A Prayer for Pardon from Personal Sin (Psalm 51:1–19)

After the predictably horrible reign of Saul, God hand-picked David to succeed him as king of Israel (1 Samuel 13:14). And David loved God, worshipped God, served God, and represented God. By all earthly measurements, David was a great man. But, as 2 Samuel 11:1–12:12 demonstrates, even the greatest of people still sin, sometimes dramatically. No one—no matter how mature they are in the Lord, how knowledgeable they are about the Lord, or how useful they’ve been to the Lord—is immune to temptation, disobedience, and moral shipwreck.

We may never steal someone’s spouse or conspire to have someone killed as David did, but we all rebel against the God we claim to love. The question is, what do we do when we do? How should we respond to our own trespasses? How do we process our personal immorality and the accompanying guilt it brings before our God? Psalm 51 gives us a guide.


After the horrible reign of Saul, God selected David to succeed him as King of Israel. First Samuel 13:14 reports that “The Lord … sought out for himself a man after his own heart, and … appointed him as ruler over his people.” Saul had been a man after Israel’s own heart. They picked what they wanted and got what they deserved. So, God says, “It’s my turn to pick what I want for my people and I pick David.”

And David loved God, worshipped God, served God, and represented God. By all earthly measurements, David was a great man.

But even great people still sin. No one—no matter how mature they are in the Lord, how knowledgeable they are about the Lord, or how useful they’ve been to the Lord—no one is immune to temptation, disobedience, and moral shipwreck. We may never steal someone’s spouse or have someone killed, but we all sin. We all rebel against the God we claim to follow. 

The question is, what do we do when we do? How should we respond? How do we process our immorality and our guilt? Psalm 51 tells us how. Please turn there if you have a Bible with you. 

It’s my opinion that Psalm 51 may be the most important and immediately applicable psalm we’ll be studying in this series. Christian lives are ruined, Christian homes are destroyed, Christian witness is marred, Christian ministries are ravaged, and Christian churches are discredited because personal sin is left unattended and unaddressed. We need Psalm 51, as it’s going to help us answer the question When we sin, to whom do we turn and for what do we seek? When we sin, where do we run and why do we run there?  Listen to the inspired account of David’s response to his sin.


When we sin, to whom do we turn and for what do we seek? Our first step, as was David’s first step, is to acknowledge that we do actually sin and that our sin is actually a big deal. 

In Psalm 51, David does both. He breaks out his thesaurus to admit his error: “My transgressions, my iniquity, my sin, [my] evil, [my] bloodguiltiness.” David knows he’s done wrong, that he’s broken God’s law, and that he’s stained with the filth of rebellion.

He also knows that that stain doesn’t wash out easily. Notice again how he describes the breadth and depth of his sin. [51:3] It’s always on his mind. Why? Well, for one thing: [51:5]. It’s always before him because it’s always been a part of him. There’s never been a time when David hasn’t known a propensity for evil. The fruit of his sins and his guilt grows from a root of fallenness. The stain of his sin goes deep.

And sin has consequences. [51:4c–d] His sin puts him in the hands of a perfectly just Judge—not great news for the guilty. [51:8b] There’s been a physical toll. David feels like he’s gone ten rounds with his own depravity and lost. [51:9a] He deserves to lose God’s favour. That he asks for his spirit to be renewed (10b) and his joy to be restored (12a) means both were casualties of sin.

[51:11] Both were possibilities. We should remember that before Pentecost and the birth of the church in Acts 2, God’s Spirit didn’t indwell God’s people like today. Instead, the Spirit would come upon people to bless and empower them. So, the Spirit departing from David was a real fear. In fact, it had happened to his sinful predecessor, Saul (1 Sam 16:14). So, David’s asking God, “May I not be like him!”

The horrible events surrounding Bathsheba and Uriah reminded David that, even though he was God’s chosen guy, he was not only capable of great sin but his sin was a big deal with big consequences. 

And his errors should remind us the same thing. Though we belong to God forever through faith in Christ and though our sins have ultimately been forgiven, we still all sin and all sin is a big deal. 

Paul could not have said it more clearly: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). Proverbs asks the rhetorical question, “Who can say, ‘I have cleansed my heart, I am pure from my sin?’” (20:9). James say, “For we all stumble in many ways” (3:2). John adds: “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).

