1 Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.
5 Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me
6 Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.
9 Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.
12 Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.
13 Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.
15 O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.
When Edward R. Murrow was appointed as director of the United States Information Agency by President John F. Kennedy, he was interviewed by a Senate committee. Among other things, they wanted to know what he would do to counteract communist propaganda against America. He replied, “I believe that we ought to report all the news, the warts, the blemishes, as well as the sunshine.”
Whenever the word of God reports on anybody it is with an unvarnished honesty. The scriptures never gloss over the sins, faults, and failures of anybody.
King David is a case in point. Though he was a man after God’s own heart the word of God exposes his warts and blemishes as well as his virtues. The best of men sometimes do the worst of things and when they do God doesn’t try to hide it from the rest of us.
In 2 Samuel the story is told of David’s great sin. He took another man’s wife and arranged for her husband to be killed. Watergate was not the first government cover-up. David did wrong and tried to cover it up himself.
He was the king. Who would reprimand him? No one had to. David’s own witness of this experience is found in Psalm 32. “When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer.”
A modern translation puts it this way: “When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away.” David’s guilt affected his entire being. He suffered physically as well as emotionally and spiritually. He tried to conceal his guilt, but inwardly it was tearing him apart. Guilt almost always does that to us. It creates a tension between the need to conceal and the need to reveal.
David went on his way for almost a year. Then the Lord sent Nathan to help him acknowledge his guilt and to get it out where redemption could be done. Nathan told David about a story of a rich man who had everything, and a poor man who had only one ewe lamb. When a traveler came, the rich man spared his own flock and took the poor man’s one lamb for the traveler. David’s anger was kindled. His reaction was very human. We hate most vigorously the evil in others that we secretly recognize in ourselves. David told Nathan that this man would pay and he asked who he was. Nathan answered, “Thou art the man.”
What David had feared most had happened. He was exposed!
His response to that exposure was one of agonizing repentance. Though his sins were not without consequences, from his repentance came deliverance. Psalm 51 is David’s prayer of repentance and Psalm 32 is his witness to his sweetness of forgiveness; “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.” Healing came with God’s forgiveness in David’s life and it comes to us the same way.
The 51st Psalm was written more than 3,000 years ago. But it is as current as yesterday’s notes from a psychiatrist counseling session. Among other things it presents to us the five steps to forgiveness.
If you would like to have your sins forgiven, if you would like to have peace with God and with yourself, if you would like to be clean again, David tells us how.
The five steps to forgiveness are:
Faith: you must believe in the love and the mercy of God.
Honesty: you must acknowledge the seriousness of your sin.
Prayer: you must ask God to forgive you.
Repentance: you must turn from your sins and to God in renewed service.
Sincerity: you must be brokenhearted over your sin.
1. You must have faith in God.
The first step to forgiveness is faith—you must believe in the love and the mercy of God.
David prays, “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions” (verse 1).
David’s appeal is for mercy. He is not the least bit interested in justice. Actually, none of us are. The scriptures say, “If the Lord should mark iniquity, who could stand?” The word mark is a bookkeeping term. It means to enter into a ledger. If the Lord should place a mark against us in the ledger of sins, none of us could stand before God. We are like the lady who went to a photographer to have her picture made. When she viewed the proofs she expressed her displeasure to the photographer saying, “These picture don’t do me justice.” The photographer replied, “Lady, you don’t need justice, you need mercy.” That’s the way it is with all of us. None of us wants to be dealt with according to our sins.
David appeals to the nature and character of God. He believes that God is a God of loving kindness. He believes that God is a God of tender mercies. So his appeal is, “Lord, deal with me according to what you are ... not according to what I am.”
The most wonderful truth in the Bible is that God is a God of love and mercy. Thank God for a mother’s love. But as wonderful as it is and sorely as it is needed, there is a love far greater. “Can a woman forget her suckling child,” asked God through the prophet Isaiah (49:15). “Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.”
Thank God for a father’s love. But as wonderful as it is, there is a love far greater. “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him” (Psalm 103:13).
Thank God for parental love. But as wonderful as it is, there is a love far greater. “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up” (Psalm 27:10).
Would a woman lay down her own life for her child? Would she give the life of our child to save the life of an enemy? Would she do it, knowing that her sacrifice might be disregarded and even sneered at?
