“10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, And Renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from Your presence And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation And Sustain me with a willing spirit. 13 THEN I will teach transgressors Your ways, And sinners will be converted to You.” (Ps 51:10-13)
Ah, the sound (and doctrine) of true repentance! Far more than a mere academic pursuit, the truth of what real repentance is, is necessary, fundamental truth for the child of God. David is here pleading with God to do something in him…in his very thoughts, intents, desires. Not just a “sense” during a worship service…as wonderful as such are. This is not a “Touch me here at the altar” type prayer – I am in no way suggesting such is not relevant or necessary. I am merely making a point. It is a desperate Please God! Change me plea. David is not asking that God would merely initiate these qualities, and then leave it to David to “develop them” ( as I’ve heard too many no doubt sincere, but no less mistaken people suggest). Rather that God would both create and sustain these qualities in him.. By such a prayer, David is not here boasting of self in any context. This is crucial for understanding the very essence of his prayer and what real repentance sounds and looks like. His prayer is therefore, an admission of complete spiritual bankruptcy. By such a request in prayer, David is implicitly asserting the obvious – he brings none of these qualities with him to the equation. If he did (or even could ), then seeking from God what David could and therefore should supply himself was both biblically absurd and morally erroneous … irrelevant. However, David’s prayer here in Psalm 51 is neither absurd, inaccurate or irrelevant. If these qualities he seeks from God are then to be found in him, God must “create” them within him. Consider the verbs he used carefully, they each tell quite a story. They each paint a picture of true spiritual renewal. They graphically illustrate true repentance…penned by a truly godly man … after the greatest moral, spiritual collapse of his life. They therefore teach us necessary doctrine – about ourselves and God. What He alone can do, and therefore, what we ourselves cannot.
“O how I love Your law!”
Prior to his sin with Bathsheba, David – like so many sincere, but truly misinformed (or sadly, misguided people today), had made many promises to God. Did he sincerely mean them? Absolutely. But as David would discover, sincerity is not enough! Had mere human resolve or will-power been enough, then surely the “man after God’s own heart”, the giant-killer, the beloved of the Lord, the “great king” whose expressions of yearning, worship and longing have inspired countless millions through the centuries, surely that man would have been able to overcome his greatest test! Like so many who promise God so much, David sincerely thought he truly “loved God’s law”. And he truly did…up to a point at least.
Promises, promises…but no brokenness:
So much modern ‘worship’ expresses people promising God what they will or will not do, be, surrender, decide, etc. David had done the same thing often in the earlier Psalms he penned…until he saw Bathsheba that is! He was no doubt sincere…as are the many who nevertheless, and perhaps unwittingly boast as much of self, as they do of God. According to Jesus in Lk 18:14 this self-boasting is no mere trivial things to God. It brings serious and negative consequences. God knows the true from the false. He knows when confidence is in self, verses wholly in Him! He knows who is broken and contrite in spirit and who is proud – even though they affirm many correct things about God or His word. The Pharisee of Luke 18 was a monotheist, and began his ‘prayer’ by saying ‘God I thank You that I am unlike other men…for I …”. But Jesus wasn’t fooled by that man’s lip-service to God. For underneath the veneer of orthodoxy and thanksgiving, was a very proud heart. God however, looks to those who are broken and contrite.
“For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Isa57:15)
“Heaven is My throne and earth is My footstool,..but this is the one I will look to, he who is broken and contrite and trembles at My word” (Isa 66:2)
Did you catch it? God does not merely “visit” those who are broken and contrite before Him. He dwells with and in them! And He loves to revive them. So why is this brokenness so clearly important to the thrice-holy, all-knowing, omnipotent God? Because He knows our frame! He remembers we are dust” (Ps 103:14). Have you ever noticed? The proud in heart assert much. Self occupies much in their thinking, their theology and their boasting. The broken and contrite however seek much! Grace and Christ occupy much in their thinking. There is a world of difference here folks!
…The proud assert. The humble seek! Life principle worth remembering.
You promised the world and performed in the gutter
David’s lingo changed after his sin with Uriah, Bathsheba. . It had to! What do you do after you had promised God supreme devotion, endless praise, passionate love, complete surrender …only to still plunge headlong into adultery, murder and deceit? And to remain in this state for close to, or more than a year! What do you promise then? To do better next time? … such is the mindset of the truly religious…but alas, the truly un-spiritual person. Convinced that true righteousness is within their own power, ability if they will simply choose it, they persist in the deception of works-based, self-righteous thinking – that they themselves can overcome their own inherent sinfulness, just by choosing so.
What About ‘Him Who Overcomes’?
But surely scripture speaks about and to “overcomers” who overcome, right? Indeed it does! “Everyone born of God overcomes the world” John said (1 Jn 5:1-2).
