The Believer’s Confession of Sin (Psalm 51)

The Believer’s Confession of Sin (Psalm 51)


Psalm 51, I read to you earlier, this is the
Psalm that I want to look at with you for just a few minutes to prepare our hearts for
our time around the Lord’s table. There’s something about the life of the church
that is joyous. We all understand that. We’ve expressed that joy, we’ve laughed already
this morning. We laugh rather easily around here because
we have so much joy in our hearts. It just bubbles on the surface and easily
comes out. And the reason we have so much joy is that
our eternity is settled, that we have no fear of death, we have no fear of the future. We don’t live in terror about Satan doing
something to us, overpowering God in some way. We know that can never happen. We know that our lives are secure in the purposes
of God in the salvation of God granted to us in Christ. He takes care of us, He meets our needs, He
provides for us everything that we will need in time and eternity and promises to bring
us to glory and His Word is true. So we live in this trust, we live in this
hope and this confidence that produces joy. And so you’re going to find if you come to
an experience of true Christians there will be a joy, a joy that’s not necessarily connected
to contemporary circumstances because we have people dying all around us in our congregation
from older people to little ones, and the aches in the hearts of people are deep and
great and everybody understands what it is to live in a fallen, suffering world. Every time the elders meet on a Sunday morning,
it seems as though the list of prayer requests of people who are suffering from cancer from
one kind or another to one degree or another grows and grows and grows. We all understand that. We all understand the great pain and difficulty
of life. But there’s still something overwhelmingly
joyous about having confidence that God is in charge of absolutely everything and our
eternity is settled in the promise of heaven. But while we do experience joy, even in the
midst of the challenges of life, we also are a very sober-minded people. We also move easily to deep contemplation. We…we even move easily from celebration
to confession, don’t we? One minute we’re eager to praise the Lord
and sing at the top of our voices about the glories of the cross and the wonders of heaven
and we love hearing that magnificent music, beautiful words bathed in the sounds of the
strings and the woodwinds and the organ and all of that, and those things lift our hearts
in celebration. But in the next minute, here we are ready
to confess our sins. We live in the ambivalence of celebration
and confession and that’s really the way it ought to be. In fact, the church is the one and only organization
where members meet regularly to acknowledge themselves as wretched sinners, worthy of
nothing but damnation. In the true church of Jesus Christ, there
is a kind of obsession with sin. Now that’s not popular today, even in quote/unquote
churches. The more Christian a church is and the more
mature its people are, the more sensitive it is to sin. I was exposed to a church, it calls itself
a church and watched the service on television recently and the first thing the pastor did
was say, “Welcome to our worship, we’re going to worship the Lord together.” And he said, “Let’s pray.” And the first words out of his mouth as he
articulated his prayer, “O Lord, we deny anything that is negative, we deny anything that takes
away our joy. We reject all thoughts of loss. We reject anything that would steal our dreams,
our ambitions, our goals, our desires,” and he went on and on with this kind of thing
for rather extended period of time. And I thought to myself, “If that’s Christian
at all, it certainly as infantile and as immature as a Christian prayer could ever be because
the heart and soul of a true believer who comes to worship is, first of all, to come
to grips with the reality of his or her own sinfulness. We come to confess things that are negative. We come to confess our weakness, our inabilities,
our deceptiveness, our tendency to be dishonest, disloyal, unloving, unkind, the fallenness
of our flesh, the constant recycling of our tendencies toward iniquity and sins in the
same kind of categories. Churches that talk about only good things
don’t ever speak of sin, don’t ever lead the people to serious contemplation and confession
of sin may not be Christians at all, they may be churches, but not made up of Christians
or if some are Christians, they are of the most immature kind. The more mature believer is, the more likely
a believer is to open his mouth in any expression of worship and come out, first of all, with
a confession of his own unworthiness. It was Isaiah, you know, who was the best
man in his nation, he was the prophet of God, he was the noblest of all who in Isaiah 6
said, “I am a man of unclean lips and I come from a people of unclean lips.” And he pronounced a curse on himself for his