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
Two young girls were standing on the deck of a ship early one morning. The older said to the younger, “Isn’t it a beautiful day? And look at the horizon, how beautiful it is.”
The younger girl looked at her with a bit of puzzlement on her face and asked, “What is a horizon?”
The older girl pointed off into the distance and said, “See there where the sea rises up to meet the sky, and where the sky drops down to meet the sea—that’s a horizon. And when you get there it will not be there anymore. It will be gone, and there will be another and another and another because the horizon is always farther on.”
That’s the way God’s love is. Just about the time you think you have exhausted it, that you have reached its limits, you discover that there is more of it yet available.
2. You must be honest before God.
The first step on the road to forgiveness is to believe in the love and the mercy of God. The second step to forgiveness is honesty—you must acknowledge the seriousness of your sin.
When we do something noble and kind, most of us are more than glad to accept the credit. But when we do something wrong, we often sidestep the blame. We excuse ourselves and we accuse others.
But there is none of this in David. He honestly confesses the fact of his sin and takes full responsibility for it. He prays, “Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest. Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me” (verses 2-5).
David uses three words to describe what he had done. The three words are iniquity, transgressions, and sin. The word iniquity means “to twist” or “to pervert that which is good.” God has marked out a straight and narrow path for us but we have taken the perfect law of God and twisted it. We have perverted the will and the way of God from his intended purpose.
The word transgress means to deliberately rebel against the law of God. Have you ever been walking in the woods, perhaps hunting, and seen a fenced area with a sign “No Trespassing”? If you had ignored the sign and climbed through the fence you would have been a transgressor. To trespass means “to cross over the limits” or to ignore the “thou shalt not...”
The word sin means “to miss the mark.” It carries with it the idea of an archer who draws back his bow and takes aim at a distant target. But his aim is off and the arrow falls short of the bull’s eye. Sin means failing to do what we are required to do.
We may not be as bad as we could be. And we may not be as bad as someone else. But we are not what we ought to be. We have all come short of perfection, thus we are sinners.
Now let us consider for a moment what we mean by sin. Sin means failing to do what we are required. Trespass means doing what is forbidden. Iniquity means “to pervert that which is good.” Sin is not necessarily a matter of lying, stealing, or being immoral. Basically, sin is an attitude. It is going one's own independent way. It is a lack of relationship or fellowship with God. The Bible clearly defines sin as falling short of God’s standards, which is his own perfect right. Sin often manifests itself as self-centeredness and an attitude of active rebellion against God or passive indifference to him.
The matter of confession is more than simply acknowledging that we are guilty of something. It means to agree with God concerning a particular sin, to agree in the sense that we feel some of the agony and distress that he feels over the rebellious action on our part. This kind of confession comes with genuine repentance.
David then says three things about the sin of his life. First he says, “My sin is ever before me.” David lived a haunted life. He would lie in bed at night thinking of his evil deeds. He would awaken in a cold sweat, dreaming of his wrong.
Second, he said, “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned.” “Wait a minute, David,” we say, “didn’t you sin against Bathsheba when you committed adultery with her? Didn’t you sin against Uriah when you arranged for his death? Didn’t you sin against the child born out of your adulterous relationship by causing him to die in infancy?”
How can David say that he has sinned only against God? Simply because every obligation to man has its foundation in the law of God. We cannot wrong a man without wronging God. We cannot strike a blow against humanity without striking a blow against God. Whatever we do that hurts other people is first and foremost a sin against God.
Third, David says, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.”
David acknowledges that he was born in sin. He traces his actions all back to an inborn evil nature. He means that from the very moment of his conception the principle of sin was within him so that he is a sinner from his innermost being. So we need forgiveness not only for what we have done, but also what we are. This kind of honesty is essential to finding forgiveness.
The scriptures declare, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Confession is more than simply acknowledging that we are guilty of something. It means to agree with God concerning a particular sin, to agree in the sense that we feel some of the agony and distress that he feels over this rebellious action upon our part. This kind of confession comes with genuine repentance. And without it, there can be no forgiveness.
3. You must pray to God.
The third step to forgiveness is prayer—you must ask God to forgive you. David not only longed for forgiveness, he asked for it. His desires are soon turned into prayers. As he says, “Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou 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 thou hast broken may rejoice. Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities” (verses 6-9).
