Psalm 51: A Model Of Genuine Repentance

Genuine Repentance Is Always Preceded By Conviction

“For the choir director. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” (Introductory notes, Psalm 51)

In a day when study Bibles are becoming larger and filled with more footnotes and marginal references than ever, it can be easy to overlook the fact that those little introductory notes at the beginning of many of the Psalms are actually part of the original, inspired Scripture. When the Psalms were initially compiled together, it was noted that the 51st Psalm found its occasion following the confrontation of King David by Nathan the prophet. 2 Samuel 11 records David’s great sins in committing adultery with Bathsheba and subsequently ordering the murder of her husband in order to conceal the resultant unwanted pregnancy. 2 Samuel 12 tells us of the Lord’s using one of His prophets, Nathan, in order to convict David of his sins and lead him to repentance.

Although 2 Samuel 11:27 states that the thing which David did was, “Evil in the sight of the Lord“, it does not say that the thing which David did was evil in his own eyes. It took conviction by the Spirit of God, speaking through the prophet Nathan, to make David realize just how appalling his sinfulness really was. It wasn’t until he could see his deeds from another perspective that he was moved to come before God in repentance.

Because we are all like-minded concerning our own sin, genuine repentance must necessarily be preceded by conviction of the Holy Spirit. Even as Christians, it is easy for us to excuse our own sins and downplay their seriousness in our own minds. Apart from the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, revealing the depths of our own depravity and our capacity to pursue the works of the flesh, we could never understand the severity of sin and our need for repentance.

Genuine Repentance Pleads For God’s Grace

“Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness;
According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions.” (Psalm 51:)

Real repentance pleads for God’s grace and mercy, realizing that nothing else can ever blot out our transgressions. David opens up his great psalm of repentance by asking God to deal with him according to His loving-kindness and His greatness. David does not ask God to deal with him according to his own kindness or greatness. God forgives us because of Who He is and because of His goodness and compassion, not our own good works. Repentance is a plea to God to deal with us in mercy and not to give us what we truly deserve.

David responded to Nathan’s parable about the stolen lamb by declaring that the villain who had done this deserved to die (2 Samuel 12:5). According to the Law of Moses, both adultery and murder were punishable by death (cf. Leviticus 20:10, 24:17). He was aware that if God were to give him what he deserved, then he should be put to death. But thank God He doesn’t give us what we deserve, but gives us that which we do not deserve when we come to Him in repentance. Hypocrisy calls for the Lord to give us what we have earned; repentance prays that He will not!

Genuine Repentance Recognizes That All Sin Is Against God

“Against You, You only, I have sinned
And done what is evil in Your sight,…” (Psalm 51:4a)

King David had committed sin against Uriah and Bathsheba, but it is God to Whom he directs his repentance. Why? Because he recognized that all sin is ultimately the breaking of God’s Law and it is against God that we sin. Do we owe an apology to those whom we transgress against? Yes. Should we seek the forgiveness of those whom we hurt? Absolutely. But we should always bear in mind that all sin is first and foremost a violation of God’s Law and that we should seek reconciliation with Him whether we have been reconciled to others or not.

Genuine Repentance Confesses That God Is Just

“So that You are justified when You speak
And blameless when You judge.” (Psalm 51:4b)

Hypocrisy, when confronted, will downplay its own transgressions with every excuse and alibi imaginable. It will blame everyone else, including God Himself, for its error and will never accept accountability for its own actions. The Apostle Paul points out the absurdity of the creature bringing an accusation against the justice of the Creator by comparing us to clay in the hands of the Potter (Romans 9:19-21). Shall that which is made accuse its Maker of injustice or unfairness?

Real repentance confesses the justice and fairness of God. God is blameless in His conviction of sin and all of His judgments are right (cf. Psalm 19:9). If God were to allow every last person to perish in their sins, He would not be unjust in the least little bit. Praise be to God that He is merciful and not only just!

Genuine Repentance Recognizes Man’s Sinful Nature

“Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
And in sin my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5)

True repentance identifies our indwelling sinful nature which abides in our flesh. The conventional wisdom of this world proposes that all people are basically good and that we are all essentially innocent until proven otherwise. But the conviction of God shows us that our hearts are desperately wicked and unrighteous (cf. Jeremiah 17:9). We do not become sinners because we commit sin, we are born sinners! With the Fall of Adam in the Garden of Eden came a sin nature inherited by every living person born thereafter. This is not an excuse for our behavior, only an explanation of it. When we repent, we agree with God’s assessment of man and testify that, apart from Him, no good can ever come from us.

