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Seeking a pure heart: How to confess your sins

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topical Scripture: Psalm 51

Why do we sin?

Here’s the background of Psalm 51. King David had an affair with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. She became pregnant. To cover his sin, eventually he had Uriah killed and took the widow as his wife. But God knew what he had done, and sent the prophet Nathan to expose his sin.

In this one event David broke nine of God’s Ten Commandments. He broke in order the tenth, coveting his neighbor’s wife; the seventh, by committing adultery; the eighth by stealing her for himself; the sixth by murdering her husband; the ninth, by lying about his sin; the fifth, by dishonoring his parents; the second, by making an idol of Bathsheba; and the first and third, by shaming God and his name. At least he didn’t break the Sabbath, that we know of.

Why did he do this? Why do we sin? Why do these things happen? Let’s do some theology together.

First, we have inherited a sin nature.

Verse 5 is clear: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” This verse does not mean that babies or fetuses sin; it means that we have all inherited a sin nature, a propensity to sin.

Romans 5:12 says, “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all have sinned.” We have each inherited a tendency toward sin.

Second, we choose to sin of our own free will. While we have this nature, we are nonetheless responsible for our own sin. God does not make us sin, and the “devil made me do it” is a cop-out. Our family backgrounds and circumstances are often contributing factors, but the choice is ours. We choose to sin.

Listen to James 1:14-15: “Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”

Third, Satan deceives us. The devil is very real, and he hates you. You are his enemy. Jesus said in John 8:44 that the devil is a “murderer from the beginning,” and “a liar and the father of lies.” He tempts and deceives every one of us.

He is sly and subtle, never tempting us to do what he knows we will not do. As when lights are dimmed slowly and our eyes adjust to the darkness, so he seeks to lead us by steps from sin to its devastating results.

As a result, we each think that we are the one person in all of human history who can sin without consequences. No one will know about us; we can do this and be o.k.; no one will be hurt. Every person in sin thinks it’s so. But as we all know, that’s a lie.

Mark it down: sin always takes you further than you wanted to go, keeps you longer than you wanted to stay, and costs you more than you wanted to pay. Always.

To summarize: why do these things happen? Because we have a sin nature, and we choose to sin; we are deceived into thinking we can do so without consequence. And the results are disastrous and devastating.

I read this week about a terrible work of modern art: a loaded shotgun affixed to a chair. It was to be viewed by sitting in the chair and looking directly into the gunbarrel. The gun was set on a timer to fire at an undetermined moment within the next hundred years. And people waited in line to sit and stare into the gun!

Get out of that line, now.

What do we do when we sin?

Our second question: what do we do when we sin? Our psalm is very clear.

First, we turn to God (1-2). We ask for his “mercy,” which is not getting the punishment we deserve. We ask for his “unfailing love,” the Old Testament word for “grace,” which is getting the love and forgiveness we don’t deserve. We ask him to “blot out” our transgressions, a Hebrew phrase which means to wash the garment until it is clean and the stain is gone.

Our tendency when we sin is to run from God and his church, when we need to do the opposite. The sick need a doctor; the sinner needs God.

Second, we admit our sin to him (3-4). Our human reaction is to excuse our sin, to transfer blame to others, or to rationalize what we have done. A lawyer once told he never met a guilty defendant. Every one had justified his or her behavior somehow.

But David didn’t–he admitted his “transgressions,” which means to cross the boundaries of what is right. He acknowledged his “sin,” his moral failure.

And he stated correct theology: “Against you only have I sinned” (v. 4). We hurt other people, sometimes in horrible ways; but by theological definition we “sin” against God.

Third, we come to God in repentance and contrition (16-17). We don’t try to excuse our behavior by right and good actions (16). Instead, we come before God on bended knees and broken hearts. We are genuinely contrite and sorry for our horrible choices and actions.

God promised in 2 Chron. 7.14, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray, and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and forgive their sin, and heal their land.” If we come to him in humility and contrition.

This is not because humble repentance earns God’s forgiveness, but because contrition receives it. I cannot receive with a fist. I must admit I need what God can give, and open myself to receive it. So must you.

Fourth, we claim God’s cleansing (7-12). Then, when we confess our sin God does truly forgive and cleanse us. Hyssop was used by a priest to sprinkle the blood of a sacrifice over the sinner. So God cleanses us by the blood of his Son, Jesus Christ, who paid for all our sins.

God can wash us and make us whiter than snow; he can blot out all our iniquities; he can recreate a pure heart and spirit in our lives. He can restore to us the joy of our salvation (12). He can make us new people. This is the miracle of his grace.

1 John 1:9 is clear: if we confess our sin, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sin, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Every time.

Last, we make restitution to those we have hurt (13-19). David vowed to “teach transgressors your ways,” from his personal experience, so that “sinners will turn back to you” (13). He would “sing of your righteousness” and “declare your praise” in worship (14-15). He would lead the entire nation to “righteous sacrifices” as their godly king (19).

In other words, he would make restitution to the nation he has so injured. In fact, David wrote this psalm for public use by the people, not just private use in his worship. So that all would know of his sin, his repentance, and God’s grace.

We make restitution–not so that we can earn God’s forgiveness, but in gratitude for it; not so that others will forgive us, but so that we can help those we have hurt. By grace, as God has been gracious to us.

What do we do when others sin?

One last question: what do we do when others sin?

First, be honest. Nathan was honest with David, and David with the nation. Be honest with your feelings. Sin is a tragedy, and grief describes the way many of us feel when it affects us. In grief we go through periods of denial, anger, numbness, depression, and confusion before we come finally to acceptance and health. Be honest with your feelings.

Second, be humble. When Billy Weber resigned at Prestonwood many years ago, the next week a chapel speaker at SWBTS began by referencing the affairs which were in the papers. Then he pointed his finger and said, “There but for the grace of God go I. And there but for the grace of God go you.” He was right.

Third, come to pardon. Biblical forgiveness is not to excuse behavior, to pretend it didn’t happen, or to ignore it. It is to pardon, as when the governor pardons a criminal. The governor doesn’t pretend the crime didn’t happen, he chooses not to punish as he might. We come to the place where we choose not to punish as we might.

And we do this for our sakes, not just for theirs. We must eventually pardon those who have hurt us, even if they don’t ask us to or won’t admit their sin. We must release our anger and hurt, for the sake of our own hearts and souls. Be honest, don’t excuse, admit your pain and hurt and anger, but we must come over time to pardon as God does.

Fourth, guard your own soul. Learn again the truth of Scripture: “Be sure your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23). You are not the one person who can sin without consequence. Sin will defeat and destroy you, given the chance. Guard your own soul.

Stay close to God in his word and prayer, so close that the enemy has no foothold in your life. Stay accountable to people you trust, so they can tell you when they see something wrong and help you stay right.

Last, trust in God. He is still on his throne.

Conclusion

Now, where does this message find you? Understand that time in church is no substitute for time with God. Church activity cannot keep your soul from sin. What you are in private is what you are. If you have sin to deal with, do it while you can.

If right now you’re thinking your sin won’t hurt anyone, that there will be no consequences, that no one will know, that you can handle it, you’re being deceived. Turn to God now.

If you know someone whom you suspect may have issues like this, pray for them and try to help them. Ask God to guide you, do this with honesty and humility, but don’t let the cancer of sin spread.

All the while, know that God is still on his throne and his grace is greater than all our sin.