own wretched sinfulness. It was the Apostle Paul in Romans chapter
7 who said, “O wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from the body of this death?” He was the best, he was the best of us, maybe
the noblest Christian that ever lived and he was really distraught and overwhelmed by
his own wretched sinfulness. Whenever the church gathers to worship on
a Sunday here, it gives the opportunity for one of us to pray a pastoral prayer and part
of that pastoral prayer prayed in the service usually after the reading of the Scripture
is to acknowledge our unworthiness, our sinfulness. To acknowledge that not only are we sinful
and unworthy, but our dreams and ambitions and desires and goals are corrupted. The notion that we’re supposed to come to
church to tell God He needs to fulfill everything we want couldn’t be further from the truth. We come to say, “Lord, the things that I want
may be worldly things and earthly things and passing things and temporal things and even
sinful things and even corrupting things, rather I want what You want for me, the highest
and the best and the good. But I confess that none of that is in me.” The church never worships more purely than
when it confesses its own sinfulness because that’s the platform in which we enter into
worship, recognition of our own sinfulness and our own unworthiness. Everybody understands David was a great worshiper,
wasn’t he? Great worshiper. He wrote many, many, many Psalms, dozens and
dozens of Psalms. And we use those Psalms to worship and they
are worshiping Psalms. But David also understood the wretchedness
of his own heart and he was a true worshiper who knew that while it was one thing to come
to God and give Him glory, it was also an equal critical thing to come to God and recognize
his own unworthiness. He is not a spiritual novice, this David,
he is a man after God’s own heart. He didn’t write this psalm at some immature
moment in his life. He wrote it at the pinnacle of his life, at
the very pinnacle of divine blessing on his life. He was a man after God’s own heart. He was a man who hated iniquity and unrighteousness
in others but hated it even more in himself. And so he’s going to be the one to lead us
in our confession this morning. Look at Psalm 51 for a moment. We’ll just get an overview of this great Psalm. Its characteristic is true confession, that’s
what it’s about. He is the broken and the contrite heart that
he describes in verse 17. That’s him. And he knows God will not despise a broken
and contrite heart. This psalm bears the mark of deep guilt. This psalm bears the mark of penetrating pervasive
almost debilitating remorse over sin. This is a Psalm written out of pain, anxiety,
fear and reveals the essence of a true confession. Now David had some problems. He was a man after God’s own heart. He was a great worshiper, a great writer of
Psalms, a singer of Psalms. He had known the blessing of God. He had declared the blessedness of God. But he had problems. He was a man and he was a sinful man even
though he had been forgiven by God. And he particularly seemed to have a problem
with women. When he wanted a woman, he took her no matter
who she might have belonged to. And his story is a sad story when you look
at it from the vantage point of his many escapades with women and his wives. And he taught his dissolute lessons to his
son very well, for Solomon far exceeded his own father’s sins with women. It was at the height of his power, it was
the height of his time of blessing under the goodness of God that he became infatuated
with the beautiful Bathsheba who was the wife of one of his military officers by the name
of Uriah. Bathsheba was not innocent in the situation. She put herself in a position to be seen by
the king from the top of his palace, she was sunbathing, as it were, on her own roof. I don’t think she was innocent at all in what
she was doing and David certainly was not innocent, being attracted to her. You know the rest of the story. He went to her and she became pregnant. David now has a dilemma. He sought to solve his dilemma by arranging
to have her husband who is out fighting in his own defense, David’s defense, the defense
of his nation and his kingdom. He has the plan to push a small group of men
forward into conflict with the enemy and make sure Uriah was in the group and then have
everybody else retreat, leave Uriah there where he will be killed. And that is exactly what they did and he was
killed. It was a murder defacto. Then conveniently forgetting his intrigue,
David gave the man a military funeral with all honors and proceeded as if it was some
noble act to marry his widow. There are many Old Testament historians who
would date the beginning of the breakup of the Unified Kingdom of Israel with this particular
sin. It finally shattered after the reign of Solomon,
but this may have been where the seeds were sown. And the child…the child died. And there were other children born to David
