Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. (Psalm 51: 10-12)
Even the most devoted Christians fall victim to sin.
Sometimes, it comes upon us suddenly and with little warning. We stub our toe and say something we shouldn’t. We hear about what happened to one of our family members and a flash of red-hot anger wells to the surface. Perhaps we even sin without fully knowing it – driving over the speed limit (and thus breaking the law), or failing to give thanks to God for something He provided for us.
‘Minor sins’ such as these (and I put the term in quotes because these transgressions are no less sinful than any others) are often looked upon in daily Christian life as nuisances. They’re typically the reason we sit down and say to ourselves ‘well, we are human, after all.‘ But at the end of the day, we can be rest assured these sins are forgiven us. It’s quite easy for us to look past a stray curse word or even a speeding ticket. When it comes to ‘nuisance sins,’ we often have little trouble resting in the power of Christ Jesus.
But what happens when our sins aren’t so small? What happens when we’ve really crossed the line, when we feel that we are so far from forgiveness that we might as well give up?
King David answers this question for us in our selected passage of this post: Psalm 51:10-12.
King David’s Series of Sins: a Background (2 Samuel 11:5-27)
One calm evening, with his entire army out at war, David took a stroll upon the roof of his palace and saw a beautiful woman bathing nearby. Enticed by her beauty, he sent someone to go and find out about her. One thing led to another and the two – King David and Bathsheba – slept together. Of course, the king was interested in nothing more than simply enjoying her for one night, and so he sent her back home the next morning. But some time later, he received what must have been a heart-stopping message: I am pregnant.
Now, this situation was complicated even further by the fact that Bathsheba was married. And not only was she married, but she was the wife of Uriah, one of David’s high-ranking warriors. David knew that he could not have the truth become known, so he started plotting to cover up his misdeed.
First, he attempted to send Uriah home in the hopes that he would make love to Bathsheba, thus covering up David’s role in her pregnancy. But Uriah did not go home, instead electing to sleep outside the palace.
David’s next plan was to get Uriah drunk, once again hoping that he would go home and spend the night with his wife. However, the solider did not return home as the king had anticipated.
Finally, feeling completely exhausted for options, David arranged for Uriah to be taken into battle. During the fight, the Uriah’s unit was commanded to suddenly fall back, leaving the solider behind to be killed by the onslaught of enemy forces. The plan worked just as David had hoped: Uriah was killed, excuses were made, and the cover-up was complete. When Bathsheba heard word of her husband’s death, she mourned, and then David took her as his wife.
However, according to 2 Samuel 11:27, “…the thing David had done displeased the Lord.”
Psalm 51: Following David’s Lead
As any moral person can attest to, what David did was not only bad; it was very bad. Planning the death of an innocent person is nothing short of despicable.
But unlike many sinners found throughout the Bible (cough, cough, Pharisees), David did not remain unrepentant. In fact, Psalm 51 was written as a plea towards God for forgiveness. It portrayed a man who was broken and sorrowful in the aftermath of a series of sinful actions and decisions.
Because of this, the chapter serves as a shining example for what to do when we feel like we’ve stepped beyond the ‘acceptable’ limit. Whether it’s a nasty word you said against someone, a conflict gone too far, or even the committing of a crime, you are not beyond God’s forgiveness.
With this in mind, let’s look at repentance and hope in light of Psalm 51.
“Create in me a pure heart, O God…”
To properly understand David’s plea for ‘a pure heart,’ we first must understand God’s will for our lives regarding purity. There are many verses in the Bible which speak to purity or some version thereof, exalting its virtuous place in the Christian life. Here are just a few of them:
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” – (Matthew 5:8)
“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” – (1 Timothy 4:12)
“How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word.” – (Psalm 119:9)
Clearly, purity is an integral part of God’s will for us. And given that it is of such importance to a healthy Christian lifestyle, we would be well-served by following David’s lead and asking God for a clean heart.
