I wonder how long David hated himself for what he did to Uriah. I wonder how long it took for him to be able to look at Bathsheba without thinking immediately of the man whose death he ordered and the child God took from him in response.
We don’t know. The Bible doesn’t say. What we do see are the words of an emotionally and spiritually broken king, throwing himself upon God’s mercy and begging for forgiveness. “Do not cast me from your presence,” pleaded David, “and do not take from me your Holy Spirit” (Psalm 51:11).
David knew the road he was on, because he had watched Saul walk it before him. It was a road of self-justification and excuses; it was a road upon which genuine repentance could never set foot. David had come dangerously close to following his predecessor’s footsteps—but when brought face-to-face with the truth of his own ugly heart, David chose a different road.
“Have mercy upon me, O God,” he begged. “For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me” (Psalm 51:1, 3). We don’t know how many sleepless nights David spent tormented by his own terrible actions, but the man we see in Psalm 51 is a man who could not, would not, attempt to reason away his sins before God. He chose a path contrary to human nature—he took ownership of his wrong doing and repented.
But David asked for more than mercy and forgiveness in this psalm. He makes the special request that God would
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Make me hear joy and gladness,
That the bones You have broken may rejoice.
Hide Your face from my sins,
And blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
It’s snowing as I write this—has been for several hours. The world outside my window is blanketed in sheets of white. It’s a peaceful scene—with the occasional exception of a solitary car making a cautious descent down the road, my little town is all hunkered down for the night, while a curtain of pure white snowflakes gently covers the ground.
And that’s what David was asking for: a clean slate. David, the man whose hands were stained red with the blood of one of his most faithful servants; David, whose heart had been blackened by the sins of lust and adultery; David, whose outright disregard for the law of God had damaged his kingdom in a way that would last until it was carted off into captivity—that David was asking to be restored to purity, to become once again a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14).
Mainstream Christianity loves the word “grace.” It’s one of their favorites to use, and one of their least favorite to define. And because we know that God hasn’t done away with His perfect law, hearing a word so burdened with false doctrines and misconceptions makes it easy for us to swerve from one ditch and into another—to focus so heavily on what we need to be doing that we start to overlook what is impossible for us to do. We can become so focused on refuting some of the lies that others have built upon the doctrine of grace that the idea of grace itself can make us uneasy.
The epistle of Galatians was written to a very sincere, but very misguided, group of first century Christians. These men and women of God had become so focused on the importance of keeping God’s law that they had forgotten its function. They had begun to believe that keeping the law itself was enough to earn them salvation. Paul reprimands them by asking, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:1-3). He continued, reminding them that “no one is justified by the law in the sight of God” (Galatians 3:11).
God never negated His law, and Paul never attempts to explain it away in Galatians. If that were true, what need would there be for repentance? Rather, what Paul wanted the Galatians (and us!) to understand is that no amount of perfect law keeping today will blot out a sin committed yesterday. Only one thing can do that—the very word we tend to shy away from because of its manmade connotations.
Grace, the unmerited pardon available to use through repentance and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Grace, a gift given from the goodness of the giver without regard to the worthiness of the recipient. Grace cannot be earned, cannot be purchased, cannot be worked for.
Grace is what David was praying for in Psalm 51. He knew that no amount of future righteousness could cleanse him of his present iniquities. There was nothing he could do to remove the spiritual stains for which he was responsible…but there was something God could do, and did do. We know from the prophet Ezekiel that David will be once again be the king of a resurrected Israel in the future (Ezekiel 37:24), and we also know that God would not put an unrepentant leader in that position.
Do you want a clean heart? Do you want a renewed and steadfast spirit? Do you want to be whiter than snow?
Well, there’s nothing you can do to make those things a reality. Keep every jot and tittle of the law without flaw for the rest of your life and you’ll never succeed in erasing the stains of your past actions.
God, however, can. When we repent of our sins, when we seek God’s help in changing our course, when we ask Him to wash away our past missteps with the blood of our elder Brother, He will do those things. Whatever our past transgressions, whatever sins are ever before us, our Creator stands ready and willing to wash us whiter than snow. He promises us,
“Come now, and let us reason together,”
Says the Lord,
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
They shall be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They shall be as wool.”
God’s law is just as valid today as the day He created mankind. We are still required to obey it. But it’s not like balancing a checkbook; we don’t make up for breaking the law by just keeping it really well in the future. No, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
None of us go through life perfectly. We all stumble, we all falter, and we are all powerless to remove the stains those transgressions leave behind.
But God isn’t. By the grace of God, we can find forgiveness. We can overcome our shortcomings. We can be whiter than snow.
But first, we have to ask.
Until next time,