and Bathsheba, most notable Solomon. His life was certainly a troubled life. The other children had trouble as well, heart-breaking
life experiences. But for David, the whole ugly scene left its
impact on him. He became obsessed with this sin. It preyed on his mind. It weighed him down until he got relief through
real confession. And that is what you see in Psalm 51. Here is the confession of a man who feels
the full burden of his own guilt. If I were to sum up what David was feeling,
I might say it like this, “Sin had made him dirty and he wanted to be clean. Guilt had made him sick and he wanted to be
well. Disobedience had made him lonely and he wanted
to be reconciled. Rebellion had made him fearful and he wanted
to be pardoned.” That’s what comes out of Psalm 51, a man who
feels dirty, sick, isolated and afraid…all consequence of his sin. And out of that, he pours forth this confession
and it has all the right perspectives of a true confession would be threefold…see your
sin for what it is, see God for who He is, and see yourself for who you are. Any true confession is going to have to interact
with those components. First of all, it’s clear from this Psalm that
David understood his sin for what it was and there are at least five aspects to his perspective
on his sin. Number one, he knew that his sin deserved
judgment…he knew that his sin deserved judgment. In fact, at the end of verse 4, notice he
says, “So you are justified when You speak and blameless when You judge.” If You speak judgment against me, if You judge
me for this sin which would mean death and hell, if I am to be forever separated from
You, if this is a damning sin, if this is permanently end for us, You are blameless,
You are blameless. This is a confession of his own guilt and
it deserves judgment. Going in to verse 1, however, let’s look at
it from the perspective of the opening statement, “Be gracious to me, O God.” Or in the second line, “According to the greatness
of Your compassion.” He is appealing to grace and compassion. Why? Because he cannot appeal to justice. He cannot appeal to law. He cannot appeal to merit. He cannot appeal to achievement. He understands what he deserves. And he knows God would be blameless if He
damned him. He cries for the only thing he can cry for
and that’s grace which implies that he knew he deserved judgment. In Psalm 103:10 it says, “He has not dealt
with us according to our sins nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.” If we received what we should receive, we
would all perish everlastingly. Psalm 130 verse 3 says, “If the Lord should
mark our iniquities, who could stand?” So he knows what every true penitent knows,
that he deserves judgment. He feels the weight of judgment. This is humility. He deserves the wages of sin which is death. There’s a great illustration of this among
many in Scripture in what I think is probably the most instructive prayer in the Old Testament,
it’s in Daniel 9, as Daniel prays for his people. It has this same sense that what they all
deserve is judgment. Daniel 9 verse 4, “I prayed to the Lord my
God confessed and said, ‘Alas, O Lord, the great and awesome God who keeps His covenant
and loving kindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments, we have sinned,
committed iniquity, acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from Your commandments and ordinances.'” And then in verse 7, “But righteousness belongs
to You, O Lord, to us open shame.” Verse 8, “Open shame belongs to us because
we sinned against You.” Verse 11, “All Israel has transgressed Your
Law.” So the curse has been poured out on us. We deserve it. That’s where true confession begins, with
a recognition that we deserve judgment, even as a believer, a recognition that I need to
be chastened for my sin. David was a believer. He wasn’t talking here about everlasting eternal
judgment in the more personal sense. He is saying, “I know that I deserve whatever
just judgment should fall upon me for this iniquity.” There’s a sense in which as believers then,
we know that all the time we live in this world, God at any point has a right to bring
judgment on our heads, to discipline us. We can appeal only to mercy and that’s the
second point. True penitence deserves judgment. True penitence recognizes its appeal is only
to mercy. “According to Your loving kindness, be gracious
to me. According to Your compassion.” He’s pleading for compassion. The word lovingkindness is chesed , that’s
an Old Testament word for grace, or mercy. I can plead for nothing else. I can only ask for mercy or grace. What is that? Undeserved favor, undeserved consideration,
undeserved, unmerited withholding of judgment. The sinner understands then because he deserves
judgment, because he cannot earn righteousness, he can only plead for grace. This is the essence of all Old Testament genuine
salvation…sinners who knew they cannot get from God by their own desserts and deserving
anything but judgment, pled for mercy and grace. Thirdly, in his perspective on sin, a truly
