Create in Me a Clean Heart
Topic: English Passage: Psalm 51:1-19
If you’re familiar with the opening chapters of Daniel, then you know about how Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stood against the commands of the king, so that they would not disobey the law of God.
First, they refused to eat the king’s defiled food. And choosing to stay on a diet of vegetables, they were blessed by God and stood out among their peers.
Then, we have the story of King Nebuchadnezzar setting up a golden statue to be worshipped by everyone. These men again refused. The king was furious and gave them one final opportunity. He threatened them: “If you will not fall down and worship this image, you will be cast into the fiery furnace.”
This was the guys’ response: “Our God can deliver us. But even if He does not, know this: we will not worship this golden image.” And most of you know the ending of the story.
It’s an amazing story, and what adds to the impression of it is that, in the Bible, they’re not referred to as “men,” but as “youths.” More than likely, Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego were somewhere between 13 and 16 years old when all this happened. What a triumphant display of righteousness and conviction these young guys give us.
The last sermon and FLG study we did from the Psalms focused on Psalm 1 and Psalm 15, which are songs directing us to righteousness. They point us to faithfulness in our walk with God. And certainly, those three young men are an example of that. They had, what we might call, a victorious faith.
But, as most of you know, that’s not where any of us live, right? That’s not the norm for your life and for my life. We may have moments of triumph and joy in how God has worked through us, but we don’t live in a continual sense of victory and righteousness, do we? Our pursuit of holiness is tainted.
As a Christian, not matter how strong your commitment to Jesus is, you can relate to the words of Paul in Romans 7: “I don’t understand myself. I don’t do what I want to do. I do what I hate. I have the desire to do what’s right, but I don’t have the ability to carry it out. I don’t do the good I want to, and the evil I don’t want, I keep on doing.”
All mature Christians can relate to that. This world, and your life, is not sin-proof. It’ll never be. We are eternally forgiven in Jesus Christ, and we are growing in our ability to fight sin, but we are going to lose many, many battles. It’s going to happen.
It’s like trying to baby-proof a house. Those of you who’ve got little kids know this. You can never do enough. There is no way to guarantee your kid’s not going to get hurt or put himself in danger. They’ll find a way. It’s going to happen.
That’s how it is with sin. You can’t sin-proof your life. It’s going to happen. You’re going to mess it up—in seemingly big ways, and in seemingly small ways.
So, what are you supposed to do after those moments of failure? No matter what the sin was, how are we supposed to respond?
Some people feel frozen by it, and the guilt becomes an unbearable burden. It leads to them sulking in self-pity.
Others take a more apathetic approach: “I don’t care what happened, just let it go away on its own.”
And some people will be more proactive in trying to deal with the guilt, doing whatever they can to distract themselves or drown out the. Sometimes that includes burying themselves in religious or kind acts, in an attempt to sort of balance it all out, and prove they’re not really a bad person.
Maybe you can place yourself with one of those groups. But, again, what’s the proper way to respond to your own sin? What are you supposed to do?
About ten years ago, when the iPhone was still relatively new, there was a commercial, and the tagline was, “there’s an app for that.” Do any of you remember that? Whatever kind of situation or problem you were in, the commercial promised, “there’s an app for that.”
Well, we could say the same thing about the Psalms that God has given us. No matter what your day has been like, no matter what kind of mood you’re in, there’s a Psalm for that.
The Psalms cover every range of human emotion. And more than that, they model for us how to respond in a way that honors God. That range of emotions includes the times when you feel the guilt of your sin.
Out of the 150 Psalms, a handful of them are examples of a personal confession of sin. And probably the most famous one is Psalm 51. That’s where we’re going to be today.
Psalm 51 was originally written by David, but sine then it has served as an example to us for how to respond to God when we are distinctly aware of our sin. This is a God-honoring example of confession.
No matter what you feel like, God wants you to draw near to Him. In fact, that’s the point of His discipline in our lives—not to separate you from Him, but to draw you near.
Psalm 51 shows us how to draw near to God after we’ve sinned. And this is not some detached prescription, like some doctor might give you. This is coming from a man, inspired by the Holy Spirit, but very aware that he had made a serious mistake.
Before the beginning of verse 1, look at the superscript in your Bible. I’m not talking about the title that our Bible translations give us. I’m talking about the smaller words, right before verse 1. That’s part of the Hebrew Bible. Look what it says: To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.
