Desiring Inner Cleanliness

I’ve been waiting to move for two months. But we didn’t know when the contractor would complete the renovation work on the other apartment. So I thought it best to pack up all my drawer and cabinet contents after hauling off useless things to the thrift store and Salvation Army. After that, I looked for non-essentials to pack. So now there are boxes in sight everywhere I look. However, to offset this, I have relieved myself of things I hadn’t used in four years, cleaned out closets, and furniture. Despite living in a messy environment, I have inner peace about moving only those things I want to keep. I don’t function well in a disorderly environment, but the boxes remind me that life is always messy, unpredictable, and in a state of change. We have and still are living through a chaotic pandemic that called for us to keep ourselves and our environments clean. I think it’s not a coincidence that my theme for June is desiring cleanliness within, with God, and in our relationships. It’s time to take a hard look at Psalm 51. King David had some pretty messy relationships and two in which he sinned gravely. His confession and desire for cleanliness in Psalm 51 is striking and should be a model for ours. David’s repentance is proved by his never-repeating (to our knowledge) the acts of adultery and murder. He desired and received God’s loving, abundant mercy to be washed thoroughly of his sin. My prayer is that we will turn to God for his loving mercy to be forgiven and cleansed, leading to sincere repentance.

David’s Desire For a Clean Heart

One of the things we often do that David didn’t do was justify our sins and lack of contrition when we know we have erred against God and others. But David gives us a model for accepting God’s righteous judgment on sin, even before consequences appear. (See v. 4.) David had a true friend in Nathan who confronted him, allowing David to confess and repent. As a result, he had the strength to bear God’s discipline of the death of his sin-child and his future as a man of war. (See 2 Samuel 12:1-23.) David’s desire for spiritual cleanliness is the desire of every true believer. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!…Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow…Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.” (Psalms 51:1-2, 7, 9) Matthew Henry writes, “Those that truly repent of their sins, will not be ashamed to own their repentance…The believer longs to have the whole debt of his sins blotted out, and every stain cleansed; he would be thoroughly washed from all his sins; but the hypocrite always has some secret reserve, and would have some favorite lust spared.” (1) Psalm 51 calls us to look into our hearts to know if we sincerely desire to be cleansed of our sin and confess any favorite ungodly passion that we might hold back because of its tight grip on us. 

Only By God’s Mercy

“Mercy is the sole basis of any approach to God by sinners . We cannot come to God on the basis of his justice; justice strikes us with fear and causes us to hide from him. We are not drawn to God by his wisdom; wisdom does not embolden us, though we stand in awe of it. No more does omniscience, omnipotence, or omnipresence. The only reason we dare come to God and dare hope for a solution to our sin problem is his mercy.” (2) “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.” (Psalm 51:1) “David, under a sense of sin, does not run away from God, but applies unto him, and casts himself at his feet, and upon his mercy; which shows the view he had of his miserable condition, and that he saw there was mercy in God, which gave him hope; and upon his bended knees, and in the exercise of faith, he asks for it; according to thy lovingkindness; not according to his merits, nor according to the general mercy of God, which carnal men rely upon; but according to his everlasting and unchangeable love in Christ.” (3) John Gill notes that David’s sin is complicated—it involves not only his specific sin against Uriah and Bathsheba but also his original sin (v. 5). But, “The mercy of God is plenteous and abundant; he is rich in it, and various are the instances of it; and it is exceeding tender, like that of a father to his children, or like that of a mother to the son of her womb; and from this abundant and tender mercy springs the forgiveness of sin. The psalmist makes mention of the multitude of the mercies of God, because of the multitude of his sins, which required a multitude of mercy to forgive, and to encourage his hope of it.” (4) If we think we are empty of sin, we should consider our culture’s pressure to meddle in the affairs of others, gossip, slander, and impugn others. “There is so much of this in the Christian world today, and it generates so little disapproval.” (5) Can we still say we are without sin, without the need to repent? Do we think God’s Spirit in us enjoys our “secret” sins or ungodly motives?

Purge, Wash, Blotted Out My Sins

“Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow…Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.” (Ps. 51:7, 9) ) “The terms wash and cleanse come from the ceremonial system, where they refer to rites that allow a person to come safely into God’s presence. Here the psalm focuses on the inner condition that the ceremony points to.” (6) “Cleanse means “purge.’ It is based on the word for sin and literally means ‘de-sin’ me. David wanted to have his sin completely purged away. He did not want to retain even a stain of it…Wash refers to the lustrations of the law. Centuries later Isaiah would write, ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.’ (Isa. 1:18)…David wanted to be washed until he was as clean as that. ‘Blot out’ refers to removing writing from a book, perhaps removing an indictment. This is what David wanted and what we all desperately need. The books of our lives have been written upon with many sins, and these stand as a terrible indictment against us. Unless something is done, they are going to be read out against us at the last day. But God can and will do something, if we ask him. God will rub out the ancient writing, turn the pages sideways, and write over the newly prepared surface the message of his everlasting compassion through the work of Jesus Christ…When Moses had proclaimed every commandment of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people.’” (7) David desired and received God’s loving, abundant mercy to be washed thoroughly of his sin, to remove his shame before God.

Clean and No Longer Ashamed

David, “being now ashamed of them himself, and ashamed that any should see them, and especially his God; and being filthy and nauseous, he knew they must be abominable to him, who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity…they might be cast behind his back, and into the depths of the sea; and blot out all mine iniquities; as in Psalms 51:1; here repeated, to show his deep sense of them, and his great importunity for the forgiveness of them.” (8) We who are in Christ, who already know and have his loving, abundant mercy to be forgiven and cleansed—are we not seeking sincere repentance for our remaining sins? The messiness of life, afflictions, injuries, and relationships is no excuse for rebellion or stubbornness. “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” (Hebrews 10:19-23)

Related Scripture: Exodus 12:22-23; 19:10; Leviticus 14:1-8a; Psalm 90:8; Isaiah 1:18; Ezekiel 36:25-27; Zechariah 13:1; Ephesians 2:4-7; Hebrews 9:198-22; 1 John 1:7; Revelation 14:14-17.

Notes:

  1. Henry, Matthew, “Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible, Psalm 51:1-6, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhn/psalms-51.html
  2. Boice, James, “Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Psalm 51, Part 1,” Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
  3. Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Psalm 51:1, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/psalms -51.html
  4. Gill, Ibid.
  5. Challies, Tim, Respectable Sins of the Reformed World, July 15, 2020, https://www.challies.com/articles
  6. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Psalm 51:1-2, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
  7. Boice, Ibid.
  8. Gill, Ibid, Psalm 51:9.

June 3, 2021   

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