The Path to Forgiveness


Psalm 51 in early Christian tradition was used as a penitential psalm, since it provided a classic insight into how to find the path to forgiveness.

I confess my sins; I am deeply sorry for what I have done. (Psalm 38:18, NLT)

One of the most famous psalms in the Bible is Psalm 51, written after David’s adultery with Bathsheba. In early Christian tradition, it was used as a penitential psalm, since it provided a classic insight into how to find the path to forgiveness. What does it say?

First, begin with God. David began by focusing on God not himself, remembering that He is a God of “mercy … unfailing love … great compassion” (v. 1). If we don’t start here, our confession will be little more than a rehearsal of self-pity; but with this in place, we can press on with the harder bit of “coming clean,” sure that God will forgive us.

Second, confess the sin. David faced up to what he’d done, describing it as “transgressions … iniquity … sin” (vv. 1-2). But as he reflected on his sinful action, he saw that the issue went far deeper. It wasn’t just that he had sinned; it was that he was a sinner, and had been from his earliest days (vv. 5-7); so he couldn’t even excuse it as a “one-off.” Sin had been the story of his life!

Third, ask for forgiveness. Having confessed his sin, David called out for God to cleanse, wash and renew him (vv. 7-9). The Hebrew word “cleanse” literally means to “un-sin.” “Oh God, get this sin out of me!” was his desperate cry.

Fourth, ask for a change of heart. David knew how all too easily he could go away and do the same thing again, unless God changed his heart. He therefore asked for a pure heart (so that he wouldn’t want to do this again) and a steadfast spirit (so that he would have the strength to stay on the straight and narrow).

Finally, look to the future. David looked ahead, to having a testimony that he could share with others (v. 13), to being able to praise God once again (vv. 14-15), and to being able to walk more humbly with his God out of the whole experience (vv. 16-17). The devil loves nothing more than trying to get us to look back at our past sin and failings. But when God has forgiven it, it is forgiven!

These steps still work! For God is still the same. What do you need to do today?

“God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  (Luke 18:13)

© Copyright 2017 Martin Manser and Mike Beaumont


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