Whether it’s in thought, word, or deed; whether by commission or omission; whether devious or reactionary, we all sin and, when we do, it’s a big deal. Sin steals life, kills joy, offends the perfect Judge, and shames the one who died to free us from those very sins. As we sometimes sing, “Behold the man upon a cross, My sin upon His shoulders; Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice Call out among the scoffers. It was my sin that held Him there Until it was accomplished; His dying breath has brought me life, I know that it is finished.”

As the author of Hebrews says, when Christians fail to mature in Christ and, instead, walk in the sin from which we’ve been freed, we “again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame” (Heb 6:6).


David sinned horrendously. And, while we may not sin like him, we all sin and all sin is a big deal. So, what can we do about it? When we sin to whom do we turn? 

Well, David turns to God, even though it’s God he’s ultimately offended. [51:4a–b] Now, had David sinned against Bethsheba? Uh, yeah. What about Uriah? Yup. The people of Israel? Big time. This verse isn’t ignoring those wrongs but David is rightly acknowledging that in the greatest, truest sense, his sin is against the holy God of truth, righteousness, and justice.

I once asked a father of adult children, if he could go back what would he change about the way he raised his kids. He said, “I wish I would have made them feel more accountable to God than to me.” That father now knows what David knew, that ultimately everyone answers to God. Ultimately, our sin offends God. And, knowing that, David turns to the God he’s ultimately offended.

And he turns to him desperately. Throughout the psalm David’s requests are in the imperative mood, meaning they’re urgent requests. “Be gracious to me! Blot out my transgressions! Wash me! Cleanse me! Hide your face from my sins! Create in me! Renew in me! Deliver me!” He turns to God desperately: “I need you to help me with sin!”

David also turns to God honestly. [51:6] Sin involves deception. For David to do what he did he had to lie to himself about who he is and who God is. He had to lie to the people around him. And he had to lie to God through his prophet, Nathan. 

When we sin, we too are lying. We are lying about sin’s reality, its root, its object, and its consequences. We’re lying about who God is, where he is, what he’s like, and what he sees. Sin is full of deception. 

Here, David’s done with that. He knows God desires truth and that’s what he’s going to give him. He’s coming clean, telling God what God already knows about his heart, actions, and thoughts. He’s honest. 

David also turns to God humbly. [51:16–17] In the Mosaic Law there was no sacrifice for intentional sin like David’s. He could kill a thousand bulls and it wouldn’t appease God’s just wrath. What would? Brokenness. Contrition. God wants a people who are bent over in regret for their rebellion. They are made low with knowledge of their iniquity. They are humbled in sorrow over sin. 

David knows he’s sinned and that his sin is a big deal, so he turns to God, the one he’s ultimately offended, and he goes desperately, honestly, and humbly before him. That’s the posture of a sinful creature before a sinless Creator.

Now, this would be terrifying—admitting treason to the all-powerful Sovereign you’ve offended—if it wasn’t for the character of the God he approaches. [51:1] David the rebellious creature turns to God the just Creator, and appeals to his gracious, loving, and compassionate character. When we sin, to whom do we turn? We turn to the God who knows and love, the God who is just and gracious.

If a fire breaks out in your home, there are wrong ways to handle it. Don’t break windows, though it may seem a good idea to let the smoke out. Instead, you’ll be feeding the flames fresh oxygen. Don’t open hot doors even if that’s the way you think you should leave. Don’t hide in the house. Don’t return for your belongings. Don’t blow on the flames like a giant birthday candle. There are many things not to do. What should we do? Call the fire department.

If sin breaks out in your life, there are wrong ways to handle it. Don’t ignore it, minimize it, normalize it, justify it, empower it, or surrender to it. All of these feed its flames, increase its appetite, and allow it time to spread, consume, and destroy. What should we do when we sin? Call the Expert! Own it, recognize its severity and danger, and run desperately, honestly, and humbly to the God who owns the house we just set on fire. We’ll find he’s gracious, loving, and compassionate.


When we sin, to whom do we turn and for what do we seek? In other words, what do we get when we go to him? Why bother dealing with sin? Is it worth the discomfort, humiliation, and effort? Well, I find six things in this passage that sinners like us find when we turn to God—six things that seem to me to scream, “It’s worth it!”