David’s plea is, “Purge me ... wash me ... blot out all mine iniquities.” The word purge means to purify or to cleanse. It is a technical word for the priestly act of declaring a leper ceremonially clean. It also means to remove the dross from metal so as to make it pure.
The word wash suggests the idea of laundering a garment. And the word blot means to undo, to wipe away, or to erase. In the second great sermon found in the books of Acts Peter declared, “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19). The word blot used here is a vivid word. Ancient writing was upon papyrus, and the ink they used had no acid in it. It therefore did not bite into the papyrus as modern ink does; it simply lay upon the top of it. To erase the writing a man might take a wet sponge and simply wipe it away. In the same way God wipes out the sin of the forgiven person.
David’s use of these three strong words reveals his desire for a total and absolute cleansing from his sin. Sin has a way of staining our lives. A beautiful young college student came to me for counseling several years ago. She said, “I am expecting a baby and I am not married. I don’t know what to do. I can’t go home to my parents because it would break their heart. I don’t know what to do. I feel so dirty.”
I had the joy of assuring her that she could be clean again. “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18).
God can do what no priest can do, what no launderer can do and what no eraser can do. He can take away our sins. He can cleanse us completely. He promises, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
But we must take the step of prayer. We must ask God to cleanse us.
4. You must serve God.
The fourth step of forgiveness is repentance—you must be willing to serve God. David then promises, “Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation: and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness. O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise” (verses 13-15).
A person who has been cleansed and forgiven will be grateful. And a grateful person will want to share what he has experienced with other people. David promises that if God will forgive him he will become a bold witness and a faithful teacher of God’s word. And he promises that if God will lift him out of the mire he will begin to sing in the choir.
5. You must regret your sins.
The fifth step to forgiveness is sincerity—you must be brokenhearted over your sin. David realized that the Lord was not interested in sacrifices or in burnt offerings or he would have given them. What God wanted was a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart over his sin.
David, as the king, had thousand of cattle and sheep that he could easily have offered unto God as a sacrifice. But David realized that what God wanted was his heart broken over sin. Not just a gift laid on the altar.
The idea of paying for one’s sins, making a sacrifice, seems to be engrained in human nature. The famous psychiatrist Dr. Hobart Mower said that one of the reasons why psychotherapy is so successful and so expensive is that while people are going through it they feel that they are paying for their wrongdoings.
A man came to me years ago distressed over his marriage. He had been unfaithful to his wife and she had discovered it. They were trying to put their marriage back together again and I was helping them. At the close of our initial conversation he told me that he had just bought his wife an expensive diamond ring for Christmas. And he wondered if he should give it to her. I answered him, “No, not under any circumstances.”
If he had tried to give his wife that ring for Christmas she would have concluded that he was trying to buy her off and that he had no idea of the hurt she was going through.
We can’t buy God off either. He forgives us only when we are genuinely sorry for our sins and repent of them.
There is a tremendous difference in repentance and remorse. This is illustrated in Simon Peter and Judas Iscariot. Simon Peter and Judas Iscariot both blew it. Simon first when he denied that he knew the Lord. And Judas sold the Lord for 30 pieces of silver. One went out and wept bitterly; the other went out and hanged himself. Simon turned back in repentance; Judas turned away in remorse. Remorse is concern with the consequences; repentance is concern with the relationship. It is remorse to say, “Oh, Lord, forgive me and eliminate he consequences.” It is repentance to say, “Oh Lord, forgive me and cure me regardless of the consequences. And if need be, double the consequences and cure me.”
The basis for our forgiveness is Christ substitutionary death on the cross for our sins (Hebrews 10:1-7, 11, 12-14). If we will come to God in this way, if we take these five steps because of what Christ did for us, our sins can be forgiven. Of course we ought to make restitution when appropriate—in areas where we have wronged someone else.
We must not only accept God’s forgiveness, but we must also forgive ourselves. If we feel we have to ask God twice to pardon us for the same thing, then we have not forgiven ourselves. God forgave us the first time we asked, but we do not feel relief because of our reluctance to exonerate ourselves. After you have confessed all of your known sins, any guilt complex that remains will come from Satan, not from God, for God’s forgiveness is complete (Hebrews 10:1-17; Psalms 10:12).
You can be forgiven today. Your sins can be washed away and you can be right with God.