“Sorry.” It’s one of the first words we teach children. But it’s one thing to learn to form the sound, and say it when told; it is quite another to learn it’s meaning.
Little Jimmy and Jane might mumble “sorry” when told by their parents… but they are still glaring daggers at each other behind their backs. It’s only a matter of time before they are fighting again.
David, inspired by God, shows us how to take confession beyond the surface-level “sorry”, in order to experience the true depth of His forgiveness.
Psalm 51 vs 3 to 6
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
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.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
Cleanse me with the hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
David doesn’t just list a catalogue of wrong deeds. He confesses the true depth of his sin.
First, David looks beyond the horizontal. He sees more than the human victims of his actions. That would have been uncomfortable enough. The title tells us this Psalm is from when David committed adultery with Bathsheba. When she became pregnant, he had her husband Uriah murdered to avoid the truth coming out.
And yet David says to God, “Against you, you only, have I sinned.” David isn’t dismissing the human victims. Instead he is recognising the real weight of what he has done.
The Bible ties the significance of every human being to the God who made them. How we treat others is how we treat Him. Wrong done to people is weighty because it is fundamentally against Him.
Second, David not only looks up but he looks back. He traces his sin back to the very beginning of his existence. This isn’t a one-off blip. It is the symptom of life-long condition. Each sin we confess is a window. It is a moment of insight into our fundamental problem.
But David doesn’t take this deep look at his sin to drag himself through the mud, but to look to the only One big enough to deal with it. “If you cleanse me,” he says, “then I really will be clean.”
If I reduce my sins to the horizontal, or call them one-off mistakes, then I’ll be tempted to believe I can deal with them. But if I rely on His mercy, I am unshakable. There is nothing I can discover about myself that is beyond him to make clean. Deep confession is the path to deep assurance.
Putting it into practice:
1. Look back on the last day. Ask God to show you one particular sin to confess to him. Feel it’s seriousness against Him. Own that it isn’t just a blip but the symptom of a deeper problem. Then use David’s prayer: “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”
2. Ask God to show you a sin from the past that still weighs on your mind. Ask Him to assure you of His cleansing. Repeat David’s Spirit-inspired prayer, as God’s promise to make you clean in His sight: “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”