Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Psalm 51:1-11 A Prayer for Cleansing, not Forgiveness

KEY TEXT: Psalms 51:7-11 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that 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 right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.

KEY THOT: David committed two grievous sins: adultery with Uriah’s wife Bathsheba and then murder of Uriah by sending him into the hottest part of the battle to be killed (2 Samuel 11). When confronted by the prophet Nathan, David cried out, “I have sinned against the Lord!” (2 Samuel 12:13a). In response, Nathan pronounced the Lord's forgiveness: “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die” (2 Samuel 12:13b). So David was forgiven of his sins, but he still had to face the consequences of his sins--both internally (guilty conscience and self-condemnation as described in the psalm) and externally, the breakdown of his family life. Psalm 51 is not so much a prayer for forgivenness (he has been forgiven when Nathan pronounced God's forgiveness), but a cry for cleansing from the spiritual and moral defilement caused by his sins: “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!" (v.2). He has lost the joy of salvation and suffered physical symptoms: "Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice" (Psalms 51:8). (Modern medical science is confirming with increasing evidence that most of our mental and physical sicknesses are attributed to negative and toxic emotions.)

While we thank God that all our sins are forgiven at the Cross, it is through our confession (Psalm 51 is a confessional  psalm), that we experience cleansing: “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). The purpose of confession is not only to experience the forgiveness received at our baptism. More importantly, the end-goal of confession is to receive the cleansing from all spiritual and moral defilement caused by our sins. It’s possible to be forgiven and yet remain unclean—the blood of Jesus cleanses us from the defilement of sin when we confess them before God. 

David was forgiven the moment he acknowledged his sin before Nathan. Yet he felt he needed more than just forgivenness—he needs to be cleansed: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence and take not your Holy Spirit from me” (vv. 10-11). Many Christians affirm rightly that all their sins are forgiven at the Cross. But they are wrong to conclude therefore that they don’t need confession. Without confession, their conscience remains defiled: their spirit is not made right and their heart remains unclean.

Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart” (Mt 5:8). The word "pure" in Greek is katharos. It carries the idea of pure not as sinlessness but as being cleansed from impurities. Vine’s NT dictionary explains that the verb katharizo means “to make clean, to cleanse (a) from physical stains and dirt, as in the case of utensils…from disease, as of leprosy, Matthew 8:2; (b) in a moral sense, from the defilement of sin… from the guilt of sin” (Vine’s). So, purity that Jesus refers to is not a sinless heart but a cleansed heart—cleansed from the spiritual and moral defilement of sins like guilt, self-condemnation, diseases and sicknesses. 

So while it’s great that we have been forgiven, but we still need to be cleansed from the spiritual, emotional and physical sicknesses caused by our sins: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16).The theological term for this process is sanctification. Justification happens in an instant. But sanctification takes a life time. Confession is one way we can experience the power of sanctification individually. 

We have nothing to lose when we confess our sins. We have much to gain. But when we reject confession, we have a lot to lose: we are stuck with the stains and defilement caused by our sins.

Father, thank You that in Christ, all our sins have been forgiven. So we confess to You our sins, not so that we can be forgiven but so that we may be cleansed from the guilty stains and debilitating diseases caused by our sins. For Christ’s sake. Amen.

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