Turn AND Burn: Week Threeà Cleansing
We’ve been in a new series this season of Lent called, Turn AND Burn, implying that we all need to orient our lives toward God (Turn) and be devoted to the lordship of Jesus Christ (Burn). We are using the 51st Psalm as our camp ground to discover God’s mercy, forgiveness, and today, cleansing.
The first week Zach talked about the mercy of God that is needed because we ALL sin and fall short of God’s glory. Last week we talked about forgiveness—not only God’s forgiveness of our sins through the blood of Jesus Christ, but also our forgiveness of ourselves! This may in fact be even more difficult. We want to cling to our past mistakes, judging ourselves unworthy of self-forgiveness. But THAT is inconsistent to what it means to repent and be forgiven. If we truly confess our sins to Jesus and we truly believe we are forgiven because of His loving act on the cross, then it stands to reason that we are to forgive ourselves.
David knew that God was merciful, compassionate, and loving. He knew that God could even forgive his adulterous, deceitful, and murderous behavior and so he could forgive himself. There were consequences for his actions, to be sure, but he could still be at peace with himself. Can you say the same?
Before we get into today’s text, let me share a bit about the style of writing we find in the psalms: poetry. Did you know that, according to one source, over 8,600 (27%) of the verses in the Bible are poetry? And another source states that 75% of the Hebrew Bible (which is largely our Old Testament) is poetry. Only seven books of the Bible have no clear poetry within them and only one of them is in the Old Testament: Esther.
Poetry follows certain patterns. The elements of Repetition and Restatement are key elements. For instance, David says in verse two : “Wash away all my iniquity AND cleanse me from my sin.” He is essentially making the same request of God twice for emphasis. Here’s another: “Hide your face from my sins AND blot out all my iniquity.
The poetry of the Psalms is not only beautiful, but quite popular across generational and demographical lines. They speak to our souls, don’t they? The Psalms put into words many of the emotions circling common experiences of life: fear, sadness, depression, anger, joy, love, hate, and so on. We can all relate to these emotions even if we haven’t experienced exactly the same things in life that the poet experienced.
But ALL of us has experienced sin, haven’t we? We’ve ALL offended someone else by our words or actions. We’ve ALL broken at least part of God’s Word. And, as we discussed last week, an offense against someone else is also an offense against the God who created them. That’s why David said, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” Our sins go way deeper than human relationships…they go to the very heart of who we are as God’s creation. And we need forgiveness from God. We need cleansing and transformation. That’s what David is seeking, too.
Let’s read the next four verses from Psalm 51 to see what it means to be cleansed by the Lord. :
10Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right/steadfast spirit within me.
11Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
13Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. (ESV)
Stylistically, we can see restatement and repetition for emphasis:
1.Create in me a clean heart (O God) AND renew a right spirit within me.
2.Cast me not away from your presence AND take not your Holy Spirit from me.
3.Restore to me the joy of your salvation AND uphold me with a willing spirit.
But there obviously a lot more going on than poetic style. What does David mean by the phrases he chose? Let’s take a closer look at each phrase.
First, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, AND renew a right spirit within me.” Sin has so destroyed us from the inside that the Creator must do a new work inside us. David would not have understood what, in theological terms, is called regeneration (new birth) because of the shed blood of Jesus. But he would have understood being recreated in his devotion and his will toward God.
The same word used for creation in Genesis is being used here. The God who created us in the Garden is being called upon to create again…this time not a new species, but a new heart within the old one. I’m reminded what God promises the exiled Israelites through the prophet Ezekiel in chapter 36:26à I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. God is always willing to change our hearts to conform to his image if we will but ask, seek, and knock.
Create in me a clean heart, O God. The Hebrew word tahor means clean or pure. As we’ve said before, the idea of ritual cleansing was common in Hebrew religious practice. A hyssop branch would be dipped in the blood of a sacrificial animal and sprinkled on individuals who, for instance, may have had a skin disease but are now healed. The priest would sprinkle them and declare them clean, able to rejoin the Jewish community.
But David is seeking something deeper here. He is asking for a clean or pure heart. In Hebrew tradition, the heart was the seat of the intellect…the will. That great 19th century “prince of preachers,” Charles Spurgeon said this: “The heart is the rudder of the soul, and till the Lord take it in hand we steer in a false and foul way.” Jeremiah the prophet puts it this way: The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?
In the ANE world, sacrifices were made to deities for different reasons: to assure a good crop; for fertility within the family; and to appease the gods for sins committed by individuals or the tribal society. When the pagans sought the deity to their remove sins, they were really asking the gods to “excuse” them of their sins…to overlook their offenses and relent from their anger toward individuals or the tribe.
I wonder if that’s not how some of us view the forgiveness of our sins. We simply want God to “excuse” us for our sins. No real change must happen on our parts as long as God just looks the other way…overlooks our “mistakes.” We can go on living the way we’ve always been living. And when we mess up again, we can ask God to forgive us like we always have, remembering that Jesus paid the price for our sins. But we really haven’t changed in our hearts and minds. David is seeking something much deeper, and we should, too.
It’s interesting that, nowhere in this psalm does David list the specifics of his sin…which is primarily sexual in nature. David desired that which was not his and then acted on it. He defied God by taking another man’s wife, getting her pregnant, trying to cover it up through deceit, then covering it up through murder and the marriage of Uriah’s widow. Yet NONE of these sins are specified in Psalm 51.