In my own experience with sin and darkness, I know that one of the biggest things getting in the way of my repentance is a certain ‘dullness’ of heart that follows the disobedience. I will commit a sin and then feel a dirtiness that causes me to run from confessing it.
It is during these times that I often bow my head and say something to the effect of, ‘Dear Father, I know that what I have done is wrong. Moreover, I know that I had every opportunity to stop it from happening, yet I still chose the pleasure of sin over the beauty and truth of your Word. I am sorry. I pray to you, Father, that you would create in me a pure and clean heart so that my focus might return to you.’
Psalm 37:4 tells us that God will give us the desires of our hearts. If one of our desires is to see our heart made right with God, then He will most certainly grant that request. Pray for your heart to be made pure, and God will wash it clean!
“…Renew a steadfast spirit within me…”
If the restoration of purity to our hearts is the first order of business after sinning, then the ‘renewal of a steadfast spirit within us’ comes soon after. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines steadfast as ‘firmly fixed in place: immovable.’ A second definition of the word, varying slightly from the first, is ‘firm in belief, determination, or adherence; loyal.’
When these definitions are looked at in light of the context of the verse, it becomes clear that they’re both pointing towards something which is firm, strong, and steady. In other words, the proper antidote for a sin-stricken heart is for one’s spirit to be renewed and strengthened by God.
Consider this: one of God’s foremost desires for us is that we would seek Him with all our hearts. How better can this be done than through a spirit which is strong and resolute? If I am being told to run a marathon, shouldn’t I be in shape first?
Paul often likens the Christian walk to a race. He tells us to ‘Run in such a way as to get the prize’ (1 Corinthians 9:24). So if we’re running a race – a spiritual race in which the prize is eternity with Jesus Christ – then having the strength and endurance to do so is paramount. And we ourselves do not possess this quality of strength; rather, it is given to us by God. As Paul said in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Our salvation was and is entirely through God’s grace. It’s all about Him. And when we are called to the Christian walk which follows salvation, we are also called to make sacrifices. We are called to lay down our lives. But God tells us that He will never leave us, not even until the end of the age. We don’t ‘run the race’ purely out of our own strength. If our salvation was solely through God’s will, then our strength and renewal will also be through God’s will.
So if you feel as though you’re beyond forgiveness, follow the example of David, and ask God – with all sincerity and humble reverence – to strengthen and sustain your spirit. He will answer you. After all, if our God is for us, then who can be against us?
“…Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me…”
Oftentimes, one of the most potent feelings we experience after committing a sin is that of a disconnect from God. We turn our heads to the ground and wonder ‘How can a holy and pure God love me after that?’
Although having a repentant attitude towards sin is vital in the Christian life, one of the greatest things about our salvation is that we don’t need to be trapped by feelings of guilt and sorrow. Christ has, once and for all, freed us from these through His work on the cross. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 7:10, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” An entire article could be written over this one line, but its essence can be summed up in a few points.
- Godly sorrow and worldly sorrow are different. They produce different mindsets, have different effects, and yield different results.
- Worldly sorrow is inherently self-based. It dwells upon sin’s negative impacts on the sinner himself, and, in many ways, it is a form of pride. Such sorrow is of no redeeming value in a person’s life.
- Godly sorrow is the opposite of worldly sorrow. Instead of brooding over the sin’s personal impacts for long periods of time, one recognizes it, confesses it, and then receives God’s forgiveness. Because all sins will be forgiven for the person who is a follower of Christ, (Mark 3:28) the transgression has been washed by the sacrificial blood and is no more.
- Although Godly sorrow will produce repentance and genuine forgiveness, it does not stop sin from taking its toll in this life. All of us are capable of making decisions, including bad ones, and each decision carries consequences.
