Psalm 51



Today we are looking at Psalm 51.
As you turn there in your Bibles or look it up on your device, I want to tell you about Timothy Keller and his brother-in-law.
Timothy Keller tells this story in his book Preaching to the Heart:
“My brother-in-law would never wear a seat belt in the car. I berated him for it. Then one day he picked me up at the airport, and he had on his seat belt and shoulder harness. I asked, “What happened? What changed you?”
“I went to visit a friend of mine in the hospital who was in a car accident and went through the windshield,” my brother-in-law said. “He had two or three hundred stitches in his face. I said to myself, ‘I’d better wear my seat belt.’ ”
“Did you not know that if you didn’t wear your seat belt you would go through the windshield if you had an accident?” I asked.
“Of course I knew it,” he said. “When I went to the hospital to see my friend, I got no new information, but the information I had became new. The information got real to my heart and finally sank down and affected the way I live.” ”
—Tim Keller, “Unintentional Preaching Models,” Preaching to the Heart, Ockenga Institute of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary1
(Craig Brian Larson and Phyllis Ten Elshof, 1001 Illustrations That Connect (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2008), 82.)
His brother got no new information, but what he understood at that moment finally sank in and affected the way he lived.
That is my prayer for us today.
Psalm 51 may be very familiar to many, but as we understand what David is showing us about repentance and forgiveness, my hope is it will finally sink in and change the way we live.


As we look at Psalm 51, we will look in depth to repentance.
This is a penitential Psalm.
It shows us David’s heart as he writes this prayer of repentance.
Wayne Grudem gives us a great definition of repentance:
Repentance is a heartfelt sorrow for sin, a renouncing of it, and a sincere commitment to forsake it and walk in obedience to Christ.
(Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Second Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2020.)
The background for Psalm 51 is given to us in the Title of the Psalm:
Psalm 51 (ESV)
To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.
The full story for the background of this Psalm is found in 2 Samuel 11-12.
Take some time this week to read the story and let the depravity of the story sink in.
Here’s the basic story:
Tell David, Bathsheba, Uriah, Joab, and Nathan story.
David is suppose to go out to war with his troops
2 Samuel 11:1 ESV
1 In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. And they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.
Now David is in the wrong place.
He sees Bathsheba bathing and is filled with lust, disregarding the servant’s attempt to have David see her as a daughter and wife:
2 Samuel 11:3–5 ESV
3 And David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, “Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” 4 So David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she had been purifying herself from her uncleanness.) Then she returned to her house. 5 And the woman conceived, and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.”
David tries to cover it up by trying to get Uriah back from the battle and to sleep with Bathsheba.
Uriah is too honorable and won’t think of having the comforts of home while his countrymen are still in battle.
David sends Uriah back with his own death certificate.
Uriah is killed in battle on David’s command.
When the time of mourning is over, David takes Bathsheba as his wife.
Problem solved, so David thinks.
Enter Nathan the prophet.
He tells a parable about a rich man with many sheep and a poor man with only one sheep.
The rich man steals the poor man’s sheep.
David is enraged:
2 Samuel 12:5–6 ESV
5 Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, 6 and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”
Nathan responds:
2 Samuel 12:7 (ESV)
7 Nathan said to David, “You are the man!
David is confronted with his sin and he repents:
2 Samuel 12:13 ESV
13 David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.
Nathan assures David he won’t die for these sins, but the child will, and we’ll find out that his family is all kinds of messed up from that point on.
All of this is the background for our Psalm.
This Psalm has served as a prayer of repentance for thousands of years.
Let’s see what we can learn from it today.