Genuine Repentance Rests On The Blood Of Christ

“Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
 Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” (Psalm 51:7)

Hyssop, in the Old Testament, was a plant used to apply the blood of sacrifice during ceremonial cleansing. This verse speaks of the blood of atonement and, ultimately, looks toward the Blood of Jesus Christ which alone can wash sin away and purify sinners. It took the Blood of Christ to wash away our sins when we were first converted; it takes that same Blood to continue to wash us clean after we become Christians. The hyssop itself is a portrait of our faith which is the applicator of the Blood, for it is by faith that His Blood is applied. True repentance, therefore, places its faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ for the remission of all sins — past, present, and future.

Genuine Repentance Recognizes That Joy And Happiness Are Found In God, Not In Sin

“Make me to hear joy and gladness…” (Psalm 51:8a)

Sin lures us away from God with promises of joy, satisfaction, and fulfillment through the pursuit of our own fleshly desires. But only pain, sorrow, and destruction ultimately await. Yet in God we find all that we need that pertains to life and joy and true repentance sees this.

Genuine Repentance Accepts The Consequences Of Sin

“…Let the bones which You have broken rejoice.” (Psalm 51:8b)

There is a great dearth of real repentance within most of our churches today because many believers fail to see that sin carries consequences. The fact that God forgives us and we are not going to Hell seems to be the only concern for some. But we often forget the solemn warning of Galatians 6:7,

Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. (KJV)

Yes, God forgives our iniquities but that does not always mean that we escape all the consequences of our actions. All we have to do is read on in 2 Samuel to see that David suffered a multitude of consequences for his sins, in fact, his life was never quite the same after this incident. God did not put David to death, nor did He condemn him to Hell. Nevertheless, David suffered grievously during his life on earth for the transgressions he had committed.

Let us never think that our sins, because they are pardoned by the Lord, bear no repercussions.

Genuine Repentance Acknowledges Our Capacity For Further Sin

“Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10)

Notice not only the things which David says in this Psalm, but that which he does not. There are no promises of self-reformation, no bargains struck where he vows to “do better” in the future. Lord God, You create in me a clean heart and a right spirit. You. The pride of our flesh seeks to impress God with lofty aspirations and oaths of fidelity which we are inclined to believe that we can produce, yet are entirely beyond our limitations. Real repentance confesses our shortcomings and begs the Lord to strengthen and purify our hearts that we may not sin against Him.

Later in the Psalm, David declares:

“For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it;
You are not pleased with burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” (Psalm 51:16-17)

There are no rituals which we can perform, no acts of self-reformation which we can undertake that will move us one step closer to the Lord when we have sinned. God seeks a broken and a contrite heart in us, that is, a heart which admits that there is nothing it can do to in and of itself to be reconciled to fellowship with Him. God doesn’t want our promises, our vows, or our oaths to do better; He wants a heart that cries out in desperation for His mercy, a heart which knows that there is no righteousness it can produce which will impress Him.

Genuine Repentance Seeks Restored Fellowship

“Do not cast me away from Your presence
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
And sustain me with a willing spirit.” (Psalm 51:7)

David does not pray for God to restore His Salvation to him, but the joy of his Salvation. David did not lose his salvation because he sinned and neither do we. There is, however, a degree of withdrawal of God’s Presence from us when we are living with unconfessed sin and our fellowship with Him is temporarily broken. God does not totally abandon us, but whatever closeness we enjoy with Him will suffer. Neither does the Lord take His Holy Spirit from us, but all of those wonderful fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit will not be manifested. Peace and joy will be absent when we are walking apart from God and any service or ministry we have been entrusted with will lack both satisfaction for us and efficacy for others. Which is why:

Genuine Repentance Will Seek Our Own Right-Standing Before We Witness To Others

“Then I will teach transgressors Your ways,
And sinners will be converted to You” (Psalm 51:13)

Nathan told David that his sin had given the enemies of God occasion to blaspheme (2 Samuel 12:14). Nothing delights the natural man more than a backslidden believer. Oh, how they love to mock and accuse the hypocrite! The money-hungry preacher, the alcoholic Sunday School teacher, or the young man who hands out tracts to his co-workers who know full well he is living with his girlfriend. These are all viewed as laughingstocks by unbelievers and, sadly, it is the Lord Who is mocked most viciously in these cases.

We need to be sure that we have dealt with our own sins and have truly repented and turned back to God before we ever attempt to preach or witness for Him. We must be sure our own house is in order before we try to teach others. It is only when our own fellowship with God is fully restored that we are qualified for the work of teaching other sinners how to be restored themselves.

If there is unconfessed sin in your own life, won’t you come to the Lord in genuine repentance now? If your own fellowship with God has been broken, why not use King David’s great model of repentance contained in the 51st Psalm to be restored to the joy of your own Salvation right now.

To God goes all glory. In service to Him,


**Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible  (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation and are used by permission.

[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?”]