Psalm 51: Confession, Forgiveness, and Renewal
Reading the Psalms is one of my favorite things to do. Through the Psalms, we get a window into David’s inner turmoil and God’s continued faithfulness and work in his life.
While David wasn’t perfect, he is referred to as “a man after God’s own heart.” Despite his failures, he was covered by the grace of God. He tried to model his life after God and repented when he fell short. This is a beautiful example for us to follow.
Recently, my church wrote a worship song based on Psalm 51. The lyrics are:
Create in me a clean heart, O God
Renew a right spirit within me
It repeats in the song, encouraging people to meditate on these words and invite God to move in their lives.
So, why did David write this Psalm, and how does it apply to us today?
What Is Psalm 51 About?
David wrote this Psalm after the prophet Nathan confronted him about his sin with Bathsheba. Maybe you have seen the PG version of this Bible story in VeggieTales when Larry has too many rubber ducks and wants more. The real version in the Bible is a little more PG-13 with fewer rubber ducks.
Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah who was a part of David’s army. While Uriah was off fighting, David slept with Bathsheba, and she became pregnant. When David found out, he called Uriah to come home and to be with his wife in the hopes that he would think that the child was his. However, Uriah refused to sleep with his wife while the rest of the troops sacrificed their comfort and safety. To hide his adultery, David ordered Joab to put Uriah on the frontlines and to withdraw the rest of the soldiers during combat. As a result, Uriah died in battle, making Bathsheba a widow and David took her as his wife (2 Samuel 11).
So, how did David go from adulterer, liar, and murderer to “a man after God’s own heart? To put it simply, he repents.
While most of us haven’t murdered someone, we can learn something from the posture in which David is confronted, repents, and asks for forgiveness.
Nathan confronts David
First, when Nathan confronts David about his sin, David doesn’t deny it. Instead, he immediately asks for God’s forgiveness. He had already tried hiding his sin, and it destroyed his relationship with God, with others, and ultimately cost Uriah his life. David’s sin led to a deep brokenness that seemed so dark that he hid it from God and those close to him.
But because of Nathan, David knew that he could no longer hide what he had done. He needed to confess his sin before God. It’s important to have people like Nathan in our lives—people who will love us enough to call out our sin. Do you have people like that in your life? Are you that person for someone else?
David repents and asks for forgiveness
In Psalm 51, David acknowledges by confessing his sin, asking for forgiveness, and praying for God to restore him.
David knew that his sin had separated him from God. His unconfessed sin had created a cycle of shame and fear that someone would find out. His sin and guilt would not go away.
Knowing that God’s forgiveness could cure his guilty conscience and reunite him with God, David asks God to extend mercy.
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgression” (Psalm 51:1).
Then David acknowledges his sinful nature.
“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me” (v.3).
No matter what we have done, we are never too far from God. We just have to ask him for forgiveness and repent of our sins. In these first few verses, we see David describe God as merciful, just, compassionate, and full of unfailing love.
While God is a just God, he is also merciful and loves us unconditionally.
David prays for restoration
In his brokenness, David asks God to give him a clean slate and to restore him to the joy he had through knowing God and having a relationship with him.
“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me” (v. 10-12).
Finally, David prays for restoration. His sin had separated him from God, leaving him broken and ashamed. All that he can offer God is his brokenness.
“My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise” (v. 17).
Following the rest of David’s story in the Bible, we see that God does forgive him and restores him.
When we confess our sins and ask for forgiveness, God can make whole what has been broken. This is the story of the gospel. The cross is what bridges the gap between humanity and God. It mends our relationship with him, not by anything that we’ve done, but by what God has done. When we confess our sins, we are set free.
Take time to reflect on Psalm 51:10-12. What do you need to confess to God and ask forgiveness for? Have you lost the joy of your salvation in unconfessed sin?
True joy comes from God, not your circumstances. And from that joy is abundant life, completely free in the forgiveness and mercy of an unconditionally loving God.
Draw near to him. Ask him to restore you. Live your life in the joy of knowing that your salvation, your very identity, comes from God and God alone. Just like David, by confessing, asking for forgiveness, and finding true restoration and renewal in a loving God, you will be set free from the bondage of your sin.
Kali Gibson is the editor-in-chief for So We Speak and a copywriter for the Youversion Bible App.