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Repentance — What it Is and What it Ain’t – Part Two
In Psalm 51, often considered one of the greatest examples of a prayer of repentance in all of literature, David pours out his heart after his grievous sins of adultery and murder. He pleads to God for mercy, forgiveness, restoration, and cleansing, acknowledging the depth of his iniquity and sinfulness. And the key to discovering what David discovered— that God graciously forgives and restores even the vilest sin, is found in the middle of the prayer in verses 10-12. Here, David makes six requests to God and appeals to His merciful nature and lovingkindness, begging God to blot out his transgression and create him anew once again, just like in the beginning (Psalm. 51:1).
There are six words that summarize the roadmap to full restoration and forgiveness David found in his prayer to His Lord. Four of them are positive, asking God to do something new in David (create, renew, restore, uphold). And two are asking God not to let him suffer the consequences of his sins (do not cast, do not take), especially regarding his relationship with the Lord.
Our Roadmap: Six Simple Words
Let’s look at these a bit closer.
Please Do: Create in me a clean heart, O God,
Please Do: and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Please Don’t: Do not cast me away from Your presence,
Please Don’t: and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Please Do: Restore to me the joy of Your salvation,
Please Do: and uphold me by Your generous Spirit (Psalm 51:10-12)
David has already asked the Lord to “Create in me a clean heart, O God,” which speaks of doing something in David he could not do himself. The word “create’ is bārāʾ, the same word used in Genesis 1:1 for God creating something out of nothing, ex nihilo. And “clean” (ṭāhōr) refers to what is “pure, genuine, and free from moral impurity.” In essence, David is asking the Lord to wipe the slate clean and start over— which is exactly what God does.
The Power of a Renewed Spirit
But now, David realizes his inability to live according to the new, clean nature God has infused in him. Like each of us who knows Christ, he has the presence of the Holy Spirit living in him (the operative word is “Holy”), yet he still struggles with how to “walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). The power to resist sin and live righteously is available to David, but he is also keenly aware of his innate bent towards sin and pride and independence that plagues his life.
And this recognition of his fallen, weak, and unfaithful nature led David to pray the second of the six key words, renew:
And renew a steadfast spirit within me – Psalm 51:10b.
David prays, “God, I need You to give me once again what I had before, and renew a steadfast, determined, resolute spirit deep within me so I can run with endurance the race You have set before me, keeping my eyes only on You” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Digging deeper, the Hebrew word for “renew” (ḥāḏaš) means “to restore, to reestablish on a new or improved basis, to revitalize and make new or like new.” David’s request is for God to restore him to the best he has ever been (remember the 1 to 10 metric), and then help him forge ahead into new and uncharted spiritual waters. And “steadfast” (kûn) has the meaning of “being marked by a firm determination or resolution, to be unshakeable and upright” in spirit. It implies firmness, stability, and unwavering commitment to something greater than yourself. David was praying for God to create in him a heart that is new and undefiled, and then give him the internal discipline, drive, and fortitude required to keep it that way by staying focused on God and God alone.
So, what can we learn from David’s prayer of repentance and restoration that we can apply when we find ourselves guilty and full of shame because of our sins?
Context is King
In order to understand the significance of “and renew a steadfast spirit within me,” we must first examine the condition of David’s heart before he prayed this prayer. Prior to being confronted by Nathan, David let his guard down and allowed himself to become apathetic and complacent in his relationship with God. He had grown comfortable in his position as king and had taken advantage of the power and privilege that came with it. It seems being the King of Israel was no longer a privilege and blessing he received from God, but a right he felt he somehow merited as an end unto itself.
So, David’s actions before his sin with Bathsheba were not only sinful but also hypocritical. Remember, he had previously written songs praising God’s goodness and faithfulness and extolling the virtues of having a relationship with the Lord above all else. And then, after Bathsheba, his fall from grace serves as a stark reminder that even those who are closest to God can stray if they let their guard down and their heart wanders. This is a painful lesson that often comes with lifelong consequences.
To his credit, David recognized his transgressions were not just against Bathsheba and Uriah, but ultimately against God Himself (Psalm 51:4). He understood true repentance requires more than mere sorrow or regret; it demands a complete transformation of his heart and mind, which involves both God’s action and David’s willingness.
And this is where the phrase “renew a steadfast spirit within me” comes into play.
David clearly understood in order to turn away from his sinful ways, he needed a new infusion of divine strength and resolve, something he was lacking in himself. So he yearned for a spirit that would remain steadfast in its allegiance to God, faithful to Him above all else, regardless of the challenges or temptations he might face.
And so, David prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). By using the word “create,” David acknowledged that such a transformation could only come from God. And by praying “and renew a steadfast spirit within me,” he realized that his own efforts would never be enough to change his heart and restore his relationship with God, let alone keep it that way.
Renewal is Possible, But the Process is Painful
As believers in Christ, we can also experience this kind of spiritual renewal. When we confess our sins and turn away from them, God is faithful to “forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). However, this process often involves pain and struggle, as we must confront the areas of our lives where we have fallen short— which requires humility, often brutal self-examination, and a willingness to let go of our pride and selfish desires. But the result is a deeper intimacy with God and a greater capacity to love and serve others than we have ever experienced before.
It is important to note that renewing a steadfast spirit does not mean that we will never falter, fail, or succumb to temptation again— far from it. Even after experiencing profound spiritual transformations, we may still encounter setbacks and failures. However, when we maintain a steadfast spirit, we are better equipped to rise from the ashes, learn from our mistakes, turn our face into the wind, and continue moving forward in our journey toward holiness.
So make David’s prayer your own today. Ask the Lord to create in you something brand new so you will no longer be saddled by the weight of your sin and guilt. And then ask Him to renew in you a spirit of determination, resolution, and grit to see this journey with Him to the end, longing to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).
Oh, and do it today.