As we bring our focus back to the verse at hand, we see that David was pleading for the Lord to remain in him. In doing so, he was practicing Godly sorrow. Did he feel bad for what he did? You bet. And was he full of regret? Of course he was. In fact, the prophet Nathan informed David that his rebellious act would result in the death of the child which was conceived (2 Samuel 12:14). David then did everything he could to save the child – fasting, lying on the ground, and praying for days on end – but it was to no avail.
Once the son had died, David rose from his fast and worshipped God. When questioned by his servants regarding his behavior, (it would have been customary to fast after the death of the child) David said, “Now that he is dead, why should I go on fasting? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Samuel 12:23).
David not only fully repented of his actions in the presence of God, but he also gave his sorrows and grief to Him. Instead of dwelling on his sin’s consequences, David acknowledged his wrong, asked forgiveness, and – most importantly – centered himself back upon the Lord.
“…Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”
It’s a fundamental fact of human nature that we often lose sight of what’s important. Starting a new job, for example, may come with feelings of great joy and great potential. You might even feel limitless in those first few days. Yet after a time, most people tend to settle into a routine, and their work turns from enjoyable to tolerable to downright monotonous. The novelty has worn off, leaving nothing behind but mere duties to be fulfilled.
Sadly, the same thing can happen to our walks with Christ. What was once full of wonder and excitement can, after a period of time, become commonplace. This is exactly what happened to David before the events of 2 Samuel 11 and 12 even took place; in fact, 2 Samuel 11 opens by informing us that David remained behind while his army was out at battle. In his boredom and complacency, David sought out the companionship of Bathsheba, setting the whole series of events into play. The king had lost his joy in God, and was now seeking to replace it with sinful actions.
A lack of joy in God is one of the root causes of sin. If we don’t have our eyes set on Him, then who (or what) will we turn to? Human beings have a built-in desire to worship something greater than ourselves – just look at how many religions we have across the world. If we aren’t setting our sights on God, we’ll turn to idols and substitutes. Ephesians 4:27 covers this idea very well by saying, “Do not give the devil a foothold.”
In my own personal experience, I’ve battled against various temptations and desires which are at their strongest when my joy in God is at its weakest. The more I would give in to these sins, the lower in quality would be my experience with God. Imagine your relationship with God as a living thing, and then imagine sin as a poison. The more poison you put into the relationship, the weaker and less healthy it will be.
David knew this truth all too well. When he committed adultery with Bathsheba, lied to cover it up, and ultimately arranged the death of Uriah, he was suffering from an already-weakened relationship with God. The more he sinned, the worse his relationship got, until he reached the point where in his repentance he cried ‘God, please! Please restore your joy to me, please give me a spirit that loves you and is willing to follow you!’ God’s response (through the prophet Nathan) was essentially the following: I forgive you, and I have made you whole again. The consequences of your sin will still remain, but I have healed your spirit.
If you’ve committed a major sin, or you’ve been locked in a pattern of sinning, God is waiting. He’s working in your heart; He is leading you to see the error of your ways. He loves you with an everlasting love, and it brings Him no greater joy than to see His children walking in Him with delight.
If you truly desire to be made new again, to set your sin behind you, to renew your faith as David did, then simply confess this to God and receive it by faith. The more you pray, the more you read the Bible, and the more you apply scripture to your life, the greater your joy in the Lord will become. After all, Matthew 21:22 says, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”
Our Lord is a God of love. Will it be easy to follow Him? No. Is our walk always full of happiness and prosperity? Not in the slightest bit; believers around the world both past and present often experience some of the worst persecution imaginable. But by turning our hearts back to Him, and focusing ourselves on Him as David did, He will heal our hearts and spirits from sin’s horrible stain. And one day, when we meet Him in heaven, our sin will be wiped away completely, just as He promises! Every tear, every ounce of pain, every trial – it will all be made right in the perfection of eternity.
As I bring this to a close, I’d like to leave you with one last verse: Matthew 28:20, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” God makes us a promise, and He will never go back on His word. Trust Him, turn from your sin, and ask for your heart and soul to be made clean.
Thank you for reading.