penitent person not only understands that he deserves judgment, he desperately needs
grace, but he also understands his guilt…he understands real guilt. “Blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity.” Notice these personal pronouns. Cleanse me from my sin. I know my transgressions and my sin is ever
before me. Boy, there are a lot of me’s and my’s, right? Personal guilt. And David uses all the words for evil. He says, “Blot out my transgressions, wash
me from my iniquity, cleanse me from my sin,” then uses the word transgression again, then
the word sinned in verse 4. The three words, standard words for evil,
transgression, iniquity, sin, he uses them all, implying the comprehensive problem that
has fouled his life. He is overwhelmingly guilty of sin by every
definition…by every definition. “I am guilty.” What this is saying is, a fourth element,
he accepts all responsibility. He knows he deserves judgment. He needs grace. He is genuinely guilty and he has to take
full responsibility. Please notice, he blames only himself…my
iniquity, my sin, my transgression, my sin. Verse 4, “Against You, You only I have sinned
and done what is evil in Your sight.” He doesn’t blame God, like Adam did when he
said, “The woman You gave me.” He doesn’t blame another person like the woman
did who said, “The serpent deceived me.” He doesn’t blame the serpent or Satan. It’s my sin, it’s my iniquity, it’s my transgression,
I did it. Violence against Your holy majesty, rebellion
against Your will, disobedience against Your Word, blasphemy against Your name, and I have
done it…I have done it. I am fully responsible. He places no blame on circumstances, no blame
on Satan, no blame on God. This is the essence of a true, true confession. He takes full responsibility. And again that is carried in the last words
of verse 4 by the statement again, “You will be justified where You need to judge me. You would be blameless where You would have
damned me and condemned me.” Don’t blame anybody else. Don’t blame Satan. Don’t blame your circumstances. Don’t blame God. Don’t undo your confession by minimizing your
responsibility. You are the sinner. You are guilty. You need grace and you are fully responsible. And there’s one other component. He understands this is part of who he really
is, this is part of his nature. This is powerful. Verse 5, “Behold…wow, in the vernacular,
it’s a superlative…I was brought forth in iniquity. In sin my mother conceived me.” What a statement! He doesn’t mean he was an illegitimate child,
he wasn’t. He doesn’t mean he was born out of some adulterous
affair, he wasn’t. What he means is that from conception he was
a sinner. You can’t come to worship and say, “We reject
all negative thoughts about ourselves.” You can’t do that. You’re a wretched, corrupt sinner from conception
on. What David is saying is that this is not an
anomaly, this is not, “Oops, something went wrong here, I’m basically a good person.” This is David saying, “In all honesty, this
is really who I am.” This is full admission you are born a sinner,
that you have congenital depravity. And who can make a clean out of an unclean? The heart is deceitful above all things and
desperately wicked. In the flesh is no good thing and the flesh
is still here, isn’t it? You want to make a true confession of your
sin? Then acknowledge that you deserve judgment
and the Lord would be blameless if He judged you with the severest judgment. Acknowledge that you can appeal only to grace
because you can’t merit God’s mercy and forgiveness and restoration. Understand that you are guilty and need deliverance
from that guilt by the mercy of God. Accept full responsibility for your sin, laying
the blame on no one but yourself. And be honest enough to admit this is you…this
is you. That is a broken and a contrite heart and
that the Lord will not despise. But confession cannot end there. Its hope is found in the view of God. So you move from the view of sin to the view
of God in verse 6. Several very important elements, first of
all, you understand that God desires holiness on the inside. So a true confession recognizes that I am
appealing to You, O God, to change me on the inside. “Behold…verse 6…You desire truth, or honesty,
or integrity, or righteousness in the innermost being, in the hidden part You will make me
no wisdom.” You want to clean up my inside. You want righteous wisdom to reign on the
inside. Now it is the element of a true confession
to go to God and to come before God penitent, broken over your own sin and understand that
what God wants is not some kind of a superficial outside cleanup but something that’s going
to take the inside and thoroughly, cathartically cleanse it. You understand God doesn’t just want certain
behaviors. God looks on the heart. True confession understands that. You’re coming to a holy God who won’t be content
with a superficial change. So true confession understands that this is