You can read the story for yourself in 2 Samuel chapters 11 and 12. Basically, David, instead of going out to war with his troops, stayed home sitting on his couch. And when he finally gets up, he goes outside and sees a beautiful woman, whom he finds out is named Bathsheba. And he wants her. So, he takes her for himself while her husband is away at war.
Later, he finds out that she’s pregnant. So, he tries to get her husband to spend the night with her, hoping that will cover his tracks. That didn’t happen. So, he has the guy killed on the battlefield. And then he takes Bathsheba and makes her his new wife.
Bathsheba gives birth to a son. And throughout the whole time of the pregnancy, David is living a double life. He won’t admit what happened to anyone, including God, though it’s probably not a secret.
We know from Psalm 32 that during this time he felt God’s discipline upon his life, but he still would not confess. So, one day, God sends the prophet Nathan to confront David with the truth and the consequences of his sin.
How many of the Ten Commandments did David break? Commandment number 6: Don’t kill. Commandment number 7: Don’t commit adultery. Commandment number 9: Don’t lie. Commandment number 10: Don’t covet your neighbor’s wife.
From both a human perspective and a divine perspective, David has seriously sinned. And Psalm 51 is his prayer of confession. It’s his response to God after what has happened. And it models for us how we should respond.
This is a psalm you need to know. You need to know how to turn to God when you’re trying to make things right again in your life. Based on this psalm, I want to show you 5 principles for a God-honoring confession. Five principles for turning to God and drawing near to Him, even after you’ve seriously messed up.
Principle number 1 is this: Appeal to God’s mercy. Appeal to God’s mercy. This is what we find in verses 1 and 2. It’s an appeal to God’s mercy.
The opening word of this psalm is translated by the ESV as “have mercy on me.” New American says “be gracious.” The understanding behind this word is that David recognizes he doesn’t deserve what he’s asking for. That’s what grace and mercy are. They’re undeserved.
It’s not uncommon when someone gets in trouble, and they know they’ve been caught, to say something like: “Please! I’ll never do it again!” Which means that they’re asking for mercy on the basis of their own promise, or their own resolve.
But that’s not how God works. And that’s not how David is asking. What is he appealing to? “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love, according to your abundant mercy.”
He’s not appealing to something in himself. He’s appealing to something in God.
The older translations of the Bible used to use the word mercy or kindness. But that’s missing a significant component of this word. This is not a word simply talking about someone’s feelings or nature. This is a word connected to faithfulness.
This is one the major Hebrew words in the Old Testament. It’s the word chesed, which points to someone’s faithfulness to a commitment. God is faithful to His promises. He is loyal.
The NET Bible actually translates it that way, “loyal love.” God promised to receive and to forgive all who come to Him in repentance. God forgives, not because He’s a big softy, or because he sees some intrinsic good in us. God forgives because He has committed himself to His people. God made a covenant, and He will keep it. That’s His steadfast love, His loyal love, His faithful love. And that’s what David appeals to. And it’s what you should appeal to.
On the basis of God’s fidelity to His promise, David makes three requests. Starting at the end of verse 1, and through verse 2, it says “blot out my transgressions. 2Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!”
That word “blot out” was used for erasing or wiping something away. Think of what happens to a dry erase board when class is over. It’s gone.
“Wash me” is a reference to the way they would wash clothing. They would soak it in water, and in soap, if it was available, and then they beat the dirt out, particularly by trampling it. It’s a very vivid picture.
“Cleansing” is talking about the ritual cleansings that would take place for worship in the Tabernacle.
David is saying, “Lord, on the basis on who You are, get this filth out of my life. Clean me!” And in talking about his sin, in order to give a comprehensive view, he calls it his transgressions, his iniquity, and his sin.
Transgression is stepping over a line. It’s rebellion. Iniquity speaks of perversion or depravity. And sin speaks of an offence to God’s holiness. David isn’t playing down what he’s done. But He is playing up the grace of God. That’s what you need to do. Don’t fixate on your sin. Fix your attention and your focus on the goodness of God. Appeal to His mercy. That’s principle number 1.
Principle number two is this: Admit Your Own Sinfulness. Admit Your own Sinfulness. We’ve already seen that with the words David uses, but he’s gonna go even further. David isn’t just admitting that he’s done something wrong. He’s recognizing that what he’s done is an expression of his heart. It’s part of who he is. He can’t separate himself from what happened.
