The Challenge of Holiness
John Maclaughlan asks what we can learn from the witness of our ‘inward parts’
We know from the heading of Psalm 51 that David composed the Psalm after Nathan had confronted David with the fact of his sin regarding Uriah the Hittite and Bathsheba his wife. In the first four verses of the Psalm, David is acknowledging his sin before the LORD and is looking to the LORD for His mercy. David knows that the sins that he has committed should lead to his execution and he can only cry to the LORD for His mercy.
It appears in verses 5 and 6 that David starts to contemplate more than just what he has done. It is as if David starts to see that the issue is not just what he has done but, rather, who he is! It is too easy to put our sinful actions behind us and ‘move on’; I think that a word used for this today is ‘closure’ . We put the issue behind us and then we intend to go forward having learned from our mistakes. If only we could do that, and if only it were that easy! Such actions can completely miss the root of the problem. What David had done caused him to seriously question himself: How could he have done such things to one of his special ‘mighty men’ (2 Sam 23:39), and with such callousness? How could he show such disregard for the LORD’s Law? David had done what he had done even though, after Samuel had anointed him, we read that “the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward” (1 Sam 16:13). David may well have been completely shocked at what he saw in himself. How could he have stooped to such a depth?
In verse 5 we read, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” . This verse points out events over which David had no control and which he can do nothing about. David is simply stating facts here and he is not passing judgement on anyone involved in those events. All of us are in the same situation: we have no say in our flawed nature and in the circumstances of our birth. David does not excuse what he has done by appealing to those events in his life over which he had no control for he knows that the sins he committed were his sins alone! However he got here, the sins were his sins! It is uncomfortable to take responsibility for our sin, but it is necessary to do so if we are to get right with the LORD.
Then, in verse 6, David faces up to the issue of what is going on in his “inward parts” . David realises that there is something fundamentally wrong within him regardless of his circumstances. Up to this point in his life David may have thought that he was basically doing what the LORD asked of him and that all was well with him. In this regard we can all be in the same boat and just carry on with our Christian lives doing what is expected of us. But the issue for the LORD is what goes on in our “inward parts” , the places that no one else can see and the places that we may pretend are not even there. We may even think that the LORD does not see into these places. What is missing from David’s “inward parts” is “truth” for verse 6 states, “Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts” . Before this point in his life David may not have spent a lot of time questioning his motives for he may have been too busy facing the many challenges of life. But now, as a consequence of his sin, he is brought face to face with the issues of his heart. We may think that we know the depth of our own sin and corruption, but sadly we do not, for we often think that we are better than we actually are. Like David, it may take the conviction of the dreadfulness regarding some particular sin in our lives to bring us to the realisation of our lack of “truth in the inward parts” .
What does the Lord require of you?
If the LORD had left David with just the realisation of the corruption within his own heart, then David would only know despair because, although he knows what the LORD desires, he is unable to rise to what is required of him. We, likewise, can lose heart when we look at what the LORD requires of us and then look at our own walk before Him. How far we fall short! But for David, and for us, the LORD is merciful for we read next that “in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom” . The ESV puts this slightly differently when it reads, “you teach me wisdom in the secret heart” . Through David’s repentance after his sin and disobedience the LORD is starting, or will start, to teach David wisdom. The LORD did not reject or dismiss David for his sin but used the occasion presented by David’s sin to teach David about the fear of the LORD. In this we see the great mercy of the LORD; what He has started in us He will finish (Phil 1:6) even despite our sin! But in this process there will be unpleasant truths about ourselves that we have to face up to. In the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector Jesus tells us of the tax collector who could only say, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” (Luke 18:13). The actual Greek has “the sinner” and not “a sinner” . For the tax collector he was not one sinner among a room full of sinners, but he was the only sinner there! He was not concerned about where the others stood with God for he was too aware of his own sin! This is the revelation that all must come to if they are ever to get right with God. We stand guilty before the LORD God Almighty and He will accept no excuses for our actions! But, if we do accept the LORD’s assessment of our condition He will start to teach us wisdom in our hidden parts.
Holiness to the Lord
In this Psalm David makes no mention of the actual word ‘holiness’ but what we are seeing in this Psalm is the working of the Holy Spirit in David’s life to make holiness a living reality and not just a theological concept. We may understand the theology behind the LORD being described as holy and the concept of holiness itself, and we may even see that we are required to be holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:16), but the challenge for us lies in how this holiness is worked into our everyday lives. This Psalm shows us where we all start from, and how the LORD uses even our worst of sins to start to teach us the fear of the LORD, for the fear of the LORD is a foundation for holiness in our lives. It is interesting that David did not go to a teaching seminar on holiness to learn what holiness is – No! The LORD used the sins of David to start him on his road to a more holy walk with the LORD.
As the LORD worked in David’s life to remake him from the inside out, so the LORD does for His people today. The LORD used David’s sin as His starting point and He may use the same starting point in our lives, but the end result is that we will know Him! It is clear that David knew the LORD before he sinned as he did, but I am certain that by the time the LORD had taught him wisdom in the hidden part that David knew the LORD in greater depth and wonder. What had been one of the worst actions in David’s life the LORD had turned for the good of David and to the glory of God! If the LORD can do that for David then He can do that in our lives, so let us give the Holy Spirit the free reign that He needs in our lives that our lives may reflect something of the holy God we serve.