Dr. Paul Long, Jr. preaches a chapel message on Psalm 51 at RTS Jackson. The sermon is entitled “Create in Me a Clean Heart.”
If you would, follow as we read from God’s Word in Psalm 51, which we have just sung.
Be gracious to me, O God, according to your lovingkindness; according to the greatness of your compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, I have sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified when you speak and blameless when you judge.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me. Behold, you desire truth in the innermost being, and in the hidden part you will make me know wisdom. Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness, let the bones which you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence and do not take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will be converted to you.
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation. Then my tongue will joyfully sing of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, that my mouth may declare your praise. For you do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; you are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
By your favor do good to Zion; build the walls of Jerusalem. Then you will delight in righteous sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offering; then young bulls will be offered on your altar.
Thus far the reading of God’s Word. Let’s look to him in prayer.
Our Father, we pray that your Holy Spirit would take your Word and apply it to our hearts as we wait before you in Jesus’s name. Amen.
It’s always disconcerting to speak to a group of people who are all Christians, and it would be much more comfortable if you were all pagans, I guess. But then we’d have a problem because you’re in seminary and that really would be a problem. But one thing I’m pretty confident of is that we’re all sinners. I’m pretty confident of that. So as we look at this passage this morning, I’m reminded of just some things around the house. I don’t like it when things get broken, especially computer stuff. About a month ago, the lights on the modem started blinking out and our internet telephone hasn’t worked for a month. I just get tense inside because I know that you can’t just hit it. I did try that though. You can’t just make it be well. I’m uncomfortable when things aren’t right, when things aren’t together. But this passage suggests to us that there are sometimes when brokenness may actually be better.
There are passages in the Bible that are singing passages, triumphant passages, and joyful passages that you shout and sing. This is not a very happy passage in a way. It’s a somber passage. Really, it’s a rather dark passage because it corresponds to a darkness that I find in my own soul. I need this passage and come to this passage with my own sense of need of hearing what God says to me in it.
It’s almost a little embarrassing because when we read this, it’s a prayer of a sinner talking to his God asking for forgiveness. It’s almost like, what business do we have listening in to what’s going on? This is so personal. And that sinner was a notorious sinner because he was a great leader, a king, and what he had done was really awful. He had taken another man’s wife, and if that wasn’t bad enough, he’d had that man killed, and here he was in a position of power. We listen in on this and David is coming clean before God.
Yet as we listen into it, I think perhaps rather than trying to analyze David’s sin or analyze what’s going on in David’s heart or analyze what God is saying propositionally, spelling it out, maybe we can cut to the chase this morning by asking three simple questions. The first question, and I’m asking myself this: am I really that bad? The second question: well, admitting that I have sin, what do I do about my sin? And then the third question, and really the most important is: what has God done about my sin?
Am I Really That Bad?
First of all, am I really that bad? Of course not. I’m not as bad as David. Are you as bad as David? The other David, not you [in the audience]. Just want to make that clear. Are we really that bad? We look around and we can find some bad people, but maybe not here on campus, but I’m sure there’s a pecking order of badness on campus, too. There probably is. But are we really that bad? I don’t feel that bad, OK? Watching the news here, which I don’t, I try to avoid watching the news, but sometimes you just happen to see things or seeing the paper. I don’t take the paper, but I read my dad’s paper secondhand. How often is it that we see the picture of a person who’s been tried for murder and has been condemned either to the chair or to life in prison? We see their picture, we see them walking on the TV, and we look at them. What does it feel like to know that you’re guilty of killing somebody? To know that your life is forfeit, that you deserve to die?
We know that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.I don’t feel that bad. Do you? And I look at them and I say, “How can they stand to live with themselves?” There was a guy last week. They showed him walking out of the court yard; he was a European, and he at least covered his face with a book or something because he was ashamed. But to think that I’ve done something that is worthy of death? I don’t really feel that bad. But David did, and David called it a word that I don’t really like. He called it “bloodguiltiness.” “Bloodguilty.”
“Bloodguilty.” I don’t like that word. Do you like that word? It means that your life is forfeit, that you’ve done something that means that you deserve to die, and not just die, but to die forever. It’s a word that says we deserve hell, and you know, we can pay for our own sins. I know they don’t teach you that here, but you can pay for your own sins. You can go to hell. That’s it. That’s the payment. That’s not a very satisfactory approach.
But David felt it. David felt that, and he knew it. We know it. We know it because we know that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). We know that we’re all sinners. We can say it glibly, “Yes, I’m a sinner. Yes, of course I’m a sinner.” One of the hard things in ministry is that everybody expects you to be holy for them. You’re on a pedestal and people in the churches love to put the pastor on the pedestal. In my first pastorate, as I would visit people who weren’t in church. I would visit people that didn’t come to church. But I could get into their house and they would tell me, “Oh, I go to such and such and such and such a church and we have such a fine preacher.” Hmm. I got smart after a while. I said, “Oh yeah, I’ve heard about him. Now what’s his name?” He didn’t know. Somehow or another they were hoping that by osmosis and having a fine preacher, whoever he was, a good holy man, a good Christian man who really loves the Lord, that somehow by osmosis that would get to them. I wish.
