A Song of Joyful Repentance: Psalm 51

Psalm 51


To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.

1 Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
    blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
    and cleanse me from my sin!

Would You Pray With Us Today?

Sign up to receive our weekly prayer emails with requests for the house church in China

3 For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
    and blameless in your judgment.
5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
    and in sin did my mother conceive me.
6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
    and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
    wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins,
    and blot out all my iniquities.

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
    and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and uphold me with a willing spirit.

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
    O God of my salvation,
    and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
    and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
    you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
    build up the walls of Jerusalem;
19 then will you delight in right sacrifices,
    in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
    then bulls will be offered on your altar.


A Song of Astonishing Repentance

The Gospel allows us deep and genuine confession of our sins: this psalm is a song with truly astonishing lyrics. When his terrible sin was pointed out to him, David, Israel’s most prestigious king repented—not in exasperation, but in humility. He even had the courage to write his confession as a poem Israel could sing for generations to come. Such a thing had never happened with any other king in ancient times.

“Sin bring shame, and shame keeps people from looking their sins in the face. But David was able to face his sin honestly. Why? Because of the gospel.

King David’s knowledge of sin was thorough. David uses three words here to describe his sin: “transgression,” “sinfulness”, and “sin.” The original word for “sinfulness” meant something like “iniquity,” showing that our sin fills our lives with all kinds of chaos and distortion. The original meaning of “sin” is “to miss the mark,” meaning that the sinner has failed to live according to God’s will. The word “transgression” means “willful rebellion,” referring to a person who deliberately resists God and is his enemy. When King David confessed his sin, he did not just confess what had been revealed, which was only the tip of the iceberg of his sinfulness. Instead, he confessed the entire iceberg of his sinful nature. David even said he was sinful while in his mother’s womb. How could David have realized that? He confessed that God’s judgment was righteous, and made no excuses for his sin (such as blaming his hormones or blaming Bathsheba for an indiscreet shower). David confessed that his actions were an offense against God. Sin is not just hurting other people or damaging one’s moral image; sin is hostility to God.

Honestly Facing Sin’s Shame

Sin bring shame, and shame keeps people from looking their sins in the face. But David was able to face his sin honestly. Why? Because of the gospel. Because of God’s love. David turned to God’s love, mercy, and compassion. From where did such incredible faith come? From the covenant God made with David, when God himself promised not to withdraw his mercy. Because of this covenant of grace, David had the courage to face his sin, and the freedom to face the brokenness in his life.

The gospel allows us to experience complete and radical grace. Not only did David face his sin with uncompromising honesty, but he also looked forward to experiencing God’s radical renewal. In verses 6-12, David pleads for God to do more than forgive and morally renew him. David pleads for God to completely cleanse him and make him into a new creation.

David realized he did not have the power to deal with his sins and, in verses 1-2, he sought God’s forgiveness. Not only did he ask God to forget his sins, but he asked God to renew him within. Both forgiveness and renewal can only come from God. In verse 10, David asked God to give him a clean heart and a righteous spirit, for he knew fellowship with God is not about external behavior or morality, but a clean heart and a right spirit. David deeply cared that God would not allow him to leave his presence. David’s repentance was very different from the repentance of Saul – David did not fear losing his throne: he feared losing God.

David’s recognition of his own total depravity also meant he needed utter grace. Only the gospel can accomplish this. In Christ’s death and resurrection, we have finally become a new creation. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

Repentance Ends In Joy

Finally, the gospel allows us to have the most joyful worship. In the last part of this psalm, David’s emotions changed. He began to desire to praise God and to sing about God. True repentance begins with sorrow, but ends with joy and praise. Sorrow for sin and joy for salvation are intertwined with each other as the defining characteristic of Christian life. The appropriate response to salvation from sin is joyful worship. In traditional Chinese culture, repentance ends with moral correction. But for the people of God, repentance ends with rejoicing and praise.

“True repentance begins with sorrow, but ends with joy and praise. Sorrow for sin and joy for salvation are intertwined with each other as the defining characteristic of Christian life.

Indeed, only the God revealed in Scripture is worthy of praise. In the gospel, it is not we who give God anything, but God who gives us his Son. In the Son, our sins are completely forgiven and we have new life, so we can today offer to God our most joyful worship.

Let us pray:

● For our brothers and sisters in the Chinese church to repent with gospel- awareness rather than moralism.

● For our lives to be honest and humble in the face of the iniquity and evil brought about by sin in our lives.

● That we might truly trust in God’s love and mercy.
● That we may experience the renewal of God in Christ, and that we may truly overcome sin because Christ is the resurrected new creation.

● That we may rejoice and be glad in our salvation.

An Xi (a pseudonym) lives in Beijing, and he and his wife have two daughters. He began serving the church full-time in 2006, and started to independently establish his church in Beijing in 2015.



Dear Lord,

How we thank you, for you are a God of love and mercy. Lord, we need you so much. Without your forgiveness, we could not pass live even one more second. Without your mercy, we would have been crushed by sin. Lord, thank you that you came in Christ to save us, that you put our sins on your beloved Son, and that you anointed and covered us with his blood. Lord, now that we no longer feel guilty in your presence, we are joyful and glad. Thank you that you are our Deliverer, and the Renewer who dwells in us daily. Dear Lord, thank you that, by your grace, we now offer ourselves and everything we have to you without reservation. May you be pleased with us. Amen!


We are using the Psalms to guide our prayers for China

In 2022, our prayer movement is turning to the scriptural prayers found in the Psalms as we pray for the Chinese church. When you join our prayer movement, you will receive weekly prayer emails and a monthly newsletter so that you too can pray for our brothers and sisters in China.


Share This Story

Further Reading

Witness in Persecution: I Am Grateful
Read More
Witness In Persecution: Heart Struggle
Read More
How I Prayed For Instruction
Read More


A short message about partnering with us.