1. Repentance starts with knowing God.

Psalm 51:1–2 ESV
1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!
David petitions God for mercy.
He asks God to blot out his iniquity.
Wash him from his iniquity.
And cleanse him from his sin.
But David doesn’t ask God to have mercy on him because of David’s own righteousness.
David doesn’t even ask for mercy because he feels so bad about what he’s done.
He asks God for mercy because of who God is and what God has done!
Psalm 51:1 (ESV)
1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
David knows God.
He knows God as the covenant God.
God uses both of these nouns during his self-revelation to Moses in Exodus 34
Exodus 34:6–7 ESV
6 The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
Because David knows God and is in a covenant relationship with Him, David asks the Lord for mercy.
I ask you today, as we are starting this message:
Do you know God?
Have you yielded your life to Jesus, making Him the Lord and Savior of your life?
Everything else we will look at in this Psalm, assumes you truly know the Lord.
Not just about the Lord, but that you have placed your faith and trust in Jesus alone for salvation.
David knew it was God alone who could forgive Him.
The same is true for you today!
Jesus alone can save you, do you know Him?
If you don’t, don’t wait, listen this morning, David is teaching us how to repent, for the first time and everytime.
First, repentance starts with knowing God.

2. Repentance must include fully confessing our sins to God.

In verses 1-2, David uses three different words for sin.
transgressions - carries the idea of deliberate rebellion against God
iniquity - “go astray” - depart from the standard or way
sin - “miss a goal” - any fault that fails to measure up to what is right
David wants us to know he sees the severity of his sin.
David acknowledges his sins (Ps 51:3-4) and the fact that he is a sinner (Ps 51:5-6).
Let’s look at David’s acknowledgment:
Psalm 51:3–4 ESV
3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. 4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.
David knows his sin, it is ever before him.
Verse 4 always bothered me
Psalm 51:4 ESV
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.
Surely David sinned against more than the Lord.
In one sense, all sin is against the Lord only.
Other people are hurt, but in a very real way all sin is against a Holy God.
But David knows he has sinned against Bathsheba, Uriah, and Joab.
David has broken the last 5 commandments.
Look at Exodus 20:
Exodus 20:13–17 ESV
13 “You shall not murder. 14 “You shall not commit adultery. 15 “You shall not steal. 16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”
David coveted Uriah’s wife Bathsheba.
He steals her from him.
He commits adultery with her.
He bears false witness trying to cover it up.
And when that doesn’t work, he has Uriah murdered. In Hebrew, the word for murder covers human death through carelessness and negligence, and certainly ordering an army to abandon an individual so that he dies. David also drags Joab into his web of lies, by having him order the army back.
David knows he has sinned, but he also know he has sinned because he is a sinner.
Psalm 51:5–6 ESV
5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. 6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
David isn’t necessarily talking about the way his mother conceived him.
He is referencing the fact that he is a sinner.
His very nature is as a sinner.
We are all by nature sinners.
One commentator says it this way:
My problem is not just the need of pardon for a particular wrong but deliverance from the predicament of myself.
We sin in different ways, but our identity apart from Jesus is as a sinner.
In Jesus, however, we get a new identity, in fact, we are a new creation, which we will look at in just a minute.
Repentance requires we know God as Lord and Savior.
Fully confessing our sins.