The crucial distinction though is the emphasis where John placed it – “born of God” – not just mere human willpower. There is a world of difference and true righteousness between the former – “born of God”, and the latter – “born of human decision”. Paul summed up the issue rather succinctly when in perhaps the most contriversial chapter in all scripture -Romans 9, he said “So then it does not depend on human desire/will or effort. But on God who shows mercy” (Rom 9:16). “It” in the context of the whole chapter, refers to God’s saving, elective mercy. That “it” was being applied by Paul to believing Gentiles who now trusted Christ, using Old Testament examples to illustrate the current New Testament point he was making in Romans 9, is abundantly clear from the way Paul concluded the chapter in Romans 9: 21-26 . Where he clearly defined who and what “vessels of mercy” are – “Even us whom He called from both Jews and Gentiles”, “I will call those who were not loved, ‘My beloved'”, “In the place where it was said ‘You are not My people’, they will be called children of the living God”. This language leads to no other credible option than that Paul crafted the entire argument of Romans 9 to apply it ultimately not to physical Israel of the past. Nor to nations represented by Jacob and Esau. Nor to merely earthly vocations. “Mercy” in context has nothing to do with what earthly vocation or position one has. It is spiritual, relational…saving. And it is ultimately dependent on God who shows mercy. But while “grace” is a synonym for mercy, both carrying the necessary aspect of “unmerited favour”, and Paul does employ grace in that context. The fact is, Paul also employs “grace” in the context of “divine enabling, empowering, ability”. Thus, where God’s unmerited favour rests, so does His divine enabling and empowering. We do ourselves a true disservice when we only emphasize the “unmerited favour” part, but omit the “divine enabling”. According to the New Testament, it is both. Not either, or.
There is none good but God
“There is none good but God” Jesus said (Mk 10:18). He meant it! The only source of goodness, is Him and what He not merely makes possible, but actually gives – both by imputation of righteousness by faith alone in Christ and His atoning death and resurrection, and by impartation to the human heart. Which brings us back to David’s humble pleas in Psalm 51. When Jesus said “For apart from Me, you can do nothing“, (Jn 15:5), in the context of “bearing good fruit”, He meant that too!
According to Psalm 51, what God creates, renews, restores, does not remove, upholds, sustains – is what produces true, lasting change in the life. It all comes from Him. He alone can produce it. Otherwise David’s prayer here is meaningless, empty, irrelevant and … misleading.
The Sacrifices Of God Are A Broken Contrite Heart
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Ps 51:17)
Not promises, promises. But brokenness…humble acknowledgment of what we, in our own fallenness truly are. What had David come to see was true of himself, but which he had not fully understood until his sinful heart had been fully exposed by his sin? Why not simply just “decide” to repent, move forward, become a “God-chaser” once more? Just choose to obey again? Such is the pervasive lingo of the modern church. Passionate, sincere no doubt…and sadly, sincerely mistaken! What did David now know, that he did not know prior? Just like so many who strive to be like him in “worship”, evidently do not seem to know?
“I was born in sin”
You see, something caused David to pray words like we see in Psalm 51. Words he had not used previously. What was it!? The awful realization now rang true with incredible clarity within him. It could no longer be ignored, trivialized…denied – “I was born in sin”! Please understand, this is not David shirking responsibility as I have heard some try to suggest. It is not David being evasive or disingenuous. God forbid! No, it is David now being fully transparently honest! The full weight of the fact of his real depravity in sin, from conception itself, now weighted down on him. David is finally coming to terms with what God had always said was true of fallen humanity in sin from before the flood, after the flood and ever since! “The heart is desperately wicked and deceitful above all things and who can know it?” God said and rhetorically asked through Jeremiah (Jer 17:9). Therefore it was precisely the “heart” which was and is the problem! Have you ever read Jer 24:7; Eze 36:24-27 in this light before? If not, do so…humbly, reverently. Ask God by His Holy Spirit to speak to you in a new fresh way…to give new, fresh, deeper insight and clarity as to why it was that the God who commands these things from us, in those places promised that He would give them to us?
For David, after Bathsheba, there could be no more sincere, but self-boasting promises made to God anymore! Those who do so, like David prior to Bathsheba, are no doubt sincere. They just do not grasp the full weight of their sinfulness. They still assume personal goodness, be it ever so small an amount, comes from self. Thus, they declare, promise, assert.
The mantra of all self-boasters is “I have decided…!”
The confession of all the truly broken and contrite before the Lord is, “By the grace of God I have …” (1 Cor 15:10) Do you see the clear difference? I assure you, Jesus does!
The language and emphasis of Psalm 51, contains truth and espressions not found in his earlier Psalms. Do you know of what I speak? Have you experienced the same epiphany David had? Has your heart cried out to God in similar, anguished pleas? Create, renew, restore, don’t take, uphold me!
