A remarkable thing about the Bible is the stark honesty with which it describes its heroes. Abraham lies. Moses, David, and Paul commit murder. Peter denies Christ. Rahab was a prostitute. Their histories are stained, yet they are extolled in the “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11. I love this because their lives point to God as the real hero. When I see their faith (not their perfection), it gives me hope for myself. They are real, flawed examples of faith, perseverance, and repentance.
David is one of my favorites. A man after God’s heart. The biggest black mark in David’s history—his sin with Bathsheba—is recorded in 2 Samuel 11–12:15, and Psalm 51 is his prayer of repentance. (If you’re unfamiliar with the story, I recommend reading it!)
Psalm 51 can teach us many things about repentance, but I want to focus on something found in verse 4:
“Against You, You only, I have sinned
And done what is evil in Your sight,
So that You are justified when You speak
And blameless when You judge.”
Clearly David had sinned against Bathsheba and against Uriah. And yet he says his sin was against God. Actually, in 2 Samuel 12:9–10, God tells David that his offense was against Him.
This is a head-scratcher for me, but it’s worth mulling over.
Here are a couple things we can learn:
1. All sin is primarily a violation of God’s perfect character.
Sin destroys peace with others. When we sin, it is often against others, and we feel the effects in our relationships. But to view our sin as merely a horizontal problem is to miss a significant truth: sin is primarily a vertical problem (between me and God) that requires a vertical solution. When I sin against a close friend, she can forgive me (or not), but it is only God’s forgiveness through Christ that cleanses and renews me. In Psalm 51, David is crying out to God to be made clean, and that is not something Bathsheba could give him.
Because forgiveness is something God freely offers to us in Christ—a gift to be accepted in faith—this point is actually good news!
2. At the root of all sin is unbelief—something about God that we are not trusting.
This is poignantly illustrated in God’s words to David through Nathan the prophet:
“Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘It is I who anointed you king over Israel and it is I who delivered you from the hand of Saul. I also gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your care, and I gave you the house of Israel and Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added to you many more things like these! Why have you despised the word of the Lord by doing evil in His sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the sons of Ammon.”– 2 Samuel 12:7(b)–9
God essentially says to David, “I have given you so many good things. Was it not enough?” Those words pierce my heart because they expose the unbelief buried beneath my own sinful choices. God is so good, has given me so much (if He had only ever given me Jesus, it would be more than enough, but no—His blessings don’t stop there). And yet when I choose to meet my needs my own way, I am essentially telling God that I don’t believe He really wants to give me good things. That I don’t really believe He is enough.
These are important things to keep in mind when we sin. These are freeing truths because they direct our gaze vertically, pointing us back to the God who loves us and promises that, in Christ, He has made us clean.
Lord Jesus, thank You for your blood, which is the only thing that can cleanse us of sin. Give us hearts that, like David’s, acknowledge our sin and, in faith, look to You as the only remedy.
Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB), Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation