1 Have mercy on me, O God,Psalm 51:1-6
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.
What a joy it is to have the opportunity to be refreshed by the presence of our Savior. Yet sometimes the joy – the refreshment – seems far off. Sometimes this journey seems longer than it should.
There are times when this distant feeling comes from outside sources – spiritual warfare, persecution, general difficulties. But there are also times where our times of struggle and lack of refreshment come from our own sin. We looked last week at a situation in the life of King David where His own sin caused difficulties. And, it was through that narrative, that we began to understand our own sin and see the grand example of repentance that we so desperately need.
King David is often held up as the human standard for worshiping God. And, it is through his example of repentance, that we see what is perhaps one of the strongest examples of worshiping – turning away from his sin and to the loving-kindness and forgiveness of his God. Psalm 51, basically, is a song of worship from David to God repenting of his sin and celebrating being restored to a right relationship with Him. We will look at this psalm over the next few weeks in three sections: acknowledging our sin/seeking the Savior, being restored to the joy of salvation, and offering our acts of service to the Lord once more.
David begins this song with a plea for mercy. The word for “mercy” in the original language means to show favor, to be gracious, or to show compassion toward someone. It is a plea for God to withhold the judgment and punishment that is deserved for sin committed. It is the cry of the guilty.
This may sound odd, but it is absolutely imperative that we understand that we are guilty of sin. Repentance cannot occur until we understand that fact. No one will seek a Savior until they are convinced of their need to be saved. And only those who are guilty of sin need a Savior.
David cries out for God to “have mercy” on him, and cites the “steadfast love” and “abundant mercy” of God as reasons for the mercy to be given. This reminds me of the way children will go to their parents after messing up. It does not matter if it is a toddler bringing the pieces of something he or she knocked off and broke or a teenager calling home after running the car off into a ditch; the cry is the same. They seek after their parents to remember their love for them as they dispense punishment. They seek for mercy to triumph over judgment (James 2:13).
Psalm 123:3 says, “Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt.” When David appeals to God’s “steadfast love” and “abundant mercy”, it is because it is very much different than what the world offers. Instead of the “contempt” we deserve, we seek for God to “wash [us] thoroughly from [our] iniquity” and to “cleanse [us] from [our] sin” (v. 2).
The terms “wash” (Exodus 19:10) and “cleanse” (Numbers 19:19) fit with the Old Testament sacrificial system. Again, this reminds us that we are guilty of our sin and that there is no way for us to clean ourselves up. Only God can do that. The way that David shows us to repent here in Psalm 51 is mirrored in 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” These truths are echoed in 1 Peter 2:24 and in the old hymn:
“What can wash away my sin?
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”
David tells the Lord, “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” (v. 4). Does this mean that Bathsheba, who David slept with and who shared the child who passed away, was not sinned against? Does this mean that Uriah, the husband whose wife was stolen – whose murder was arranged by David, was not sinned against? Absolutely not. David was guilty as charged on all counts – covetousness, deceit, adultery, murder. But who decided that coveting, deceiving, adultery, and murder are sin? There is only One.
As important as it is that we understand our guilt and our need for God’s mercy, we need to know and understand that our sin is against God. You see, God is holy, perfect, just, and righteous. He created the universe and everything in it, and mankind holds a special place in that creation. God is sovereign over His creation. He made the rules and gives the commands. And going against His command is an act against Him.
It is quite an uncomfortable thought to think that we are sinners against a holy and righteous God. It is more uncomfortable to think that He is, in the very least, displeased with us because of our sin. It is another thing entirely to realize that our sin separates us from Him. Romans 5:12 tells us that “just as sin came into the world through one man (Adam), and death through sin…so death spread to all men because all sinned”. We are reminded that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). But, rather than leave us with our sin and death, King David leads the way to repentance and Life.
David reminds us that God “delight[s] in truth in the inward being” and “teach[es]…wisdom in the secret heart” (v. 6). God does not want to leave us in our sin. He has made a Way for us (John 14:6)! While David did not know the full picture, he pointed us in the right direction. There is good news to be had – even in the midst of sin and sorrow. And, being “grant[ed]…repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth” that allows us to “come to [our] senses and escape from the snare of the devil” (2 Timothy 2:25-26) is good news, indeed!
We have looked today at what it is to be guilty of sin. We have seen a prime example of how to acknowledge that sin before the God we sinned against. But all of that is nothing if we are left in our sin. King David had faith that the “steadfast love” and “abundant mercy” of God would win out. Even though he did not understand it, his faith showed him a shadow of what we know through Romans 5:8: “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us”. This is an important truth for us to remember!
We realize this in salvation. When confronted by our sin and need for a Savior, we have the opportunity to repent of our sins and turn to Christ, trusting and believing in Him (Romans 10:9-10, 13). That act of repentance starts one following after Jesus along His Way. But repentance does not end there because, unfortunately, sin does not end there.
1 John 2:1a-2 tells us:
“But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”
Where sin continues, repentance must continue. And, thankfully, God is not done with us once we have sinned against Him. It turns out His mercy is indeed “abundant”, and His love is indeed “steadfast”. And it is in these truths that we find ourselves at either an impasse or a challenge.
Will we continue in our sinning against the holy, sovereign God of the universe, or will be submit to Him, seek after Him as Savior and Lord, and repent of our sin?
I cannot answer this for you. I cannot repent for you. No one can. This is personal between you and God. And, thankfully, He is a personal God who specializes in forgiveness, grace, and mercy. So, I urge you to consider King David’s song. May you sing out to God as a plea for mercy. May your heart’s song be a plea to His love and mercy and seek forgiveness.
If you do not know Christ as your Savior and Lord, it is my prayer that you cry out to Him and trust Him to save you. And, if you know Him already, it is my prayer that you “bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8).
As always, I want you to know that I love you and am praying for you, but, more than anything, I want you to know that you are loved by King Jesus. There is no greater love than that (John 15:13)!