Confession, Transformation and Worship (Psalm 51)
When we read David’s prayer of confession, we don’t just see his story, we see our own.
Psalm 51 is a prayer of confession. What makes this Psalm so interesting is that it is born out of the personal prayer of David after he commits his sin of infidelity with his neighbor’s wife, Bathsheba. Why is that interesting? Because the collection of Psalms is what Jews used to sing in their times of worship. It was, for them, a collection of hymns they sang together to express their worship to God. So it is interesting that this personal prayer of confession, by David, somehow made it into the hymn book as a song that the nation of Israel would corporately sing together.
The reason for its inclusion is this: When we read David’s prayer of confession, we don’t just see his story, we see our own. His words are not reduced simply to his moment of failure, but they act as a mirror into our own soul, and they give us the words we so often fail to produce. David gives us a template to understand how we can at once confess our sins, and praise our forgiver. David does this in three movements – Identifying the problem of sin, moving to a petition for life, and concluding by a response of praise.
[If you don’t know the story from which this prayer arises, it can be found in 2 Samuel 11-12.]
I. Problem of Sin (Psalm 51:1-6)
In the story of David’s affair with Bathsheba, David never really realized how far his sin had led him. Not only did David impregnate another man’s wife, but in order to cover up his sin, he had the husband killed in battle. It wasn’t until Nathan, a local priest, was sent by God to confront him, that he was able to identify all that he had done and how it was reflecting his relationship with God. But when David realizes his sin, he humbles himself and confesses the he has sinned against God. Nathan’s encouragement to David was that God would forgive him of his sin, but the consequences of his action would result in the death of their child. In David’s confession, he was at once free from his sin and reconciled to God.
If we want to be freed from sin, we too must identify the sin in our life. The sin that is kept secret is the most dangerous of all because it begins to consume our thoughts and provoke our guilt. Even in spite of David’s sin, God assures him that because of his ability to humble himself and ask for mercy, he has been forgiven forever.
Who are the people in your life that you need to confess your sin to? You need at least three.
2. A Nathan-type character that can confront and console
3. The victim of your sin
But if true change is to come about, a change that will make the sin in our life truly go away, we can’t just rid our lives of sin, we must fill that place with something else entirely. This leads us to the next action in our prayer.
II. Petition to Life (Psalm 51:7-12)
David’s prayer doesn’t end with, “God forgive me”, but extends into, “God give me”. David realizes if there is going to be lasting change, God has to do something no one else can; to “create in me a new heart.” David wants a complete transformation. That word “create” is the same word used in Genesis when God creates the world “ex nihilo” (out of nothing). David isn’t asking for God to just wipe the dirt away, he is asking God to make something else in him entirely.
This aspect of confession and forgiveness is most frustrating to us because we want to be free from sin, but it will often return and we will carry out its old habits. Transformation is always a long and arduous process. A lot of us can easily identify and expose our sin, but to actually rid it from our lives is sometimes a lifetime struggle. God’s lesson to us from David’s story is that through a repentant heart, He will forgive us; even if sin continues to nag us the rest of our life. This is his grace.
But we cannot divorce God’s grace from his justice. Immediately when David confesses, Nathan informs him that God has forgiven him, but because of his actions, there has to be a consequence. That consequence would be the death of David and Bathsheba’s child.
This section of the story is often difficult for people. Why does this child have to die? This child never sinned, it was simply the result of others’ sin. It makes us question the justice of God. Is this really fair, that this innocent child has to suffer for the sake of another’s sin? But the story reminds us that another innocent child died at the cost of our sin: Jesus. God would surrender his own child at the cost of our sin so that his grace and justice could coexist. This prayer is no longer only a mirror for our own life but becomes the prayer of Jesus’ as well.
Suspended between heaven and earth, Jesus could sing this song as his own, not because he had sinned himself, but because he took our sin upon himself. He would pray “Have mercy on me”, not because he rebelled against God, but so that he could pay for our rebellion. This is the Gospel.
When David realizes the overwhelming grace of God and the cost at which it was paid, he ends his prayer in the only way you can when the Gospel enters your life: with worship.
III. Response of Praise (Psalm 51:13-19)
David says, “I will teach transgressors your ways” and, “Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise.” David knows that he is not the only one that has failed to uphold the righteousness of God and his ability to understand what God has done in his life motivates him to extend that grace to others. To offer hope to all who are held captive by sin. This result is both horizontal and vertical. David will worship God by telling others what he has done for him and by expressing to God the thankfulness of his heart.
This is how Psalm 51 made it into the hymn book. True confession and transformation always result in worship.