The Nature of the Necessity of Complete Restoration and the Affect of Sin on Our Relationship to God
The Nature of the Necessity of Complete Restoration and the Affect of Sin on Our Relationship to God
The book of Psalms has been a comfort to those in distress for centuries. The honesty of the author’s words resound with the inner most soul, putting words to that which is being felt and drawing a connection between the reader and their God. One may run to the Psalter to express their confusion, their hurt, their anxiety and their fear. One may also run to the Psalter when they are feeling glad, excited and happy. Consequently, this wide gauntlet views allows for a variety of theological discussions and opinions. The amount of authors alone gives a certain depth to the book and a wide range of ideas that can hit the reader in different directions at different times, causing the Psalms to be at the top of many readers “favorite books of the Bible” lists. With many different “genres” of Psalms, one may find certain chapters easier to read than others. Of these chapters, Psalm 51 may stand out as simple to read, but difficult to apply. Of the verses that are difficult to apply, verses 10-12 may stand out the most. This paper is concerned with understanding the nature of the necessity of complete restoration and transformation of the inward heart and therefore understanding what truly happens between our relationship with God when we sin according to Psalm 51:10-12.
At the core of the Christian faith is the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This stands as the only way of gaining eternal life and therefore, after placing your faith in this reality, allowing the Holy Spirit to work a process of sanctification. Another core of the Christian faith is the doctrine of the Trinity which says that God exists co-equally and co- eternally between the Son, the Father, and the Holy Spirit. The writer of this paper holds that each member of the God-head is completely God. The Son is God, for it says in Titus 2:13b “…the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” The Father is God, for it says in 2 Corinthians 1:3 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort.” The Holy Spirit is God, for it says in Acts 5:3-4 “you have lied to the Holy Spirit…you have not lied to men, but to God.” Additionally, when one places their faith in God, the Bible says that they will remain a Child of God no matter what that person does. John 10:29 says “My Father who has given them to me is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” This is the security of the believer. So why does David ask for the Holy Spirit to not be taken away from him?
To answer this question fully, we need to back up and see the context in which it sits. Psalm 51 can be called a lament Psalm in which the author expresses grief over something or is in mourning. Psalm 51 is a confession of King David after committing adultery with Bathsheba, as noted by the super-scription of Psalm 51. The poet prays for forgiveness, purification and restoration after Nathan the prophet brings his deplorable sin to the fore front of David’s conscience. David sees where he has sinned and realizes the depth of this sin. He writes “For I know my transgressions and my sin is always laid before me” in verse 3. Jeremiah relates to David here in Jeremiah 17:9 when he states that the heart is wicked above everything else. This realization of sin goes beyond the earthly effects though, and places heavy importance on the holiness of God. David exclaims that God is who he sinned against. One may question here, “I thought David committed sin with Bathsheba?” The question is answered in the previous mentioned statement. David understands that his primary purpose is to bring glory to God and worship Him. When he sinned, he broke his fellowship with his God and trespassed His holiness.
The despair David feels in verses 3-5 could have been enough to cause him to quit. David seems to be completely downtrodden and negative. He seems to have lost all hope. However, instead of buying into the negativity, he allows his sin to “enlarge his praying.” Verse 10 says “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” David asks God to create here. Derek Kidner in his commentary says that David asks God to do something here “nothing short of a miracle. Only God can truly create something from nothing. In theology, this is called “ex nihilo” (Latin: out of nothing.) Five times in the first chapter of Genesis the Bible uses the word create. Verse 1 of Genesis 1 says that “in the beginning God created.” The word here for create is “bara.” This word explained means that God creates something brand new. He is not taking something and just making it better, but he is making it an entirely new creation. It includes the ideas of shaping, forming and complete. This same word, bara, is used in Psalm 51:10 in relation to David’s request for a pure heart. Man can take an old piece of furniture and “create” art with it. He can take that furniture and restore it. Man cannot take the furniture and change its atoms and create an entirely different material. He cannot make a rocket ship out of a chair, but God can.
David asks God to take his wicked heart of old and change it to something completely different. He asks for his heart to be pure. A pure heart is a common word picture in the scriptures. Take for example Matthew 5:8 where Matthew exclaims that those who have a pure heart are blessed and Acts 15:9 where the author states that God purified the heart by faith. As mentioned before, David asks for a miracle when he asks God to create in him a pure heart, however, when he continues to say “in me,” this seems to express “the idea of a gift.” This idea is also expressed in Jeremiah 24:7. Consequently, one can derive here that God is a God that is in the business of giving. James 1:5 explains that God gives generously. David must have understood that God freely gives when we ask for something that is according to His will and His plan. We must understand that anything that happens within us for righteousness is not of our own doing, but by God who gives freely. He will give us a new heart, he will make us righteous and He is the one who sanctifies. Artur Weiser says “At the root of it is the bitter realization that man is not able by virtue of his own efforts alone to do that which is good because it would mean nothing less than complete self conquest.”
