What gives you joy? Will completing a task, healing after an injury, seeing someone you miss, being with particular people, or church worship, fellowship, or sports games make you happy? What if your joy isn’t dependent upon any of these but remains elusive—do you give up and accept that life just isn’t fun and is a series of duties or responsibilities? I’m a pretty serious person, so joyfulness is a challenge for me. I adopted a dog to help me lighten up—and it has worked. I call him my “Joy Boy” for this very reason. He reminds me that joy is often doing what comes next, trusting God for the big stuff, and continuing to move forward. I love my lightness with him, with people I love, completing a ministry project, or attending church events. But these are all minuscule compared with the joy I have when I have confessed my sin, been forgiven, and have the assurance that I won’t repeat that sin to that degree. That’s the joy of repentance—and there is no greater, more profound, longer-lasting delight than knowing that we are changed and love Christ more than ever before. But this is something only the Lord can do—repentance, like faith, is a gift from him—the joy we have of God’s forgiveness is a gift of our salvation.
Repentance is From God.
“Repentance does not come from within us. It is not a natural trait that lies dormant, just waiting to be aroused and utilized. It is not imparted to us by our parents or other relatives. It is not a learned response that we can gain from books, [blogs,] or good teachers. It does not rub off on us when we are among repentant people. There is only one source of repentance. It is a gift given by God….In the midst of his great crisis, David knew how utterly dependent he was upon God’s gracious enabling.” (1) David knows that only the Lord can do the six things he requests in Psalm 51:10-12: “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. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.” In other words, David asks God to make him a new heart, revive his spirit, stay with him, return his spiritual joy, and sustain his willingness to obey Him. These are things only God can do. As we continue to learn to repent, we should also yearn for God’s Spirit to recreate, renew, and replenish our hearts, joy, and obedience.
A Clean Heart and Right Spirit.
David’s heart was black with sin, and, like us, he did not have any way to clean it. Nor did David think that his heart needed a little dusting. “Create in me a clean heart, O God…” “This is a startling request, and we must not miss its force. The word that begins this section is the Hebrew verb ‘bara,’ which is used in Genesis 1 for the creation of the heavens and the earth by God. Strictly used, this word describes what only God can do; to create ‘ex nihilo,’ out of nothing…In other words, as Derek Kidner writes, ‘With the word create he asks for nothing less than a miracle.’ He desires what only God can provide…It is a way of saying that if we are ever going to have victory over sin, God is going to have to start over with us from the beginning. And he does!…It is a wonderful truth and promise. It is a promise to which we cling.” (2) David understood that a new heart was required for his “spirit” to be made right again, as John Gill interprets it: “Here it signifies a renewing of the inward man, or an increase of grace, and causing it to abound in act and exercise; and intends a spirit of uprightness and integrity, in opposition to dissimulation and hypocrisy; a spirit ‘prepared [and] ready’ for every good work.” (3) Repentance begins with God’s work of turning our hearts from stone to flesh, from cold to loving, from sinful to sacred. We must sincerely long for God to recreate and renew us according to his character when we say we want to change. This is the essence of Paul’s exhortation in Colossians 3:12-14, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
Don’t Leave Me Alone!
David continues his prayer in Psalm 51, asking God to “Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me” (v. 11). Here is a continuation of David’s request to have God not look on his sin but expunge it, making it possible to restore his fellowship with our holy God, to look on David with favor. “Nothing is more desirable to a child of God than the presence of God; and nothing gives him more sensible pain than his absence; and even to be deprived of or denied the means of enjoying his presence the word and ordinances, makes them very uneasy…the happiness of the saints in heaven is to enjoy it without interruption. [Christians], the people of God, are never cast away from his favour, or out of his heart’s love; but they may for a while be without his gracious presence, or not see his face, nor have the light of his countenance, nor sensible communion with him, which is here deprecated. David might call to mind the case of Cain, or rather the more recent one of Saul, whom the Lord rejected, and from whom he departed upon his sinning, and which he might fear would be his case.” (4) It is worth asking what David may have meant by his prayer that God did not take the Holy Spirit from him. “John Calvin believed in eternal security, of course. So when he came to this verse he argued that David’s prayer that God not take away the Holy Spirit showed that he still possessed the Holy Spirit…Calvin wrote, ‘It is natural that the saints, when they have fallen into sin, and have thus done what they could to expel the grace of God, should feel an anxiety upon this point; but it is their duty to hold fast the truth, that grace is the incorruptible seed of God, which can never perish in any heart where it has been deposited.’ Today most commentators recognize that David is not talking about eternal security or the fear of losing his salvation at all. He is only acknowledging that he is unable to live a holy life without God. Therefore, he needs the help and power of the Holy Spirit every single moment if he is to be able to overcome temptation and follow after godliness.” (5) We need the Holy Spirit’s supernatural power and attention to want and be willing to repent and long for renewal.
David doesn’t just want relief from his anxiety, guilt, and shame over sin. He wants God to strengthen his “willing spirit” based on the joy of God’s salvation. (v. 12) “[The Holy Spirit] makes the saints ready and willing to obey the will of God, and to run with cheerfulness the way of his commandments…and with this spirit the psalmist desires to be ‘upheld’, to be strengthened by it, to do the will and work of God, that so he might not stumble and fall into sin as he had done; that he might be stayed, supported, and comforted with it, as the Holy Spirit of promise; that so he might not faint and sink under his present sense of sin, and the guilt of it; and that he would be not only a guide unto him in the ways of God, but that he would hold up his goings in them, that so he might walk both at liberty and in safety.” (6) Isn’t this what we truly want, rather than constantly wondering if we have pleased God or grieved the Spirit by our lack of contrition over sin? Where’s the joy in that? Shall we not repent for God’s Spirit to recreate, renew, and replenish our joy and obedience? “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” (1 Thessalonians 5:19-24)
Related Scripture: 1 Samuel 10:9; 2 Kings 24:20; Psalm 24:3-5; Jeremiah 24:7; Lamentations 5:21-22; Ezekiel 11:9; 26:25-27; Matthew 5:8; Acts 15:8-9; Ephesians 4:22-24, 30.
- Roberts, Richard Owen, Repentance: The First Word of the Gospel, pp. 105-107, Crossway, 2002
- Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Baker Books, Psalm 51, Part 2, Software version, 1998.
- Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Psalm 51:10, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/psalms-51.html
- Gill, Psalm 51:11, Ibid.
- Boice, Ibid.
- Gill, Psalm 51:12, Ibid.
July 15, 2021