Create In Me a Clean Heart
Martin Luther opened the Reformation by nailing "The Ninety-Five Theses" to the door of Wittenberg Cathedral. The very first of the theses was: "Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance." On the surface this looks a little bleak! Luther seems to be saying Christians will never be making much progress. But of course, that wasn't Luther's point at all. He was saying that repentance is the way we make progress in the Christian life. Indeed, pervasive, all-of- life-repentance is the best sign that we are growing deeply and rapidly into the character of Jesus. (All of Life is Repentance by Tim Keller)
As David Mathis from Desiring God expresses in a short article:
Luther’s First Thesis and Last Words
“When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “Repent,” he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance. All of the Christian life is repentance. Turning from sin and trusting in the good news that Jesus saves sinners are not merely one-time inaugural experiences but the daily substance of Christianity. The gospel is for every day and every moment. Repentance is to be the Christian’s continual posture."
Almost 30 years later, on February 16, 1546, Luther’s last words, written on a piece of scrap paper, echoed the theme of his first thesis: “We are beggars! This is true.”
No story in the Bible describes the heart’s conviction quite like 2 Samuel 12 and no Bible prayer expresses lip’s confessing quite like Psalm 51. In these few verses we find an excellent example of a repentant posture.
To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! (v.1-2)
It required a divine encounter through the prophet Nathan for David to come to repentance, but when he came, he repented in a manner worthy of emulation as expressed in this Psalm. In the first two verses David pleads for mercy, forgiveness and purification. Knowing that he deserves death, he trusts himself into the mercies of God, knowing that He is loving and merciful.
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. (v. 3-6)
David expresses a realization of just how deeply entrenched sin is in the human heart and how infected his own heart is. Confessing his own inequity and sin against God, he acknowledges the fallen nature we are all born into. He is not blaming his mother or anything surrounding his conception, but acknowledging the plight of mankind’s fallen, sinful state. We all need cleansing and healing and wisdom in our inward being “the secret heart”.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. (v. 7-12)
Hyssop played an important role in sanctifying people and objects for service in the temple. David expresses his desire to be cleansed and acknowledges “broken bones” representing discipline and heartache he has already experienced, desiring it to be turned into rejoicing. Pleading once again with God to create something new within him: a clean heart and a new spirit, for His presence to remain, that God would fix his brokenness through His strength and by granting him a cooperative spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you. Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (v. 13-17)
And now David expresses praise and worship. Singing the praises of the Lord, exalting His goodness will cause others to repent and come to Him so they may also be cleansed of their bloodguiltiness and bring salvation just as God is doing for David. Even understanding and living in the old covenant David acknowledges here that it is the motivation and the heart behind the burnt offering that God desires, not the offering itself.
Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem; then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar. (v. 18-19)
And finally, as the Psalm closes David knows that he is not an isolated individual. He is the chosen King of Israel; as the King goes, so goes the nation. Thus, the plea for good to Zion and the effectiveness of the sacrificial system operating from King and people with “right sacrifices” because of right hearts.
Repenting of our sin, pleading God’s mercy while humbly, but confidently expecting His mercy based on his faithfulness and love, we also experience sanctification. Acknowledging our own helplessness, we trust God through periods of discipline and experience rejoicing in a faith strengthened. All of which should lead to a deeper appreciation of what God has accomplished through the gospel of Jesus Christ leading us to a greater capacity to worship and to bear witness of His goodness. And while we are not kings, we are among God’s chosen which brings about good to our own communities and spheres of influence.
Is this not living the posture of repentance?
Again, from the David Mathis article:
“From first thesis to last words, Luther lived at the foot of the cross, where our rebellious condition meets with the beauty of God’s lavish grace in the gospel of his Son—a gospel deep enough to cover all the little and massive flaws of a beggar like Luther (a beggar like David) and beggars like us.”
A good posture in which to be found!