really me saying, “I want to be clean all the way down in the inside.” Don’t just stop me at the point of adultery,
stop me long before that at the point of lust. That’s honest confession, recognizing that
God is a God of holiness who wants purity deep on the inside. Secondly, David recognizes not only God’s
holiness but God’s power. That’s important. Why is it important? Because you don’t want to come for cleansing
to a God who doesn’t have the power to do it, right? So he says, so importantly, verse 7, “Purify
me with hyssop,” and what will be the result? “I’ll be clean. Wash me, I’ll be whiter than snow.” If You clean me, I’ll be clean. If You purify me, I’ll be pure. I can’t do it. This is the idea that you can’t lift yourself
up by your own bootstraps. You can’t do it by well-intentioned resolutions,
for example. I have to come to You. Hyssop, by the way, was a shrub used to apply
blood and water in a purification ceremony and he just borrows that picture, just purify
me, ceremonially. Wash me, You do it, O God, because if You
do it, it will be done, it will be thorough. You have the power. You have the power. You can remove my transgressions, You can
wash me. And though my sins are as scarlet, You can
make them as wool. Though they’re red like crimson, they can
be as white as snow, Isaiah 1. You come to a God who has the power to do
a real cleansing. You know, the next attribute that you would
need to know was true of God was His willingness, or His goodness. He’s already stated that God is a God of compassion. Is He willing to do this? He’s a God of lovingkindness. According to Your lovingkindness, an already
established reality there in verse 1. He has experienced that God is a God of grace
and forgiveness and mercy and compassion and lovingkindness. That’s critical. So he knows God desires that this take place. In verse 8, “Make me hear joy and gladness. Let the bones which You have broken rejoice.” He wants restoration. He wants reconciliation. God has broken his bones, metaphorically speaking,
crushed him. He is now a broken and contrite heart. He wants the restoration that he knows God
wants. You know, when you go to the Lord in the time
of confession and you pour out your heart in this true confession attitude, you already
know that this is what God is waiting for. And when this confession comes, the discipline
ends because God is by nature a forgiving God. Verse 9, “Hide Your face from my sin. Blot out all my iniquities.” He knows this is consistent with the nature
of God. Micah 7:18 and 19, “Who is a pardoning God
like You?” Or as it says in the Psalms, “He removes our
sins…Psalm 103:12…as far as the east is from the west. Buries them in the depths of the sea. Remembers them no more.” God is a forgiver by nature. Psalm 86:5; Psalm 99:8; Psalm 130 verse 4;
everywhere, but Psalm 130 verse 4, good to remember, “There is forgiveness with You.” So God is holy, that sets the standard. That sets the standard for forgiveness. He wants holiness. He is powerful, that establishes the source
of this cleansing, He has the power to do it. He is willing because it is that which He
desires. He is forgiving. So he understands his sin and he understands
his God. And so here comes in verse 10 his prayer…this
is the prayer of the penitent who understands his sin and understands his God, “Create in
me a clean heart, O God, renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence. Do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation. Sustain me with a willing spirit.” I just want forgiveness. I want a clean heart, not a dirty one. I want a steadfast spirit, not a wavering
duplicitous unfaithful one. I don’t want this isolation, this cosmic loneliness
of being separated from You. I don’t want You to take Your Holy Spirit
from me. This isn’t saying a believer can have the
Holy Spirit and have the Holy Spirit removed. David is king, he has a special anointing
on his life, an anointing that was indicated as the coming of the Spirit. Remember in the Old Testament it says, “The
Spirit of God came upon So-and-so and he prophesied and the Spirit of God departed?” This is a unique Old Testament gift from God,
an enabling of the Spirit for some unique role within the purposes of God in the theocratic
kingdom. David wants to have the anointing in the future,
he wants to be a faithful king. He wants to be useful to God. And then in verse 12 he wants the joy that
he once had in salvation. He didn’t lose his salvation, he just lost
the joy. And he wants a willing spirit…a spirit that
is devoted only to that which pleases God. This is the heart cry of a truly penitent
man. We could say a lot more about that but just
to wrap it up. There’s a perspective on himself that’s at
stake here. Looking at now his own purpose, his own life. If I as a believer deal with the sin in the
right way, understand God in a right way, I still have to consider myself. And David did that. And I still have to ask the question, “What
would forgiveness do for me? How would it change me? How would it impact me and make me impact
