After Nathan, the prophet, confronted King David on his sin, David prayed an incredible prayer of repentance and begged God to create a new heart in him (Psalm 51). We are mistaken if we believe that David’s prayer is for us only if/when we commit the “big sins.” In David’s prayer, he does not mention his lust, his murder, or his lies. He does not ask for an accountability group, nor does he ask God to protect his eyes. He begs God to give him a new heart. He prays for the heart because he knows the fundamental problem is the sinfulness of his own heart.
Our hearts are in continual need of repentance, in continual need of grace. The first statement in Luther’s 95 theses was “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.” Or as the early church father Tertullian said, “I was born for nothing but repentance.” The closer we step to God, the more we realize His holiness and our sinfulness. And the more we are in awe of His grace and forgiveness. Thus, we need the prayer of Psalm 51 more and more, not less and less.
Notice how David did not respond to God.
He did not blame others:
David said to God in verse 4, “Against you, you only, have I sinned.” He did not shift blame to anyone. He did not say, “I am sorry, but my men should have stopped me from pursuing Bathsheba.” He did not hint that some of the blame should be placed on Bathsheba, “How could I help myself? She was bathing on the roof. Who does that?” Or that some of the blame should be placed on his wife Michal for not being the wife she should be. He owns his own sin fully. If we blame others for our sinfulness, we are not truly repenting.
He did not bargain with God:
David also does not attempt to bargain with God by working really hard for Him in another area of his life or by offering sacrifices. David knows that God wants his heart. He prayed in verse 16, “You will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it.” If we attempt to bargain with God to make up for sinfulness in one area of our lives by attempting to excel in another, we reveal our unwillingness to repent.
He did not believe in himself:
David knew he could not fix the problem of his heart. He did not draw a line in the sand and make bold promises about what he could do for God. He threw himself on God’s mercy and grace. He prayed in verse 10, “Create in me a clean heart, O God,” because he realized he could not make his own heart pure. In verse 12, he prayed, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation.” Not the “joy of my salvation.” If we are promising we will do better, we will overcome in our power and merit, then we are not repenting. Repenting brings us to the end of ourselves and back to God’s grace.
David responded how we all should continually respond to God, with brokenness. His heart was overwhelmed with God’s holiness, crushed by his own sin, and melted by God’s love. David prayed in verse 17 that “the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” This is true repentance.