A Stubborn Stain - Psalm 51, Part 2
by Pastor Bob Burridge ©2000
When I taught chemistry, I made it a habit to wear a lab coat. It wasn't just to look scientific. It served a very important purpose. Some of the materials we used were highly corrosive and would hopelessly stain my clothes, even from a very small spilled drop or grain. As careful as I might be, it wasn't a chance I could afford to take. And with a classroom full of students, there were always spills.
After a few years of use, the labcoat was spotted and streaked here and there with stains. The stains were not superficial. Even after a good washing they would still be there. They effected the color of the fabric itself, to remove them would be to destroy the coat.
The stains of sin on our soul are infinitely more stubborn and corrosive.
No effort of man can even lessen the stains, they are so much a part of the fabric of our soul. Our efforts to fix the problem in our own way, actually make the stain worse.
In Psalm 51 David uses the imagery of a stained garment to describe his sin.
King David had sinned with Bathsheba, then tried to cover it up by using deceit and violence. He even put Israel's national security to risk to have her husband killed in battle. At God's direction, the prophet Nathan confronted the King with his sin.
David's sorrow and repentance produced this Psalm. He began ...
Psalm 51:1 Be gracious to me, O God, according to Thy lovingkindness; According to the greatness of Thy compassion blot out my transgressions.
David offered no defense, no excuse. He knew the only relief for what he had done, was the grace of God, the very God he had offended.
So he began by pleading for grace, the unmerited mercy of God toward him as an unworthy sinner.
Admitting he had no defense against the indictment against him, he asked that the charge would be blotted out. He begged that the words against him would be dissolved away from the legal parchments. Only the payment of the debt by God himself, could discharge his guilt and offense.
Then he continued his plea that God would remove his guilt by grace.
Psalm 51:2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin.
David had come to understand that ...
the stain of his sin was deep and needed a thorough and intrusive washing.
The word for thoroughly in our versions translates har-baeh. It means many or much. Used with an active verb, it means to do something repeatedly. Calvin explained: "he felt the stain of his sin to be deep, and to require multiplied washings" David was emphasizing how aggravated his sin was.
Unlike the typical response when someone is accused of something, David wasn't just concerned that his reputation would be protected. He didn't try to cast his sin in politically correct terms, or to minimize the guilt sin brings. He admitted the stain on his soul. It wasn't the fear of punishment that powered his grief; he was horrified by the offense of his sin to God. He admitted a side of his character no one likes to see. In God's eyes he knew that what he had done was like an ugly and stubborn stain.
There was a girl who didn't follow my warnings when I taught a Jr. High lab class. She left a beaker of Hydrochloric Acid sitting near the edge of her lab table. Of course it was very diluted and probably wouldn't hurt much if she spilled it on her. But she was distracted talking to a friend and bumped the beaker spilling it on herself. The acid ran down her leg and started to dissolve the nylon hose she was wearing. She looked down at the strings dangling and thought her skin was dissolving off! She screamed, and at least remembered to immediately go wash it off. The terrified girl dashed to the sink, put her foot up in it and started calling for help. I ran in, and there she was frantically splashing water on her leg. She had no damage to her skin, but the hose were a lost cause.
Could she deny that she had been careless and spilled the acid? Not much chance of that. The effect of the acid was beyond denial. So also are the stains on our souls before God. We might lie to others and deny our sins. We may even try to deceive ourselves. But God sees the tell-tale stains.
David knew the stain was clearly seen by God. Nathan had been sent to confront him with it. The Holy Spirit stirred the King's soul to respond humbly to the Prophet. He knew he needed to admit his transgressions and to beg to be washed clean. And he knew that the telling stain was an ugly blemish that deeply offended his Holy Lord.
Calvin said sin is like ... "filth or uncleanness as it pollutes us, and makes us loathsome in the sight of God"
The words wash me and cleanse me follow a typical style of Hebrew poetry.
It Repeats something in different words to expand on it and to emphasize it.
The first term wash is cavas.
It was a word particularly used for the washing of garments. Several commentators identify this with the first part of preparing a fabric for use. The whole process was called fulling. A fuller was a worker who soaked and washed newly made cloth. Then he would sometimes work at it with brushes or mallets, and then dry it out so that the thin strands that made up the weave looked full as the expanded fibers filled in the gaps in the cloth.
The second term cleanse is tahaer.
It meant to brighten something, making it white, or clean like new. It was often used for ceremonial purifications. Its the word for the priestly cleansing of a person healed from having leprosy. David wanted his soul to be washed from its stain -- to look fresh and new again.