> The answer, is the truth of brokenness.! The sacrifices of God are not promises, promises. But rather brokenness! Not “Lord, I decide, choose, strive, will do”. But “O Lord save!” “O Lord, deliver!” “O Lord, create within!” “O Lord, help!” “O Lord, sustain!” “O Lord, empower!” According to His word, God is far more attentive to the humble cry of the broken and contrite than to the affirmations of self-boasters!
“Then Will I Teach Sinners Your Ways”
Q. When will David teach transgressors?
A. Only after GOD has done His work in, for, to David.
Having been brought to the full realization of how far his personal sinfulness went, and at last, finally to the end of self, David as clay, was now ready to re-moulded by the Soveregn Potter. David now understood that for true , lasting righteousness to be in him, God must do all!
Q. What will David teach them?
A. God’s WAYS – not merely His word. Friends, do you see the difference here?
– many assume they know God’s ways , because they can quote His word. Or know some theology. This is quite far from the truth though. You see, had David only gone by the word, he would have merely perpetuated the “Do, Do Not Do” mentality of the Law. Sadly, most professing Christians adopt the same mentality to truth of the gospel and life under grace.
“He made known His WAYS to Moses, His ACTS to the children of Israel” (Ps 103:7).
Q. How will sinners be truly “converted” to God?
A. When having been through the same process whereby we have abandoned all hope of self-reform in any way, they in brokenness admitting only personal weakness (what we CAN’T do in our own strength, by our own will alone), look TO God pleading for what only HE can and must do! And thankfully, what He has done, in, by and through Jesus!! Here then is the heart and soul of the cry “O Lord SAVE!”, which is the proper meaning of “Hosanna!”
“Make every effort to add …”
This is the way we “make every effort to add to our faith” the character virtues Peter admonished in 2 Peter 1: 5-13! We make every effort in prayer…humbly seeking from His hand everything we need. We do not boast of self…ever! We boast only of Him! Those who assume they are thus growing in godly character and virtue, but who persistently boast of self, will be greatly amazed when they stand before Him to see what they thought was “gold, silver, precious stones” reduced by the fire of His holiness to mere “wood, stubble” (1 Cor 3:12-15). Or worse still…what about the many Jesus said will stand before Him with orthodox confession, professing their own “many wonderful works” done in His name? To whom He will say the most fearful words possible “Depart from Me! I never knew you!”
We do not boast of what we have done…ever! We extol what He did for us on the cross and does in us by His grace – not our will, choices, effort. Rom 9:16; Titus 3:5; Rom 4:1-8; Eph 2:8-9 expressly refute any and all grounds of boasting in self for any reason!
>To the degree we extol ourselves, to that degree we diminish and ultimately deny the grace of God. To the degree we “boast in the Lord”, we diminish and deny self any credit or praise.
“One plants, one waters, but GOD caused the growth. So then neither the one who plans or waters is anything, but GOD who causes the growth” (1 Cor 3:7-8).
Sustain Me With A Willing Spirit:
But surely, the will to even pray like this must first be supplied by ourselves, right? Only afterwards, can or will God answer, right? Not so. Read the prayer again…David is here openly asking God to keep him by giving him a “willing spirit”. The word “Sustain” is key. David is not asking God for a one moment in time willingness. He is asking God to sustain him with such!
– David was asking that God both initiate and prolong such willingness in Him! Very reminiscent of Phil 2:13 “For it is God is works in you both to will and to do His will”. Yet, if he understood what the modern synergist says – that while God can supply the means we must supply the will, then why did he ask God to provide the will to obey?!? You see when push came to shove with Bathsheba so to speak, David was not willing to obey God’s Law. Remember Paul, “The commandment aroused every desire in me and slew me. For sin apart from the Law is dead” (Rom 7:8). The Law of God, though itself holy and good was by itself unable to impart life. Why? Because of the corruption of sin in the human heart! David understood now what his son Solomon would write many years later “Guard your heart with all diligence, for from it proceed all the issues of life” (Prov 4:23). But since David’s heart had collapsed when truly put to the test, David now understood that to truly obey required something new and lasting from God. Something God would have to create! Paul summed it up this way “Had a Law been given which could impart life, then righteousness would have been by the Law” (Gal 3:21). And may we all never forget his emphatic ‘line in the sand’ where he said “I do not frustrate/set aside the grace of God. For IF righteousness is of the Law THEN Christ died for nothing!” (Gal 2:21). Strong words indeed friends.
If perchance some might be tempted to misunderstand what David was actually asking here, let’s examine this from a few different English versions.