But when you’re that preacher or any preacher or a Sunday school teacher or anybody involved in the life of the church, ministry of the church, even working at seminary, people want to put you up on a pedestal, make you holy, make you good. And what happens is it’s like the magnifying glass then is on you. When I was a little kid, I used to take a magnifying glass and the sun would shine through it. And you know what you do to ants and stuff like that: you try to burn them. But in a way, when you’re in the ministry, the magnifying glass is on you. You may feel like your sins are like a tiny ant, but when the light of everybody is shining through that magnifying glass on your so-called tiny sins, it gets hot. Because we’re examined, we are challenged. They expect us to be perfect, but we’re not, and then it shows.
Another downside is whenever you teach or preach on a passage, you’re going to be tempted on that passage. That’s why there are a lot of passages I really like to avoid. I try not to. I believe in preaching through the Bible, David. But there are some passages where I say, “Oh, I don’t want to get into this one because now I’m going to be tempted.” Because it happens. Because we’re reminded of what we’re really like. So we know intellectually, “Yes, all have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” but it’s convenient to forget it. But David knew it. He said, “Against you and you only have sinned, and I’m guilty. My life is forfeit. I owe blood for what I have done.”
When we come to the point of realizing of what we’re really like and recognizing the sin, that there is sin there, how do we respond? First, am I really that bad? Yes, I’m born a rebel. That’s my natural state. And except for the grace of God, apart from the grace of God, I can sin in church. I can sin while I’m preaching. I’m really good at it. I’m an expert and so are you. Apart from the grace of God, there’s no hope.
What Do I Do About My Sin?
So we come to recognize it. But what do we do about our sin? Well, there’s a lot of strategies for dealing with sin. One is just deny it. That’s the easiest one. “Who, me?” David was blissfully unaware of his sin, apparently, until God sent the prophet to him to warn him and to call him, to show him what he’d done, to confront him. I believe that if we were aware all the time of all of our sin, it would overwhelm us. The Psalmist said, “Show me, but in measure, lest I be overwhelmed.” One way is to deny it.
Another way is to develop a guilty conscience. Now, this one’s really good. You feel guilty about it. “I’m so bad. I can’t believe I did that.” We beat up on ourselves and we tell ourselves, “Oh, I’m so sorry I did it.” We wring our hands. But it’s not dealing with the sin. It’s just being sorry about the bad consequences that came to us.
Another way that’s pretty good for covering up our sin or for dealing with our sin is just boast about smaller sins. It’s kind of like a skinny person talking about their weight all the time. I get that a lot. Don’t talk about your weight, you know, I think I can find an inch. What is that doing? It’s really trying to look at something that’s not very important to get everybody’s gaze off what really is important. Or we can say, “Well, I may get angry sometimes, but I would never __________.” And you finish it. Honestly, there were times in Portugal when I had a tiny little car, a little Renault 4, and if I had a machine gun mounted on the hood of that car, I promise you I would have gotten some busses. I’d have taken them out. I’d get so angry. But we kind of trivialize our sins and say, “Well, yeah, I wouldn’t do it. I may think some bad thoughts, but I would never really do that.” We trivialize it.
And of course, the best one is the one that you saw graphically portrayed in The DaVinci Code, which you probably didn’t watch, where the bad guy, I can’t remember who he was, the crazy guy goes in and pulls his clothes off and takes a whip and lashes himself to beat the devil out of himself. My dad said he saw people in India doing that, actually beating the devil out of themselves. So we beat up on ourselves.
But none of those strategies will take care of our sin. Push it under the carpet. Deny it. Trivialize it. Beat up on ourselves. There’s only one response and we’re given it in this passage. Only one response that brings resolution, and that is confession. Admitting what we are. David said it: “I realize, God, it’s against you that I’ve sinned, against you only have I sinned. I realize God that unless you do something, there is no hope for me. I can’t fix this myself. It’s far beyond anything I could ever do because I’m so totally corrupt. It’s up to you. My God, I grieve the brokenness. I grieve for the broken bones, I grieve for my dirty heart. I grieve for the loss of joy in my life. I grieve for the loss of praise. Why do I go around dried up without thinking about you, without singing and joyfully rejoicing in your presence? I grieve because of the sin that’s come into my own life. God, have mercy on me.” It’s the only strategy that makes a difference.