First, we get the removal of guilt. [51:1d, 2, 7, 10a] Sin makes us dirty. It gums up the transmission, it clogs the gears, it ruins the cloths, and makes us unpresentable. [Rev 3:3–4] When we sin against our heavenly Father, we’re guilty before him. When we go to him, guilt is removed. [1 John 1:9]

Second, we get the restoration of joy. [51:8, 12a] Personal sin steals and stifles the joy of the Lord and “the joy of the Lord is our strength” (Neh 8:8). Like fire sucks the air out of a room so sin sucks the joy out of life. If you want to live with a supernatural joy that transcends the situations of life, turn to the Lord with your sin. Have your joy restored.

Third, there’s the rebuilding of fellowship. [51:9, 11a] In my teen years I was often disrespectful to my parents, people who loved me, provided for me, guided me. I bit the hand that fed me. And in those times, while I never stopped being their son, our relationship was strained; less laughter, comfort, and intimacy. It’s the same with sin and the Christian. We forever are his children but sin strains the relationship. But when we turn to him, fellowship is rebuilt.

Fourth, there’s the renewal of conviction. [51:10, 12b] One of the leading causes of spiritual lethargy, apathy, immaturity, and deconstruction is personal, unconfessed sin. (I can affirm this from personal experience.) When we go to the Lord with our sin, we’re spraying for bugs and renewing our conviction in what we know to be true.

Fifth is the resolution to usefulness. [51:11b, 13] When guilt is removed, joy is restored, fellowship is rebuilt, and conviction is renewed, you better believe usefulness to the Lord is resolved. If you want a fire in your bones to be used of the Lord, to bring people to the Lord, to encourage people in the Lord, then deal with your sin.

Sixth and finally, there’s the return to right worship. [51:14–19] It shouldn’t surprise us that it’s hard to offer God the worship he deserves when we are at odds with him, when fellowship is strained, when we’re not being used by God.

When we sin—and we do—to whom do we turn? We turn to the God we’ve ultimately offended, appealing to his character. And for what do we seek when we turn to him? The removal of guilt, the restoration of joy, the rebuilding of fellowship, the renewal of conviction, the resolution to usefulness, and the return to right worship.

But when we don’t practice confession of sin to God, when we allow the termites to go on chewing, we sacrifice those things. And we may not even know it. You may be here today and think what you’re experiencing in life is joy or right worship, but it’s not because you have sin that needs to be brought to the Lord. You may be here convinced that you’re not useful to God or that your walk with him is as close as it will ever be but that the reality is sin is stopping you.

Let your sin break your heart!

God is speaking to each of us this morning and saying, Let your sin break your heart!It is a big deal. Don’t justify it or minimize or ignore it or feed it. Let it break your heart. You have offended the God who saved you. We have enjoyed the eternal truth of the gospel by grace and then, in rebellion, spat in the face of he who hung on the cross. Be ashamed as you hear your mocking voice, call out among the scoffers. Let your sin break your heart.

Let your God put it back together!

But then, Let your God put it back together!Turn to him, the one you’ve offended. Go to him humbly, honestly, and desperately. He’s gracious and loving and compassionate and is waiting for you. Don’t sit with that broken heart, let the King of Hearts mend it. Let him deal with your guilt and wash you clean again. Let him restore your fellowship and all the rest. Yes, let your sin break your heart. That humble contrition that pleases the Lord. But don’t forget to let your God put it back together.

Let’s pray this psalm together now. Please bow with me.

Be gracious to us, O God. Be to us sinners, the God of all love and compassion that you always are and blot out our transgressions. Wash us thoroughly, we pray, of the filth of the treason we’ve committed.

We know our sins are as numerous as they are vile in your sight and that it’s against you, ultimately, the perfect Judge, that we’ve rebelled. Our iniquities are ever before us and we were born into sin. Our desperation runs deep, Father.

And so we turn to you now, trusting in your merciful character, to ask for help. We come humbly, with broken hearts. We come honestly, knowing our guilt. We come hopefully, seeking the grace you’ve promised.

Remove our guilt, we pray. Cleanse us afresh. Restore the joy that’s been lost, the damage we’ve caused, and the fellowship that’s been fractured. We want to walk with you closely and intimately. Renew our conviction, our faith, our strength. Make us strong and sturdy that we may be used by you for your glory, to build up your people and to proclaim your power. Return us to the type of worship that you deserve, that you require, that you love.

And now, Father, as a people who have confessed to you, we take you at your word and believe that we’ve been cleansed, that we’ve received pardon yet again. Thank you for answering this prayer. We love you and we ask all these things in Jesus’s name. Amen.



Josiah Boyd

Share it:

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on email