I think John Piper is right when he says that sex is just the symptom, not the disease. Listen: “Why isn’t he crying out for sexual restraint? Why isn’t he praying for men to hold him accountable? Why isn’t he praying for protected eyes and sex-free thoughts? The reason is that he knows that sexual sin is a symptom, not the disease. People give way to sexual sin because they don’t have the fullness of joy and gladness in Christ. Their spirits are not steadfast and firm and established. They waver. They are enticed, and they give way because God does not have the place in our feelings and thoughts that he should. David knew this about himself. It’s true about us too.”
David is seeking the “right spirit.” An established, firm, unwavering spirit. He wants to be done with the kind of instability that he has just experienced. Is there anyone here today who wants to be rid of an unwavering spirit? A steadfast spirit checks with Jesus when he or she encounters enticements or when facing crossroads in life. A steadfast spirit asks God, “What is your will for YOUR life, Lord? THAT’S what I want, too.”
In contrast, our own evil desires will lead us in a different direction altogether. Listen to how the half-brother of Jesus puts it : “each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:14-15 NIV).
David is seeking a life apart from that unwavering spirit that led him down the path of adultery and murder. He wants to please God with his life. Isn’t that one of the reasons you’re here today? You attend worship, pray, read your Bibles, share your faith, and help others in time of need because you want to please God with your lives. And THAT is a great thing indeed!
The second phrase is this: 11Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.In the time of King David, the presence of God was the Most Holy place in the tabernacle (and later the Temple when Solomon built it). While God was believed to be everywhere, the sacred space over the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant was God’s dwelling place. Only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies, and then only once a year. But even entering the holy place outside of the Holy of Holies required one to be ritually pure.
For David, it was more than being forbidden to “go to church…” to enter the sanctuary of God. It was more relational. He knew that the Holy Spirit was taken from Saul and placed on him because of Saul’s seemingly minor sin of offering a sacrifice instead of waiting on Samuel. Imagine what God would do to David for HIS sins! So David pleads with God not to leave him.
I want to take us back to 2 Samuel and the encounter between King David and Nathan the prophet. After Nathan confronts David for his sins through the parable and claims, “You are the man!” and after David relents of his sin saying, “I have sinned against the Lord,” Nathan says these words: “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. But because you have shown utter contempt for the Lord, the son born to you will die.” Not only will the sword never depart from his house, but the child born to Bathsheba will die.
This, of course, is tragic. So many negative consequences because of sin in our lives. Some are irreversible. That just a fact of life. BUT there IS FORGIVENESS with God! “The Lord has taken away your sin.” Just like that. David confesses his sin against God and God removes his sin. Again, for those of us who struggle with the agony of guilt and self-hatred over past sins, please hear that through Jesus Christ, YOU ARE FORGIVEN! Remember the words of forgiveness found in 1 John 1:9 , If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Listen to the third phrase: 12Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. David knew God’s saving grace. He knew the mercies of the Lord. But somewhere along the way he had lost the joy in God’s salvation. I think many of us suffer from the same negative mindset. We KNOW we are God’s children, paid for by the blood of Jesus and made effectual in our lives through faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God. But somewhere along the way…in the daily grind or the hustle and bustle of life…in the losses in life or in our struggles…we have forgotten WHOSE we are and HOW MUCH it cost Jesus for us to be His!
Lent, as J.D. Walt puts it, is not just another lap around the liturgical calendar! Lent is a time to let God RESTORE the JOY of our SALVATION. If you’re a believer and your saved, ACT LIKE IT! Rejoice in the Lord always…again I say REJOICE!
David also pleas for God to give him a willing spirit. Boy, don’t we need that! The only way our spirits will be willing is if we ALLOW the Holy Spirit to move in us…if we get into the rhythms of God’s grace. How do we do that? First, we ask God for it. How many times have we prayed, “Lord, give me strength?” or “Lord, give me courage”? Of course, God CAN strengthen us and empower us, but if we aren’t WILLING to exercise that strength, courage, faith, discernment, etc., then it won’t do us much good.
If I give you a beautifully wrapped birthday present and you throw it in your trunk, driving it around everywhere you go, then is that present doing you any good? No. We must ask for a willing spirit and then use it. This new, steadfast spirit will guide us into better relationships, better decisions, more powerful prayers, more committed student of God’s Word, a more loving husband or wife, a person of greater integrity, a more giving person…you get the idea, right? We are full of JOY because the saved life is the steadfast life!
Finally, the fourth phrase this morning is this: 13Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. Here is a key point today: Our transformed life is transferrable!
Our forgiveness…our salvation…our newness of heart…our willing spirit…these are NOT to be kept hidden in a closet. We are to help others find newness of heart…forgiveness in Christ…joy in their salvation.
I read a story from J.D. Walt just yesterday that I think applies. He knew a guy named Ricky who lived half his life in wickedness and sin. But then he met Jesus and became a new creation. One day he ran into one of his friends from his old life who was living far from God. He asked him, “If I were driving by your house one day and saw it on fire, would you want me to run and tell you?” The friend said, “Of course.” To which Ricky replied, “Your house is on fire.”
It is the compassionate, merciful thing to teach transgressors God’s ways SO THAT sinners can return to Jesus. It’s what we should do for one another in the body of Christ. As the apostle Paul put it to his son in the faith, Timothy: “Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth.” Lent is a time to get the log out of our own eye SO THAT we can help our friend get the speck out of his.
[Read Psalm 51:10-13 again.] The process of TURNING to God and BURNING for God requires God creating in us a new and clean heart, a willing and steadfast spirit to follow after God’s heart no matter what and to live out the joy of our salvation SO THAT others might turn to the Lord and be saved also. Is that what YOU desire? I pray it is. AMEN.