Look at verse 3: For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
In other words, “I can’t stop thinking about what’s happened. I can’t get away from the fact that this is a result of who I am.” Some years ago, it was common to hear someone say, “My bad.” That’s not David. He’s not saying, “My bad.” He’s saying, “I’m bad. What I’ve done is evil.”
Look at verse 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.
David doesn’t measure his sin against what other people have done. He measures his sin against the holiness of God. Ultimately, what he did was evil, not because society says it’s evil, but because God has said so.
Obviously, David sinned against other people. But his emphasis here, as he confesses to God, is that primarily, this is a sin against God. That’s what makes it evil. And that’s what makes God absolutely just and righteous to instill whatever kind of punishment He determines.
“I deserve whatever judgment You choose to inflict.” Why? Because I’m a sinner form my very heart.
This is a doctrine that many, many people find offensive. It’s the doctrine of human sinfulness. We are not born good. We are not born neutral. We come into this world as sinners.
We’re not called sinners, because we do bad things that dishonor God. We do sinful things because we’re sinners. Does that make sense? If your pet digs up the back yard and eats your shoes and chases cars, that doesn’t make him a dog. It is because he’s a dog, that he does those things. It’s in his nature. Do you get that?
Because we are sinners, from the core of our hearts, and into every aspect of our life, we do sinful, wicked things. It’s part of fallen human nature. We’ve always had that. David isn’t just recognizing that he’s sinned. He’s admitting that he’s a sinner.
Look at verse 5—Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Some people have tried to interpret this as saying that David is talking about some kind of illicit relationship that led to his conception. That’s not what he’s saying. He’s saying: “from the moment I came into existence, I have been tainted and plagued by sinfulness.”
By the way, this is one of several passages in the Bible that affirm the personhood of a baby in the womb. This is why abortion is a sin. It dishonors God. The baby is a living person. He’s a sinner, but he’s a living soul.
Your confessions to God need to admit, not just that you sinned, but that you’re a sinner. Recognize that what you did is an expression of your heart. You did it because you wanted to. Romans 5 says Adam brought sin into this world, and he passed it along to every person in his line. Jesus said that it’s not the stuff on the outside that defiles you; it’s the stuff on the inside. Whatever comes out of your life comes from within.
I’ve thought about this in regard to people who are drunk or on drugs. Some have this attitude that says, “Well, they can’t be held responsible for what they did because they weren’t acting like themselves. They weren’t in a right state of mind.” That’s not a justifiable defense in many cases because even though their perception of the world might have changed, their sin is still their sin. The external barriers or inhibitions have been removed, so what we see is their unfiltered sinfulness.
Every time we sin, it’s not a fluke. It’s not simply an accident on our part. We are responsible for what we’ve done, or not done. All of us sin because we’re sinners. We’ve been that since we existed in our mother’s womb. A proper confession will admit it to God.
But you don’t stay there. You don’t sit and wallow in your sin. That’s not going to draw You near to God. You have to go somewhere with that. The opening verses went to God’s faithfulness, asking for mercy and forgiveness. Now, David takes that a step further.
This is going to be principle number 3. A God-honoring confession asks for complete restoration. Principle number 3: Ask for Complete Restoration. This is what we see in verses 6-13. Ask for Complete Restoration.
The first part of this restoration focuses on the relationship between the sinner and God.
Verse 6—Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
As deeply as David’s sin is engrained into him, that’s how deeply he knows God wants him to change. And he’s confident that God will act to change him. There’s a boldness in this request.
David’s sin was an example of unfaithfulness. He didn’t honor his commitment to God. But God want to delight in David’s truth, in his faithfulness. And so, God will make change David. God will restore him.
In our English versions, verses 7 and 8 come out as requests or petitions. But in the Hebrew, they’re not. I think a better translation is—You will purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean. You will wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Again, there’s a boldness here. David is confident that God will answer the plea in verses 1 and 2. God will cleanse him. God will wash him.
It might interest you to know that the verb for sin and the verb for purge are related. It’s just a different form of the word. To sin means that you missed. But to purge means that something is missing. It’s gone. It’s been erased. That’s what a sin-offering did for a repentant Israelite.
And in the Israelites’ offerings, one of the plants they used was hyssop. We mentioned hyssop at Jesus’ crucifixion. It was the branch with the sponge with sour wine, or vinegar.