Oh, if we could only turn back the clock on our sins! and this time not do them. Many have made that futile wish, once they discovered the pain their sins had caused: pain not only to themselves, but also to others, and the horrible offense it brings is before God.
But we can't turn back clocks. Nothing we do, can remove the stain of sin on a soul. Only the hand of the Creator as Redeemer can take away the tell-tale and offensive marks. Only by the washing of the blood of the Savior, who paid the debt demanded by our sins, can our sin blemished souls be made fresh and new again.
David knew he couldn't remove his sin on his own; no human apology or personal sorrow would ever remove the guilt. He knew that until God removed the guilt by his grace, the stain would remain.
So he continued his plea ...
Psalm 51:3 For I know my transgressions, And my sin is ever before me.
David uses the plural here for his transgressions and sins.
He's not just admitting to one, or to some wrong doing. He sees his whole life as polluted. This pervasive sin won't get out of his mind. It haunts him when he sees it for what it is.
We can have no real inner rest and peace until our sin and guilt is removed. Along the way to victory the Holy Spirit first leads us to sin's awareness.
Confession is at its root, admitting to something.
Its saying what agrees with what God says. That's the original meaning of the word in English, and in the ancient languages of the Bible. So we need to have God examine our hearts and ourselves to take an honest look at what he shows us.
Its easy for us to call our wealth ours, our efforts ours, our skills ours -- but we often speak of sin as if it was something that victimizes us. But David owns his sin. He says I .. my .. my .. me. Here there is personal accountability.
God was maturing David.
He had been brought to where he cried out to God in desperation. Before he could become greater in the Heavenly Kingdom, he had to know how little he was in any kingdom. A hard lesson for a mighty king! The weight of the Holy Spirit's conviction pressed down on David's heart. He couldn't escape its inward torture.
Who are the ones who are properly reconciled and made right with God? Calvin wisely says, "they are such as have had their consciences wounded with a sense of sin, and who can find no rest until they have obtained assurance of his mercy." Its the awareness of the depth of our sin that drives us to God all the more passionately.
Knowing the root cause is vital to properly dealing with any problem.
I had repeated ear problems when I was very little. There were many nights when I'd lay awake in pain. We made countless trips to ear specialists who couldn't fix the problem. It even ended up rupturing my ear drum. But the problem was not my ears! Our doctor finally made the connection with inflamed and enlarged tonsils! They were blocking the eustacian tube causing pressure to build up in the middle ear. Once the infected tonsils were removed, I never had ear problems again. If we only treat the feelings or symptoms, we will never get rid of the cause.
Why do some struggle inwardly and feel no real satisfaction in their blessings? Perhaps they have not yet come to appreciate the wonder of God's grace. Perhaps because they have not yet seen the depth of their sin and come broken to the Savior.
Conscience is a harsh tormentor but it serves a good purpose. Sadly, people under conviction of sin often fail to discover, and deal with, the root cause. They try to deaden the conscience by removing the feeling of guilt, which is a truly miserable feeling God puts there for good reasons.
The modern treatment comes in two ways. Doctors can prescribe drugs to cover up the feelings, or therapists can try to disarm the conscience morally. They tell us our sin is either not so bad, or that its someone else's fault. They enable us to blame our parents for not being caring enough, or our church for setting too high a standard, or others for expecting too much of us.
But God tells us that our conscience is a symptom warning us of a need. Sometimes we've neglected our duties. Sometimes we've ignored or excused our sins. Sometimes we've not learned the relief of true divine forgiveness in Christ. As long as such things are not dealt with, the weight presses down on the soul.
Conviction of sin is there to drive the child of God to his Father's grace. It fills him with the detesting of sin, as preparation for wonderful healing of the soul.
So what detergents do people generally use to try to remove the stains of sin?
We live in an age of savvy advertising and slickly worded commercials. We know better than to believe that a particular laundry detergent is so much better than all the others on the market.
There are so many false claims about how to make our souls right with God too. We get the idea that removing the problem of sin comes in many ways, different brands. There is a whole array of soul cleaning products on the market that appeal to our fallen hearts. But they are the slick lies of Satan. They hide the stain from us, but do not remove it's offensiveness from the eyes of our Lord.
One popular suggestion is to just let time go by.
Some say we should just put it out of our mind. They say, "Time heals all wounds" But when we have a bad stain deep in the fabric of our clothes, will it fade away with time? What if you took stained clothes to a laundry or dry cleaner, and the clerk said, "live with it ... eventually it will blend in with the rest of the fabric. Just ignore it." I suspect you would go find another cleaner.