A few other renderings of Ps 51:12:
> “Grant me a willing spirit to sustain me” (NIV)
> “And make me willing to obey you.” (NLT)
> “Give me a willing spirit” (Holeman)
> “Sustain me by giving me the desire to obey!” (NET)
> “Uphold me with a willing spirit” (New Heart)
> “And let a willing spirit uphold me” (JPS Tanakh 1917)
God said “I will give them a ‘heart’ to know Me” (Jer 24:7). Why is this rather significant truth so rarely, if ever proclaimed from so many pulpits? As if it is trivial? Or irrelevant? As if God would waste His time saying He would give something that was less than sufficient to see it through?
In biblical lingo, the “heart” encompasses the mind, will and emotions. David now understood, that the desire and will to sustain faith, worship and serving God must be supplied by Him. He gives it. We do not supply it. Paul, who obviously knew and now understood these crucial biblical themes, after admonishing the Philippan believes to “Work out your own salvation with reverent awe”, was quick to add the qualifying caveat which alone makes that practically possible! “For it is God who is at work in you BOTH to will and to do of His will” (Phil 2:13)
The Proof Is In The Pudding:
How could David thereafter know that God had in fact answered this prayer, except by the evidence within that he was thereafter so willing? That His heart was clean thereafter? That He had come to learn God’s ways, not just His word?
> Self-boasters strive and fight to get self in the mix, even a little. This is the antithesis of the broken and contrite spirit God requires. Insist on boasting of self? Ok, but be warned “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled” (Lk 18:14), Jesus said. What is the only alternative to exalting one’s-self?
WHEN He has brought us hence, THEN we will be able to teach sinners (being now truly qualified to do so!) and THEN they will be converted TO Him, BY Him.
“One waters, one plants, but God caused the growth. So then neither the one who plays or waters is anything, but God who caused the growth” said Paul (1 Cor 3:7-8). Where is room for boasting of self here? They who plant and water are not anything, Paul said. Only God is!
The self-boaster will try and ignore, evade, deny the obvious here as well. “A seed can’t grow unless it has been planted and watered!” they will protest. So ignoring or denying the force of Paul here, where Paul insists we are not anything in the equation, the self-boasters will turn around and claim so far from not being anything, we are in fact indispensable! In His condescending mercy and enabling grace, God graciously wills to work in and through us. But make no mistake about it friends, we are the instrument, He is the One who wields it.
“Does the ax raise itself above the person who swings it, or the saw boast against the one who uses it? As if a rod were to wield the person who lifts it up, or a club brandish the one who is not wood!” (Isa 10:15)
> Incredibly, I have heard professing believers, who even after reading this obviously rhetorical rebuke from the Lord, still teach, preach, talk as if the ax can boast of itself!
Your testimony, teaching will be the evidence to all who are spiritually mature of whether you are a self-boaster. Or, an ‘In Christ alone‘ boaster! You see to truly boast of and in Christ alone, really means to boast only in Christ alone!
The grace of God would forever thereafter change David…and his testimony would now corroborate that truth.
If your preaching, teaching, counselling is “Just do , choose, be better!”, then you are a self-boaster. Period! You see, if you were truly broken and contrite before the Lord, your counsel would be Pray more! Pray desperately! Seek earnestly!
Remember this life principle: The humble seeks. The proud asserts!
He or she who seeks from God all they need and He requires, are the broken and contrite who tremble at His word. They are the ones God “looks to”. The spiritually mature person is he or she who has “passed under the rod” (Eze 20:37). And so, like Apostle Paul knows they are nothing but a “wretched person” in themselves and so continually looks upwards to Christ crucified, risen again and advocating, as the sole basis and means of justification, righteousness, sanctification. They see in Him, “the end of the law for righteousness” as Paul said (Rom 10:4). They know that only He can work true righteous character within and so, like David of old, they seek from Him everything He requires from them.
While sinless perfection is not in view here, the emphasis is on growth in grace and knowledge. The terrible tradegy is that there are many who assume they have true godly character…who don’t! Oh sure, outwardly, they may appear to men to be humble, gracious, loving, devoted, honest, etc. But God looks at the heart. And God knows who truly credits everything to Him, or boasts of self. Never forget, there will be many who will stand before Jesus Christ, professing their works in His name…many wonderful works no less. To whom He wil turn and declare “Depart from Me, for I never knew you!”
Someone whom I love and respect, shared this profound, life-changing principle many years ago. While he was in prayer one day, he felt the Lord spoke clearly to his heart saying “It’s not what you do for Me, but what I do in and through you that counts”…what tremendous wisdom from the Lord!
Finally, and here is a paradox for the spiritually astute and wise. While God’s holiness justly requires and commands all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30), apostle Paul said “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome. But patient and able to teach those who oppose the truth. In the hope that God may GRANT REPENTANCE, so that they might come to their senses, acknowledge the truth and escape the snare of the evil one who holds them captive to His will” (2 Tim 2:24-26).
Your testimony and teaching will reveal whether your hope is the same of all those who are truly the “servants of the Lord”.
May God give light
John M. Platanitis, April 10, 2017