3. Repentance involves cleansing and renewal.

Psalm 51:7–9 ESV
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. 8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. 9 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
The cleansing involves restoration with God and others.
It is important that we realize that serious and premeditated sins had no offering that could be made for them.
In the Law of Sacrifice, God gives no way to cleanse these kinds of sins.
In fact, each of the 10 Commandments comes with a death penalty.
David could have been put to death for any one of his sins.
David needs direct intervention from God.
This intervention is the only way to be forgiven.
Forgiveness is the only way David can worship God again.
It’s the only way to enter again into the Sanctuary worship.
This is the joy and gladness in verse 8 he wants to hear in temple worship.
Psalm 51:8 ESV
8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
Repentance moves past just cleansing the sins we have commited.
It moves into a renewal of mind and heart.
Psalm 51:10–12 ESV
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. 11 Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
The Hebrew word “Create” is the same Hebrew word used in Gen 1-2 for God creating the world.
Genesis 1:1 ESV
1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
This word has God as its subject in every occurrence in the OT.
God is the Creator God.
David asks him to create a clean heart.
As Christians we have the beautiful assurance in 2 Corinthians 5:
2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
Christ changes us at the moment of salvation.
We become new!
The Holy Spirit changes us and is making us new.
Verse 11 use to scare me:
Psalm 51:11 ESV
11 Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
I didn’t understand what David was asking and I sure didn’t want to lose the Holy Spirit in my life.
This isn’t what David is saying but in Christ we are secure:
2 Corinthians 1:21–22 ESV
21 And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, 22 and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.
The word guarantee carries the idea of earnest money.
God has put His Spirit in us as a down payment to ensure us He will finish the work of changing us into new creations.
David has a different concern:
David doesn’t want to suffer the same fate as Saul by God removing His Spirit from David.
Saul was King before David and he didn’t listen to the Lord and God removed His Spirit from Him.
1 Samuel 16:14 ESV
14 Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from the Lord tormented him.
Instead David desire the joy of his salvation to return.
God’s covenant with David ensures God will not remove His Spirit from David’s offspring.
2 Samuel 7:14–16 ESV
14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’ ”
David’s throne was established through Solomon and ultimately through Jesus.
Jesus is the one who brings cleansing and renewal to all of God’s children.
As Christians, we have the assurance of forgiveness and salvation.
Listen to this beautiful promise in 1 John 1
1 John 1:9 ESV
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Faithful and just! That’s what I’m afraid of, God will bring justice for my sin!
If you are in Christ, He has taken the justice for your sin.
God is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us!
We must know God for repentance, fully confess our sins, receive the cleansing and renewal that comes from God’s forgiveness.
Our repentance leads to God’s forgiveness:

4. Forgiveness allows us to teach others and rightly worship God.

Psalm 51:13–19 ESV
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. 14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. 15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. 16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. 18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem; 19 then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.
This is the great danger of unrepentant sin.
If we are unrepentant about some secret sin, whether done only in our mind or done in secret.
Then we will not be prepared to help others be cleansed and restored to God.
Our sin dulls us from teaching others.
Maybe through guilt, not feeling worthy to share with others.
Maybe through a hard heart that doesn’t “feel” like sharing.
Every sin must be repented of and right relationship with God restored for our sake.
But not only for our relationship with God, but also for the good of others.
Let’s look at the Apostle Peter’s life as an example:
Luke 22:31–34 ESV
31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” 33 Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” 34 Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.”
Jesus tell Peter that Peter will betray him.
Then he tells Peter he will turn again and then he should strengthen the others.
The Apostle John tells us of Peter’s reinstatement:
John 21:15–19 ESV
15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” 19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”
Peter followed, in fact, he is instrumental in teaching and leading the church.
In Acts 1-12, Luke tells us of several ways Peter strengthened the church after his return.
Besides teaching others, repentance leads to forgiveness which allows us to rightly worship God.
Psalm 51:16–17 ESV
16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
David is not discounting the sacrifices God commanded for sin.
Remember there is no sacrifice for intentional and premeditated sins.
David is echoing all of Scripture.
Another commentator reminds us:
“The whole Bible is united in the idea that sacrificial ritual in and of itself does not effect restoration of relationship with God. Rather, the sacrifice of an animal must reflect a heartfelt acknowledgment that the sinner deserves the death experienced by the animal.”
Tremper Longman III, Psalms: An Introduction and Commentary, ed. David G. Firth, vol. 15–16, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2014), 222.


God delights in a repentant heart.
One that knows Him as Lord and Savior.
One that fully confesses its sins.
One that comes to Him for cleansing and renewal.
One that teaches others how to receive His forgiveness and rightly worships Him.
If this is your first time to repent of your sins, I’d love to help you, come forward today.
If this is the 100th time, remember:
Every time we sin we must turn again with heart felt sorrow, renounce our sin, and sincerely commit to forsake sin and walk in obedience with Christ.


Jesus’s body was ripped and torn for our forgiveness, let’s eat this bread in remembrance of Him.
Jesus’s blood purchased our forgiveness, let’s drink in remembrance of Him.
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