A common phrase, heard at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting is, “Hi, my name is so-and-so and I’m an alcoholic. I am powerless over alcohol.” In other words, they tried to control their drinking, they tried to drink in moderation, but they found out that for them, one little sip always led to one too many. The alcoholic is powerless over alcohol, and those in recovery have turned to a higher power to restore them to sanity and sobriety.
In the seventh chapter of Romans, Paul confesses that he is a sinner and he is powerless over sin. He says, “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” This realization of the power of sin drives Paul to despair. He cries out in Romans 7:22, “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”
Surely, all of us can identify with the struggles and the failures of Paul. Far too often we find ourselves doing that which we know is wrong; and, just as often we fail to do all the good that we know to do and want to do. This is the life altering power of sin at work in us and around us.
David, the author of our text, understood the power and the presence of sin. His life and his actions can help to show us the way to rise above the sin that so easily trips us and traps us. David’s life and David’s story is all of our stories.
David, like all of us, sinned against God. He failed to live up to God’s expectations. David, like every other human being, fell short of who God made him to be and wanted him to be. In this 51st Psalm, David helps us to see how we ought to respond to the fact of our sinfulness.
First, he confessed that he was a sinner. He doesn’t try to pretend as if he isn’t all that bad. He doesn’t try to justify his behavior. He doesn’t try to rationalize his irrationality that led him to sin against the God he loved.
True, there were human beings involved in the sin that had brought low, king David. But, in the final analysis it was God whom he sinned against.
Yes, Bathsheba and Uriah, the Hittite, were negatively impacted by the actions
of David. He saw beautiful Bathsheba bathing, and he had to have her. He slept
with another man’s wife and then had the man set up to be killed.
So yes, there were some other folk who suffered because of the sin of David. But, David understood that his offense ran deeper than just between him and another mortal.
His sin was more than just a violation of the marriage covenant and his duty to his army officer. Ultimately, the sin of David, and all of us, is against God.
Fundamentally, all people are connected to God. Human beings are created in the image of God and endowed with the spirit of God; therefore, there is a connection to God.
So, when we offend another person, when we injure another person, we are in essence sinning against God. Let us be ever mindful that Jesus informed us that whatever we do to the least of our brothers and sisters, we do it to Him.
If we mess over anybody, big or small, we are messing over God. If we do anybody wrong, whether we think they deserve it or not, we do wrong against God.
Yes, David sinned against Bathsheba and Uriah and even against the person God created him to be. But, more than that, he sinned against God and was therefore worthy of the wrath and the punishment of God.
David declares the judgments, the sentence of God to be fair. He does not complain that God is unjust. He does not try to minimize what he has done in order to plea for a lesser punishment.
Seeing that the son that he and Bathsheba conceived died, he understood in a very real and profound sense that the wages of sin is death. None of this does he deny, nor does he feel the penalty is too great.
But, in Psalm 51:1-2, we see that the posture of David is one of repentance. He throws himself at the foot of God’s throne of mercy. He doesn’t deserve mercy. But, he needs mercy.
David realizes that he is altogether unworthy to ask God for anything. He knows that his best attempt at righteous living has failed miserably.
He’s unfit to stand before God and ask for mercy. Still, he comes to God. But, not because of any good that is in him or because of any good that he has done or might do, but he seeks mercy based solely on the fact that God is a God of steadfast love.
David comes before the appeals court of almighty God, not seeking justice; he comes pleading for mercy. But, I want you to notice just what it is that David is asking for when he is asking for God’s mercy.
He is not seeking mercy for the healing of his body. He is not seeking mercy for the restoration of some lost fortune or for the wicked to cease from troubling him.
David is petitioning God to blot out his transgressions. David admits that he has sinned; and he realizes that apart from the mercy of God, he will remain in this sinful, fallen and tormented state.
David seeks to be washed of his iniquities. He wants to be freed from his depravity.
David wants to be free from the sin that is stifling his growth. He wants to be free of that weakness, that character defect and that personality flaw that is slowly, but surely, killing his soul and his spirit.
But, he knows that King though he may be, he is unable to make the change he so badly needs. King though he may be, rich and powerful though he is, David realized that something, somebody greater than himself, outside of himself, would have to bring this change he so desperately needs and wants.
In Psalm 51:6, David declares that this transformative power that he needs is found only in God. It is God who is able to purge and cleanse the sinner.
Unless God looks beyond his faults and sees his need for mercy, David will never really know joy anymore. Unless God forgives him and cleanses him, he will never know gladness in his life again.
David asks God to restore to him the joy that was lost when he invited sin into his life. Sin had cut David off from the saving presence of God.
When David allowed sin to run rampant in his life, he experienced a void in his heart where joy once lived. Therefore, he comes to God, asking God to restore that joy that comes from the saving presence of God.
David, the wretched and remorseful sinner, pleads with God to hide his face from his sins, to look upon them no more. He is seeking a clean slate, asking that his iniquities be blotted out.
But, let us take note that David doesn’t stop with just asking for God’s forgiveness. He realizes that it’s not really enough just to be forgiven of that which we have already done.
Unless there is a new creation within him, sooner or later, he’s going to fall back into the sin he is asking to be forgiven of. Unless God does more than just forgive him, the cancer of sin is going to return and the second state of his sinfulness will be worst than the first. He needs, we all need, more than just forgiveness.
David asked God to create in him a clean heart. It is not a renewed or improved heart he needs or seeks. David needed and we all need a clean, and new, heart to be created in us.
We need God’s spirit to give us a right spirit, if ever we’re going to live right. For, without God’s holy spirit there can never be a clean heart or a steadfast and right spirit.
In all of this, what we find is a man standing in the need of a blessing. What we find is a man standing in the need of grace and mercy. But, how, O how can a wretched sinner receive such amazing grace and mercy divine?
There isn’t enough money in all the banks in the world to buy the pardon that we need. There isn’t enough power in all the armies of the world to snatch by force, the forgiveness our souls are hungering for.
There isn’t enough goodness in any of us to earn the mercy that restores joy and creates new hearts. But, David reveals to us that there is yet a way to the very heart of almighty God.
It is a broken heart and a contrite spirit that God will accept and not reject. Neither burnt offerings nor any other type of ritual sacrifice moves the heart of God to forgive the sinner and extend mercy.
It is not the outward acts of sacrifice that God desires. But, an inward disposition of genuine sorrow over our transgressions will open the floodgates of mercy.
It is the more difficult sacrifice of self-righteousness and spiritual indifference that God will not reject. A broken and contrite heart, a heart that is heavy and grieved over the sinful actions committed, positions the sinful soul to receive the forgiveness of God.
If we really want to live in a right relationship with God, the fact of our sin ought to bring some sorrow, some remorse at having disappointed God. There ought to be some sadness and sorrow in the hearts of Christians when we confront the dark reality of our sinfulness.
But, thanks be to God, our sorrow is the very starting point for our salvation. It is sorrow that leads us to realize that we need God to not only forgive us, but to enable us and inspire us and empower us to seek his saving presence and power. Sorrow over sin opens the floodgates of mercy and make way for the salvation of our God.
© Clarence W. Davis 2005, Used by permission BlackandChristian.com
Rev. Clarence W. Davis is the pastor of Friendship Missionary Baptist Churchin Colorado Springs, Colorado. A frequent contributor to BlackandChristian.com, Davis earned a Master of Divinity and Master of Theology degrees from Harvard Divinity School.