Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. – from Psalm 51
Have you ever looked back on your life and regretted some actions or words? Or even thoughts? I’m sure we all have. There are many things in my life that I am not proud of, and truly wish had never happened. While some people might like to excuse themselves and find others or circumstances to blame, most of us know in our hearts that we were responsible for our own behaviour. Sometimes a thought enters my mind of something that happened long ago and I am embarrassed and ashamed that it happened.
Now, how do you think you would feel if there was no assurance of forgiveness? What if you had to live with your sins, your guilt, your shame and with the consequences of those sins for your whole life? And they just keep building up into a list so long that that you would either despair or become so hard-hearted that you stopped caring? Not long ago I read a piece by a person who is very angry with Christianity and is an outspoken unbeliever. In it she said one thing that was so profound I will never forget it. She said: “I only envy you Christians for one thing – you have someone to forgive you.” Without believing it, she saw the core of the gospel.
And so we come to the story of the mature King David. I am so thankful for this story, because it gives all sinners another window into the “heart of God’s grace”. On the one hand David was a great example of an obedient child of God: and he was handsome as well! The Bible says he was a man after God’s own heart. He was a great warrior, a loyal friend, a talented musician and song writer, and a great king. On the other hand David had been a mercenary, and was an adulterer, a murderer, and a lousy father. In biblical terms he was a sinner.
Now, David was blessed and gifted by God, and Jesus once said: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded.” By all human standards David should have known better and been more obedient. How on earth could God still choose him to be king, knowing what he would do? The Lord says to Samuel in 1 Sam.16:7, “People look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
So David is an example to all of us. First, he shows us how to sin
a) Put yourself in the wrong place. David was meant to be leading his army into war, but instead he stayed behind in Jerusalem. If he had done his duty, this would never have happened.
b) Dwell on the temptation. David saw Bathsheba bathing and he kept watching until lust took over.
c) Abuse your power to get what you want. David was the king – no one could lightly disobey any command from him. Bathsheba had no choice in this – it was rape.
d) Cover up your sin when in danger of being caught. David went so far as to have Bathsheba’s husband killed so he wouldn’t get caught. Then in his brazen arrogance he brought Bathsheba into his palace.
And that is the pattern of sin for us too.
Now, David is also a great example to us in showing us how to repent.
a) Make no excuses. When David was forced to face his sins honestly, he never tried to shift the blame. His response was simple: “I have sinned against the Lord.”
b) Show genuine sorrow for your sins.
c) Turn to God as your only hope – Psalm 51.
d) Seek healing and forgiveness.
e) Accept God’s grace – restoration and reconciliation are only possible because of God’s undeserved and outrageously generous love.
f) Accept the consequences. David was told that his & Bathsheba’s child would die; that he would never have peace from war during his reign; and that a close member of his family would rebel against him.
David’s prayer of repentance in Psalm 51 is one of the loveliest in the Scriptures.
The GRACE of God is beyond human logic and understanding. We don’t deserve God’s mercy. We can’t earn his love or forgiveness. This grace is a pure gift! And this gift is given freely every day to every Christian who comes to the Lord in faith and repentance. We don’t have to wallow in our guilt or remorse or regret. We don’t have to be tortured by an unending list of sins. By the grace of God through Jesus, we are forgiven, restored and reconciled to God. Now that is good news by any standard!
And because of God’s grace to David, David became a mighty king and a wise ruler. What David had done seemed like the death knell on his reign. But God’s grace redeemed him and renewed him for effective service. In 1 Kings 15:5 the author notes: For David had done what was right in the eyes of the Lord and had not failed to keep any of the Lord’s commands all the days of his life – except in the case of Uriah the Hittite (Bathsheba’s husband).
The apostle Peter denied our Lord. The apostle Paul approved the death of Stephen and had Christians put in jail. But the Lord’s words to Paul have always been true: “My grace is sufficient for you . . .” 2 Corinthians 12:9. Both Peter and Paul became great servants of the gospel and had a huge impact on the early Christian Church.
And this got me thinking about attitudes in the church to those leaders who, over the centuries have fallen into “public” sin. As just one example, I googled “Fallen Pastors” and there are quite a few lists, both ancient and modern. Mostly this lists consist of pastors who have been incredibly gifted and talented, and who were very successful from a worldly point of view. At some point, these people allowed their success to lead to pride, and the stresses of their popularity to cause them to become dependent on ‘something’ – whether that was alcohol, drugs, sex or money.
One such public figure was a pastor named Gordon McDonald. He wrote a number of books that had a big influence on me and my ministry. Then he got caught in the sin of adultery. He stood up before his very large congregation, confessed his sin and resigned. But the leaders of that congregation refused to accept his resignation. They sent MacDonald and his wife off to marriage counselling and began a series of programs aimed at restoring MacDonald back as their senior pastor again. And that’s what happened. This congregation reflected God’s grace to King David and every other character in the Bible by the way they treated their pastor who had fallen into sin.
Chuck Colsen, who went to jail for his part in the Watergate scandal in America, became a Christian while in prison and started what is now one of the largest ministries to prisoners in the whole world. From the Lower Story any sin looks like a disaster and we cannot see any good coming from it. But God’s grace, through his plan in the Upper Story, can take our disobedience and reverse the impact by turning it into blessing.
Right now I am filled with an inexpressible sense of gratitude and thankfulness for God’s grace and mercy to me all my life. I have sinned! I am a sinner! But by the love of God through Jesus I have been used to be an example of just how amazing that grace really is.
I pray that David’s story gives you the same sense of awe and wonder, and the desire to praise his name forever for his grace to you. The Lord has promised that he will never turn anyone away who comes to him in faith and repentance. There is always hope for the sinner, if only they will see Jesus as their Saviour.
We are redeemed and forgiven. We cannot stop sinning altogether, but neither can our gracious God stop forgiving all who come to him in faith. On the cross the power of sin, death and the devil was ended. And on Easter Sunday, with the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, God proclaimed that all prisoners to sin, death and the devil were now free. You and I are products of his grace. Don’t keep this grace to yourself. So many people think they can’t be forgiven. They know they are unworthy of God’s love, but they know nothing of his grace. Like King David and all sinners of the past, we are examples of what Jesus can do with imperfect people.
Thank you, dear Lord, for your grace to me!