. When the king came to collect, the servant begged for mercy and the king forgave the debt. Moments later that servant saw another servant who owed him a much smaller debt but refused to forgive that man’s debt. The point of the parable is to teach that those who have experienced the mercy of God will do as God does; those who know the merciful character of God in Christ will obey out of joy. Our hearts are renewed and enabled to obey God’s commands.
Has your repentance and experience of God’s mercy at the cross filled you with a joyous desire to obey God? Or do you still find God’s commands and ways onerous? A renewed heart will desire to obey God in all aspects of life.
Having a renewed heart will also lead to teaching others about God and his ways. We will want to share the good news with others. We will want to teach our children and our grandchildren about God and his ways. We will want to tell our neighbors of the mercy of God at the cross. We will be passionate about supporting missionaries who are proclaiming the gospel to people who don’t know.
A renewed heart also leads to a deeper desire to worship God. David says, “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. 16For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Having experienced God’s mercy has led David to praise. He will declare God’s mercy.
Do you desire to worship God and praise him for his mercy? Or is coming to worship just another thing you need to do?
Repentance is recognizing your sin and the depths of it. That leads to a request for God’s mercy. If you have experienced God’s mercy, you will be renewed.
 Richard D. Phillips, Psalms 42-72 (New Jersey; P& R Publishing, 2019), 87-88.
 Westminster Shorter Catechism Q/A 14.
 Phillips, 90.