Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your loving-kindness:
according to the multitude of Your tender mercies blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.
Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight:
that You might be justified when You speak, and be clear when You judge.
Behold, I was shaped in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts:
and in the hidden part You shalt make me to know wisdom.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean:
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Make me to hear joy and gladness;
that the bones which You have broken may rejoice.
Hide Your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God;
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from Your presence;
and take not Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore unto me the joy of Your salvation;
and uphold me with Your free spirit.
Then will I teach transgressors Your ways;
and sinners shall be converted unto You.
Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation:
and my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness.
O Lord, open my lips; and my mouth shall show forth Your praise.
For You desire not sacrifice; else would I give it:
You delight not in burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit:
a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.
Do good in Your good pleasure unto Zion: build the walls of Jerusalem.
Then shall You be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness,
with burnt offering and whole burnt offering:
then shall they offer bullocks upon Your altar.
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Psalm 51 was ascribed to the chief Musician, A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came unto him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.
The first time I read Psalm 50, I thought God was saying He didn’t want the sacrifices of the lambs, bullocks, etc., but only the sacrifices of thanksgiving and praise. But that is not true at all. He cannot discount the blood sacrifices for sin, but they are of little value if we do not give God our hearts. The blood sacrifices represented Christ’s work on the cross, looking forward to the ultimate perfect sacrificial Lamb. The recognition of His atoning work is not to be ignored, but neither is it to be glibly and ceremonially observed without a change of heart. It is not good enough to bring the bloody sacrifice and then walk away and live as I please, as though God does not exist, or at the very least as though He does not see.
Psalm 51 continues this theme. David, a man after God’s own heart, committed the sin of adultery with Bathsheba, and then he compounded that sin with deceit and murder. God did not immediately write him off, but neither could He let David get away with it. David repented, recognizing that he needed more than the blood of bulls and goats to restore his relationship with God. He needed a clean heart and a right spirit. To accomplish this, he first had to have a contrite heart and a broken spirit, and God would make them clean and right. God wanted first the sacrifices of righteousness, and afterward the burnt offering.
We no longer offer animal sacrifices for our sins because Christ came and paid the ultimate sacrifice. He shed His blood as God’s perfect Lamb. The debt of your sin and mine has been paid forever. His blood was shed once, and it only need be applied once. The book of Hebrews makes this point crystal clear. Christ died once for all our sins.
For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins. Therefore when He comes into the world, He says, “Sacrifice and offering You desired not, but a body have You prepared Me. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have had no pleasure.” Then said He, “Lo, I come to do Your will, O God.” He takes away the first, that He may establish the second. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right hand of God. —Hebrews 10:4-6,9-12
For Christ has not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: Nor yet that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters into the holy place every year with blood of others; for then must He often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world has He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment, so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time without sin unto salvation. —Hebrews 9:24-28
We have established that Christ died for our sins once for all. At the moment that I confessed my sins to God and asked Him to forgive me, He did just that. The blood of Jesus Christ, shed to pay the penalty for my sin, covered all of them—past, present, and future. This does not mean I am perfect, nor does it mean I never need to confess my sin again. But as a child of God, I do not confess my sin in order to seek forgiveness, but only to restore fellowship. Look again at David’s prayer. “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me…. Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation; and uphold me with Thy free spirit.” David was a man after God’s own heart. Yes, he failed, but he repented. And he repented not because he got caught, but because he missed that sweet fellowship with His Lord, and he wanted it back. “Cast me not away from Thy presence; and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.” David knew having a tender heart toward the Lord was the most important thing of all. Why? Because he had a responsibility to tell others about the goodness of the Lord. “Then will I teach transgressors Thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto Thee.” And God did continue to use David mightily, even after this great sin. We are much less forgiving of our fellow brothers and sisters, and that is sad.
We all fail
from time to time multiple times every day. But Proverbs 24:16a says, “A just man falls seven times, and rises up again.” Confess your sin, but don’t let confession become a ritual. Confession without repentance is nothing. The Lord has always been more interested in our attitude than in our actions.
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Photo taken in Chesapeake, Virginia, 2013.