others?” And he begins with sinners. If he gets his life right, if he is washed
and clean, how is that going to effect sinners? Verse 13, “Then I will teach transgressors
Your ways and sinners will be converted to You.” Wow! You want to have a life that matters? You want to have a testimony? You want to have a witness? You want to have an effective pattern of living
that draws people to salvation? You want to be able to teach transgressors
the ways of God so that they will be converted? Then you have to have your life washed and
purged. That reminds us of Isaiah, right? The angel takes the coal, puts it to his tongue,
he’s cleansed. The Lord says, “Whom will I send and who will
go?” Isaiah says, “Here am I, Lord, send me,” and
He sends him. He’s looking for the cleansed. Verse 14, he even expands it, “Deliver me
from bloodguiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation. Do this then my tongue will joyfully sing
of Your righteousness.” This is more of his witness. He can joyfully sing of the righteousness
of God. Verse 15 even expands it more, “O Lord, open
my lips that my mouth may declare Your praise. Free me up from the burden of this guilt and
I’ll teach transgressors Your ways and sinners will be converted and I’ll joyfully sing of
Your righteousness and my mouth will declare Your praise. Touch the coal to my mouth, like You did to
Isaiah’s, so I can be a witness to sinners.” There’s a second consideration that he makes
as he looks at himself. Verses 16 and 17, this has to do not with
sinners but with God. “You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise
I would give it. You’re not pleased with burnt offering.” That alone doesn’t do it. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” The key word here is “You do not delight in,”
or “You are not pleased with.” What’s David saying? I want a life that pleases You. I want my life to have an effect on sinners,
lead them to conversion. I want my life to have a positive effect on
You. I want You to delight in my life. Wow! I want my life to please You. I want You to find pleasure in my life. And then finally, it’s the saints. He understands that if his own life isn’t
right, he’s not going to be useful to the saints. But once he’s cleansed, then he’s useful to
the saints. How? Psalm 66:18 says, “If I regard iniquity in
my heart, the Lord will not hear me,” right? If my life is impure, my prayers don’t get
answered. That means I can’t pray for you and expect
an answer. So in verses 18 and 19 he prays for his people. “By Your favor do good to Zion, build the
walls of Jerusalem. Restore Jerusalem in righteousness. Then You will delight in righteous sacrifices
because they won’t just be offerings that are external, they’ll be righteous sacrifices
and burnt offering and whole burnt offering and then young bulls will be offered on Your
altar,” meaning with a right attitude. The point being that he now feels that he
can pray for His people. The point is this, if my life is not pure,
then I can’t be an effective evangel to the sinners, I can’t bring delight to God and
I can’t be useful to intercede on behalf of the saints. The prayers of a righteous man produce much. What’s at stake here? Your usefulness to the lost, your usefulness
to the church and even your usefulness to God. Father, as we come now to this table, we are
recognizing in our own lives our own sinfulness. May we see sin the way the Psalmist saw it
as worthy of judgment, in need of grace, producing guilt. May we accept full responsibility for our
sin. May we understand that it is an expression
of who we really are in our remaining flesh and fallenness. May we come to You as a holy God, who desires
genuine internal purity, as a God who is powerful enough to effect that transformation, who
is willing to forgive. And may You do this work in us. Cleanse us, Lord, that we might be useful
to sinners and saints and that we might even bring delight to You. Lord, now as we come to this table, we realize
what David didn’t yet know that the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross paid the penalty to make
this forgiveness available. We’re not asking for salvation, we want the
joy of our salvation back. We already belong to You. We want purity of life because we want usefulness
and we want delight to come to You and we want to be able to administer effectively
to the saints. As we come to the Lord’s table, we’ve been
reminded that we shouldn’t come in an unworthy way. We need to confess our sin, examine our hearts,
see that nothing is between us and You, confessing our sins. Lord, would You move in every heart by Your
Holy Spirit to prompt that conviction that leads to confession and may it be a genuine
confession. Produce in us a true, broken and contrite
spirit. Cleanse us, create in us a clean heart, renew
a right spirit that would please You. We thank You for the cross of Christ which
makes this forgiveness possible.

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