In the Old Testament, it was what the Israelites used to get the blood on the doorposts during the first Passover. And later, hyssop branches were used ceremoniously by dipping them into blood or water in order to sprinkle onto something for cleansing.
David is using sacrificial language. He recognizes that a sacrifice is necessary for him to be counted pure. And he’s confident that God will do it.
God’s going to purify him. God’s going to wash him whiter than fresh snow. According to verse 8, God will make him to hear joy and gladness. God’s going to fix his broken bones.
That’s not talking about literal broken bones. It’s talking about the pain and the anguish David feels because of what he’s done. He is asking for complete restoration, and he’s confident God will do it. Again, not on the basis of David’s worth or David’s promises, but on the basis of God’s faithfulness to His promise.
Verse 9 actually goes back to having a request, but in the context of what’s been said, there’s a confidence behind what David is praying. He knows God will come through on the request. Verse 9—Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
In other parts of the Bible, God talks about hiding his face from the Israelites, and that was a form of judgment because He would not respond to their suffering.
But in this case, David’s not asking Him to hide his face from him. He’s asking God to hide His face from his sin. And he repeats that idea of blotting. “I want this gone. I want this expunged from my record, God. I want my relationship with You to be restored.” And that’s exactly what God does.
God restores the relationship, and God restores David as well. That’s what David continues in verse 10-13. He’s not just asking for the sin to be forgiven; he’s asking for his heart to be changed.
Look at those verses—10Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. 11Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. 12Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. 13Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.
“Create in me a clean heart, O God.” “Create” is the very first verb in the Bible. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” It’s a word dealing with miraculous power.
David recognizes that it takes the power of God to change his heart. It takes the power of God to sustain him in the battle against sin. So, a proper confession is going to be marked by confidence in the character and promise of God, but it will also be marked by a dependence on the power of God.
“God, I need you to do this. I can’t do this for myself. Fix me from the inside out. Don’t separate Me from You. Draw me closer to You.”
That’s what verse 11 is saying. And when David says, “Don’t take away your Spirit,” we need to understand within the context of the Old Testament. What is David saying? He’s primarily talking about usefulness. He’s talking about the ability to serve God. And in particular, he may be asking for the opportunity to remain as king.
In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit isn’t usually spoken of as indwelling a person. Instead, He came upon people. He endowed them with a special ability to perform a task. He empowered them for a task.
For example, in the book of Judges, you can read about how the Spirt “came upon” a judge. Another position that received this kind of spiritual anointing was the king.
In 1 Samuel 16 you can read about Samuel anointing a young David with oil in the midst of his brothers, and it says in verse 13: “the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him from that day forward.
In the very next verse, it says: “Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul.” God had rejected Saul. God would no longer empower Saul as the king. God would no longer use him to minister and bless the people.
That’s what David doesn’t want to happen to himself. He doesn’t want the spirit to leave him. He doesn’t want to lose his position as king. And it isn’t because of an arrogance or a selfishness on his part. It’s because he wants to continue being useful to God. He wants to continue ministering.
That’s a fair prayer today. There are, in our New Testament context, sins that will disqualify a man or a woman from specific types of service. And if that happens, he or she should step down. But before things reach that level, we need to be fighting.
You can say to God, “Please don’t let this sin progress to the point where I will not be useful to you as I have been.” We want our sin to be cut short. We don’t want it to grow. We don’t want it to threaten the purity or the reputation of Christ’s church. We want to keep being used.
David is not content to simply be forgiven. He wants to continue to be used by God for His purposes. And so, to do that, in verse 2 he asks for joy. He asks for a willing spirit.
And verse 13 makes it clear, he’s asking for the purpose of ministry. “Lord, if you will keep me serving, I will teach transgressors Your ways. I will turn sinners to you.”
David knows he’s a transgressor and a sinner. But just like he’s been restored to the Father, he wants others to be restored as well. And he wants to be a part of seeing that happen. So, again, David is asking for a complete restoration.
Let’s move on now to principle number 4. Principle number 1 was: appeal to God’s mercy. Number 2 was: admit your own sinfulness. Number 3: ask for complete restoration. Principle 4 comes to us in verses 14-17, and this is it: Adore Your Gracious God. Adore your gracious God.
Adoration is another word for worship. That’s what these verses are talking about. David wants to worship God rightly. In verse 14, he’s asking for deliverance from bloodguiltiness. Literally, it says “deliver me from blood.” That’s talking about his murder of Uriah.
