Five Lessons Learned about God’s Love from a Sinner’s Situation – Psalm 51

(Man praying on a hill.)

When I was in fifth grade, I peered in the mirror smiling and discovered that my teeth were coated with red dye in various shades. Plaque disclosing dye tablets had done their job. My reflection revealed a real lack of dental hygiene in my 10-year-old self. The plaque had been invisible but now the dye made it glaringly obvious.

In 2nd Samuel chapter 12, God sends Nathan to confront King David about his sin. Nathan uses a simple story about a rich man taking advantage of a poor man to help King David to see his own sins. The narrative nail is pounded into David’s heart when Nathan enquires about what consequences a rich man should receive for slaughtering the poor man’s only lamb. David begins to list various severe punishments for the rich perpetrator and then Nathan adds, “You are that rich man.”

A sin-disclosing tablet is dropped into David’s life, and he is utterly overcome with the length and breadth of his sins. The consequences of his moral failings unleash some far-reaching results. Regret and humility spur David to pen Psalm 51 as a piece of lament.

What can I learn about love from a sinner’s lament about love?

1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
Psalm 51:1 NIV

1 God’s love comes first and foremost, even before I am forgiven. God’s love doesn’t give up but continues relentlessly to bring restoration and transformation.
2 Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
Psalm 51:2-3 NIV

When David pursued a relationship with a married woman named Bathsheba, his sin was somehow not “before him”.

When David had Bathsheba’s husband murdered on the battlefront, so he could marry her, David refused to see his sin.

While David continued to choose sin over loving and obeying God, his desire to please himself, no matter the cost, grew.

Did the growing pile of sins obscure David’s view of his own guilt?

A lack of ability to see sin does not make it any less damaging. The consequences of David’s sin were significant and even deadly. And yet, God had mercy.

2. God’s mercy is borne out of His love for us.

It was out of mercy that the Lord sent Nathan to rebuke David. God sometimes places prophets in our lives or calls our friends to serve in a prophetic way. Has God ever sent a prophet to speak truth into your life?

David couldn’t see his sin, and then he did see all of it. He was devastated.

4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.

5 Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.

6 Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Psalm 51:4-6 NIV

  • 3. As my heart is filled with God’s love, my sensitivity to sin is restored. Conviction cuts deep, but God’s grace flows more. 

Reading through Psalm 51 reveals a rinse and repeat theme. Sin is ever-present and must be continually dealt with. In order to remain sensitive to sin, I must commit to regular confession. 

7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.

9 Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Psalm 51:7-10 NIV

Repentant sinners are in desperate need of renewal. God is gracious enough to provide a deep soul reset whenever we ask Him.

11 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.

12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you.

14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, you who are God my Savior,
    and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
Psalm 51:11-14 NIV
  • 4. God’s love and mercy blot out my transgressions and empower me to obey Him and teach others about His love.  
15 Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise.

16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.

17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise.

18 May it please you to prosper Zion, to build up the walls of Jerusalem.

19 Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous, in burnt offerings offered whole; then bulls will be offered on your altar.
Psalm 51:15-19 NIV

  • 5 God’s love can be reciprocated with praise from a contrite heart and broken spirit.

David penned some of the greatest pieces of praise and lament in the Psalms. Surely his creativity and passion were fueled by his humility and repentance. For me, those plaque disclosing tablets taught me a valuable lesson. I saw my failure in dental hygiene and was able to take corrective action before I lost some of my teeth due to my own negligence. Sometimes I wish there were sin-revealing tablets to reveal my hidden sins. It is far too easy to become blind to my own moral failings. It is far too easy to become hard-hearted towards sin.

The good news is God loves me too much to allow me to remain in ignorance. He has provided the Holy Spirit to help me shine a light into every part of my heart and soul. On a regular basis, God calls me to do an inventory of my soul and root out sin.

Reading back through a repentance psalm like 51 gives me an opportunity to prayerfully consider what I might need to confess. Other penitential psalms to consider reading and praying through are Psalms 6, 31, 37, and 101.

Ultimately God’s love provides a pathway to reveal our sin. God’s generous provision through Jesus makes a way for reconciliation and renewal.

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