When I was little, we would have prayer time and our parents would kneel us beside the bed. Not kneel us, that sounds like they pushed us down, but we would kneel beside the bed and we’d go through a prayer. And there would be the “do we have anything to confess?” My dad would work at the office or he’d be gone on trips so he couldn’t be quite as as creative as my mom. But my mom could prompt us. I couldn’t think of anything. I mean, at the end of the day, “Forgive me for my sins.” I must have done something wrong. Surely. Well, Mother could always help a little bit. She could always prompt us a little bit.
But do you ever come to the end of the day or even in church when it’s time for confession, “Now, let’s confess our sins.” There’s got to be something there somewhere. We’re desperately searching our conscience. We really don’t feel too badly about ourselves. We did come to church, didn’t we? Here we are. We’re in chapel at RTS. That’s holy. We feel pretty good about ourselves. But when the Holy Spirit puts his finger on us, when the Holy Spirit brings conviction, it isn’t really conviction until we realize that we’ve sinned against God, till we’re brought to the point of saying, “Yes, God, I did this. Yes, God, I was angry. Yes, God, rejected you. Yes, God, I doubted you. I’ve sinned against you. I deserve to die.”
What Has God Done About Our Sin?
Now, the final part is to ask the question, what has God done about our sin? And in this passage, there are several verses that remind me a little bit of a conflict we’ve had in our home over the last number of years. Back when we used to have a landline—probably people don’t remember how that was. But your house would have one telephone, usually in a central place, so when anybody was on the telephone, the whole of the house could hear the conversation. We would always hope that conversations would be short.
God deals with our sin by covering it with the blood of Jesus Christ.Now everyone is wired or actually unwired, and everyone in the family has their own cell phone. You have yours on now. If you want to be mean to somebody, text somebody in chapel even or make their phone go off. But everybody’s wired, and so we have these conversations going on. We’re driving along in the car, having a nice family time, and the phone rings, and then we’ve got to listen to half a conversation. So you listen to half of it, but you kind of can figure out what’s going on. The other day, we were together, and my wife gets a call from my daughter. “You did what? Where? He didn’t! How much? Four hundred dollars?” Well, then I relaxed. Only 400 dollars, nobody died.
But you’re sitting there listening to only half the conversation, but even though you only get half of it, you really understand what’s going on. And in this passage, we are getting David’s half of it as he’s talking to God: “God, make me clean. Wash me. Purify me. Let the bones which you have broken rejoice. Purge me. Wash me with hyssop and I shall be clean.” And we hear David crying out to God and what is God doing? On the other side, what is God saying? “Yes, I will wash you. Yes, I will cleanse you. Yes, I will purify you. Yes, I will restore you. Yes, I will renew the joy of my salvation.” In David’s requests we hear God’s “Amen. Yes. I’m pouring it out on you.” And we see that God deals with our sin by covering it with the blood of Jesus Christ.
God is totally just in condemning us for our sin. He’s absolutely right that we deserve to die.Of course, my life cannot atone for my sin, but God offers me salvation in Jesus Christ. David is hearing God’s expression of forgiveness: “Yes, I forgive you, I cleanse you, I wash you, I’ll make you new.” We see from this that God is totally just in condemning us for our sin. He’s absolutely right that we deserve to die. The second thing we see is that he is gracious towards those who call upon him. If we confess our sins and call upon him, he cleanses us. We see that he is ready to forgive us, to wash away our sin, to renew us. Because as the passage tells us, God accepts the sacrifices of a broken spirit, when we’re broken. If you’re like me, we know intellectually that we’re sinners, but sometimes, a lot of times we don’t feel it. When we do feel it, it’s a trumped-up guilt. But when the Holy Spirit is at work in our hearts, there is that clear sense that against you only have I sinned.
There’s a 17th-century English preacher, John Donne, who has written a sonnet that I love and I go back to again and again, “Batter My Heart.”
Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn and make me new.
I like an usurp’d town to another due,
Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov’d fain,
But I’m betroth’d unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I
Except you enthrall me, shall never be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
As our hearts are broken before God they are opened then to receive his forgiveness in Jesus Christ.One of the hardest prayers to pray is to say, “God, I know I’m a sinner in general, but God, batter my heart. Beat up on me, God. Take my heart, break my heart.” Because as our hearts are broken before God they are opened then to receive his forgiveness in Jesus Christ. I believe God answers all our prayers, but it does seem that when you ask God to break your pride, that one comes really fast. Those answers come pretty quickly. God, break my heart before you.
None of us want to be in ministry where we’re just parroting the answers and standing up, relying on our great education background and experience and parroting out answers. We want to stand before the people of God with broken hearts, humble before him, filled with the joy and the forgiveness and the anointing of the Holy Spirit. So we ask God to batter our hearts. But fundamentally, it’s not our broken heart that makes the difference. It’s the broken body of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because God loved us so much that he gave Christ, who bore the full brunt, the full punishment of our sin on the cross. He was broken, as the song says, and spilled out for us. Because of his brokenness, we are made whole.