Joseph's brothers tried this remedy for the stain of sin. It didn't work. They jealously sold Joseph to traders and lied to their father saying that the brother had been killed by an animal. The guilt of their sin and deception continued to eat at them long after the event. Many years later in Genesis 42:21 they confess,
"...Truly we are guilty concerning our brother, because we saw the distress of his soul when he pleaded with us, yet we would not listen; therefore this distress is come upon us."
Time heals nothing. One of the Watergate conspirators said, that "time does not heal all wounds, time wounds all heals". If sin is left alone, the stain sets deeper and the guilt working in us worsens, and if it seems to fade with time .. its most likely just faded the rest of our soul to blend in.
Another common belief is that doing good works will remove the stain of sin.
Of course its always good to do good. Its always our duty. But you can't erase existing guilt, by the rest of the time not being guilty.
The idea that good deeds balance out evil deeds is Satan's masterpiece of deception! All false religion is based on that deadly idea.
No criminal is set free and his record expunged just because he did good deeds. A mass murderer may have only spent a few days of his life killing people. But what defense would it be if he simply told the judge that "the rest of the time in his life he never killed anybody"? Or that when he realized what he did, he gave a lot to charity, or started to volunteer his time in a home for the elderly?
How can we imagine that if we have offended God so infinitely, that doing the good we ought to be doing anyway should excuse us from God's Justice?
Besides -- our works in themselves, when not done for the glory of Christ, are not good at all. Paul said in Romans 14:23 ... whatever is not from faith is sin.
The Prophet Isaiah said in Isaiah 64:6 "All our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment"
Even our best works are imperfect because of the mixed motives that drive us inwardly. Scripture tells us that if we think we deserve or earn forgiveness for our works, they actually become repulsive to God. If we think that by works we can earn what only the death of Christ could accomplish, our deeds condemn us for such arrogance.
God's word describes the relationship between good works and forgiveness differently:
Philippians 2:13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
So the good works men falsely depend on, are not the cause of grace. They are the result of it. Without grace being evidenced by humble confession and trust in Christ, what we claim as good works are an abomination, as the Prophet Isaiah tells us. Trying to keep the moral law is a good occupation, but it cannot cleanse us from past sin.
Some try to hide the stains by dressing them up.
Sin is re-defined. What God says is wrong, becomes culturally acceptable and cool. They wear the stains proudly as if the stains show they aren't just kids anymore, as if they prove they are up with the times. They turn the moral tables around, and call us bigots, if we believe in God's moral standard.
But Isaiah long ago said in Isaiah 5:20
"Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!"
Calling sin something else -- will not make it into something else. Dressing up the stains may made our sin attractive to others who love their own ways, but they continue to be an offense against God, and the stain is only deepened.
There is only one way the moral stains can be washed away from our souls.
The only true agent of cleansing is the work of the Savior.
Isaiah 53:4-6 predicted his work,
"Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried, Yet we ourselves esteemed Him Stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed."
Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:21 tells how Jesus Christ fulfilled those words,
"for he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him."
The cleansing work of Christ is applied to the heart by grace. This work is evidenced by true repentance and the confession of faith.
1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
We need to confess sin for what it is, for the impossibility of removing it by anything we do, and to confess Christ as our only hope of forgiveness.
When there is no determination to stop sinning, and to live humbly before our God then there is no evidence that grace is at work.
But, we aren't to wait around for grace to strike us. You will only know its there when you are humbly obeying the gospel call. God commands that we get about the work of confession and faith in Christ, that we do it immediately, and continuously.
The cross cleanses because there the Savior took the stains upon himself for his people. True biblical faith is the absolute trust that the Messiah alone removes sin and its ugly blemishes. And it continues to bring the believer under conviction when he sins, and drives him to the cross in faith for restoration.
So - how do you deal with the stains that accumulate from your daily sins?
Might it be that much of your depression and despair is really the pain of conscience?
When you feel that persisting guilt, when the weight of your sin discourages you, don't run to the shelf of human inventions and false remedies. They only appear to remove the stains by dulling your awareness of them.
Do as David did, as he said in this Psalm ... Admit your transgressions and how they haunt your soul. Call out to him to wash you thoroughly from your iniquity, to cleanse you from your sin. Come to the Savior. Though you are but once regenerated and declared holy by the merits of Christ, you still sin. He calls you to come again and again, as often as you need, to the cleansing of Calvary. Be washed and made new again. Know you are forgiven and set free!