Seeking a Pure Heart

Seeking a pure heart:

How to confess your sins

Dr. Jim Denison

Psalm 51

Why do we sin?

Here’s the background of Psalm 51. King David had an affair with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. She became pregnant. To cover his sin, eventually he had Uriah killed and took the widow as his wife. But God knew what he had done, and sent the prophet Nathan to expose his sin.

In this one event David broke nine of God’s Ten Commandments. He broke in order the tenth, coveting his neighbor’s wife; the seventh, by committing adultery; the eighth by stealing her for himself; the sixth by murdering her husband; the ninth, by lying about his sin; the fifth, by dishonoring his parents; the second, by making an idol of Bathsheba; and the first and third, by shaming God and his name. At least he didn’t break the Sabbath, that we know of.

Why did he do this? Why do we sin? Why do these things happen? Let’s do some theology together.

First, we have inherited a sin nature.

Verse 5 is clear: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” This verse does not mean that babies or fetuses sin; it means that we have all inherited a sin nature, a propensity to sin.

Romans 5:12 says, “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all have sinned.” We have each inherited a tendency toward sin.

Second, we choose to sin of our own free will. While we have this nature, we are nonetheless responsible for our own sin. God does not make us sin, and the “devil made me do it” is a cop-out. Our family backgrounds and circumstances are often contributing factors, but the choice is ours. We choose to sin.

Listen to James 1:14-15: “Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”

Third, Satan deceives us. The devil is very real, and he hates you. You are his enemy. Jesus said in John 8:44 that the devil is a “murderer from the beginning,” and “a liar and the father of lies.” He tempts and deceives every one of us.

He is sly and subtle, never tempting us to do what he knows we will not do. As when lights are dimmed slowly and our eyes adjust to the darkness, so he seeks to lead us by steps from sin to its devastating results.

As a result, we each think that we are the one person in all of human history who can sin without consequences. No one will know about us; we can do this and be o.k.; no one will be hurt. Every person in sin thinks it’s so. But as we all know, that’s a lie.

Mark it down: sin always takes you further than you wanted to go, keeps you longer than you wanted to stay, and costs you more than you wanted to pay. Always.

To summarize: why do these things happen? Because we have a sin nature, and we choose to sin; we are deceived into thinking we can do so without consequence. And the results are disastrous and devastating.

I read this week about a terrible work of modern art: a loaded shotgun affixed to a chair. It was to be viewed by sitting in the chair and looking directly into the gunbarrel. The gun was set on a timer to fire at an undetermined moment within the next hundred years. And people waited in line to sit and stare into the gun!

Get out of that line, now.

What do we do when we sin?

Our second question: what do we do when we sin? Our psalm is very clear.

First, we turn to God (1-2). We ask for his “mercy,” which is not getting the punishment we deserve. We ask for his “unfailing love,” the Old Testament word for “grace,” which is getting the love and forgiveness we don’t deserve. We ask him to “blot out” our transgressions, a Hebrew phrase which means to wash the garment until it is clean and the stain is gone.

Our tendency when we sin is to run from God and his church, when we need to do the opposite. The sick need a doctor; the sinner needs God.

Second, we admit our sin to him (3-4). Our human reaction is to excuse our sin, to transfer blame to others, or to rationalize what we have done. A lawyer once told he never met a guilty defendant. Every one had justified his or her behavior somehow.

But David didn’t–he admitted his “transgressions,” which means to cross the boundaries of what is right. He acknowledged his “sin,” his moral failure.

And he stated correct theology: “Against you only have I sinned” (v. 4). We hurt other people, sometimes in horrible ways; but by theological definition we “sin” against God.

Third, we come to God in repentance and contrition (16-17). We don’t try to excuse our behavior by right and good actions (16). Instead, we come before God on bended knees and broken hearts. We are genuinely contrite and sorry for our horrible choices and actions.

God promised in 2 Chron. 7.14, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray, and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and forgive their sin, and heal their land.” If we come to him in humility and contrition.

This is not because humble repentance earns God’s forgiveness, but because contrition receives it. I cannot receive with a fist. I must admit I need what God can give, and open myself to receive it. So must you.

Fourth, we claim God’s cleansing (7-12). Then, when we confess our sin God does truly forgive and cleanse us. Hyssop was used by a priest to sprinkle the blood of a sacrifice over the sinner. So God cleanses us by the blood of his Son, Jesus Christ, who paid for all our sins.