“I have blood on my hands, God. Forgive me. Cleanse me. Save me.” Why? End of verse 14—[so that] my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
Father, I will praise you more and more as a result of all this. I will worship You. Verse15 continues— O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.
You know, when you’ve sinned in a major way, the lie from the devil is that God will not accept your worship. That’s why people don’t come to church sometimes. Or to the Lord’s Supper. They feel their unworthiness before God. They don’t want to show their face.
Let me tell you something. Listen to this. When you feel unworthy before God, you are in the best place to worship Him. Did you get that? When you feel unworthy before God, you are in the best place to worship Him.
Because worship is not about the externals. The externals matter, like singing and listening and partaking of the supper. But what makes those activities acceptable to God is your heart. And God, we’ll see in just a second, delights in a humble heart. God delights in a heart broken over its sinfulness.
Look at verse 16 and 17—For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. [Those are examples of Old Testament sacrifices]17The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
When you have a wake-up call to reality of your sin, you feel broken. You’re undone. You’re crushed; That’s what “contrite” means. You’re in pieces. You feel how worthless and how unworthy you are.
That’s a beautiful place to be for worship. Because you’ll see the glory of God, who will not treat you the way you deserve. God will lift you up, and you will be filled with love and gratitude.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
God will never turn away someone who comes to him in true humility. God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.
Do you remember Jesus’ story about the wicked tax collector? He couldn’t even walk near the Temple or lift up his eyes to look God in the face. Instead, he beat his breast and cried out, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” And Jesus says, “that man went home justified.” That man went home forgiven and declared righteous by God. God accepted him. God exalted him.
A worshipful heart is a heart of humility and contrition. That’s part of the reason, when we open the service in prayer, we try to include an element of confession—to remind ourselves that we don’t deserve to be here. But also, to remind ourselves that God receives us nonetheless. And then, we’re in a better position for worship.
The best confession will lead you to adoration. You have to go there. It’s not a pity party, focused on yourself. It’s aimed at God. It’s for Him. So, adore your gracious God. Be moved to worship.
One final principle and then, we’ll be done. This is from verses 18 and 19. Principle number 5: Advance the Divine Blessing. Advance the divine blessing.
Verses 18 and 19 might feel a little out of place. Some commentators believe that it might have been added later by some Spirit-inspired editor who helped compile the Psalms and place them in their final order. Maybe. Doesn’t have to be.
But these closing verses aim at taking the blessing upon David, who had been forgiven, and extending it to the entire nation of Israel. This is an intercession. David’s sin, like Achan’s from Joshua 7, or Ananias’ from Acts 5, would have had a broader effect on God’s people.
And so, David doesn’t just want his own relationship with God to be restored. He wants that to be extended over all God’s people. Look at the closing two verses—Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem; 19then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.
We can say, then, that a proper prayer of confession will include, not just a confidence and a dependence, and not just adoration, but also intercession. It’s not just about you. It’s about God’s glory being manifest in and through all His people.
That’s the heart you see behind many Old Testament confessions. They might be personal in some respects. But they tend to include a corporate component.
Listen, you’re not the only sinner here. You’re not the only one who needs forgiveness and cleansing. And you’re not the only one who gets to experience God’s blessing. Don’t make confession just about you. Turn your eyes to a glorious God who has called to Himself a people for His glorious purposes. Advance the divine blessing. Pray that it be extended.
In all of life, you are either growing closer to God, or you’re walking farther away. And obviously, God’s desire is that you would walk closer and closer with Him. But when you’ve sinned, you don’t feel close.
The truth, however, is that God is not far away. He wants you to come to Him. And that’s true whether you’re a believer or an unbeliever. Don’t harden your heart against God. Don’t believe the lie that sin isn’t an issue. And don’t believe the lie that God won’t accept you. He delights in a contrite heart, broken over its sinfulness. He delights to make His perfect patience shown through sinners who’ve come to Him.
As Romans 5:20-21 says: where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
God didn’t give us His law, so he could beat us over the head with it. God didn’t give us this word, so that He could drive a wedge between us. He gave us the law, so that we would know His heart, and draw near to Him in a life of confession.
A proper confession is not a payment to God to fix what’s happened. A proper confession is an act of faith toward a God who is holy and gracious and merciful.
Let me just close by reading some words from Psalm 103. Psalm 103, verses 8-14.
8 The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 9He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. 10He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; 12as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. 13As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. 14For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.