Verse 10b says “renew a steadfast spirit within me.” The word renew here suggests a different path than that of the word create. Renew seems to imply that David had a steadfast spirit before and now wants it again. 1 Samuel 17:1-58 describes the scene of David and Goliath. Surely here David represents a steadfast spirit before the Lord, for he slew a giant. 1 Samuel 16:13 says that the spirit of the Lord was upon David from that day forward. David knew what it was like to have a steadfast spirit; he had walked with the Lord before. The Hebrew word here for steadfast is נכון, nakun. This word denotes a spirit that is erect or firm. 2 Chronicles 27:6 explains that Jotham grew powerful because he walked “steadfastly.” Psalm 57 and Psalm 108 explain that because David had a steadfast heart, he was able to sing in joy before the Lord. Psalm 112:7 says that a steadfast spirit brings about a courageous spirit. Psalm 119 implies that walking steadfast is of great desire. Proverbs 4:26 says that one should give careful thought to how they can walk steadfastly. Isaiah 26:3 says that those who walk steadfastly will be kept in a perfect peace and lastly, 1 Peter 5:10 explains that God will restore the one who walks in steadfastness to perfection. David understood that a steadfast spirit was where he would find his peace and he knew that a steadfast spirit would give him courage. He knew that a steadfast spirit was of great importance.
Furthermore, the sin of David had literally caused him to become weak. Psalm 32 explains that the sin in David’s life literally sapped his strength from him. David wanted to feel powerful again; he wanted his spirit to be made erect and firm in the Lord. Sin will always take you further than you want to go and keep you longer than you want to stay. David K. Carson says “if a person is not careful their condition could be worse if they do not grow in the understanding of God’s Word.”
Proverbs 28:13 illustrates that those who cover sin will in no way prosper, but those who confess there sin find mercy. James 5:16 explains that confessing sin to one another is healing in its power. Hiding sin will always cause death. What we get for our sin is death. What we need is to confess sin when it is little, when we have a short list, then we will know what it means to have a steadfast spirit. John Calvin explains that David recognizes here, by asking for a renewed steadfast spirit, that we are a people that is completely in need of the grace of God and that the grace that was responsible for our regeneration, is now responsible for our restoration. This places complete responsibility on God and takes it away from us. Leaning on our own efforts in order to become restored will result in legalistic living. David wants complete forgiveness, and therefore relies completely on the work of the Spirit in his life.
David also mentions that this renewed spirit must take place within him. David did not want to change from the outside; he needed a change from the inside. An outward change only will always result in a return of sinful choices, for you are only covering up what is really on the inside. It is not enough to take the leaves off of the weed; you must dig deep within the dirt and de- root it. Ezekiel 36:26 says that God will put a new heart within His people. This heart, only if God removes the sin and dirt within it, will be able to stand firm and have the strength to “keep God’s Way.” Restoration therefore only happens when God has direct control of our lives and it only happens when we let God in every aspect of our life, filtering even our deepest secrets.
Therefore, we see here that David asks God to do something in his life that goes beyond our basic understanding of restoration. As Christians, we have seemingly lost the truth of how sinful we actually are. We seem to live a life of episodic sin, meaning that sometimes we sin more than other times. This is quite the contrary, and a very poor understanding of sin. Our lives are covered in sin and it is only by the Grace of God that we are able to stand before Him in purity. David understood this well. He asked for God to give him a brand new heart, not an upgrade, but within His grace, a new beginning, something out of nothing. David’s focus came off of the work of God and God himself, and onto his selfish desires and wants. As he slowly turned his view from God, sin became less and less of a death grab on his life, and more like episodes. We must understand how utterly sinful we are. We must depend fully on the work of Jesus on the cross to ransom us from our pitiful state. We need to pray for a new heart and live in our justified position. Thus, it is to be concluded from verse 10 that we must ask God for a pure heart, we must live a steadfast life for this will bring courage and peace, and we must let the Holy Spirit work from the inside to the out for a total “ex nihilo” change.
The content of verse 11 in Psalm 51 can be startling upon first read. David asks for the Holy Spirit to not be removed from him. This can be confusing on the sole fact that salvation is secure once true faith has been placed in Jesus Christ. For this reason exactly is why the author of this paper spent time on explaining the trinity and eternal security at the beginning of the paper. A few questions must be answered for a full understanding of this verse.
First, what does it mean to be cast away from God’s presence, and secondly, can the Holy Spirit be taken away from the true believer. The word for presence here is פנים (paniym).This word can be translated as face. Then, it is interesting to study the crucifixion. Mark 15:34 explains that Jesus from the cross shouts out “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” This means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus questions why His father would turn his presence from him and forsake him. The pain Jesus felt upon the cross did not entirely rest on the physical. That is to say, his emotional pain could have outweighed His physical pain. The extreme emotion Jesus was going through came from Him coming face to face with the realization that He may be separated from His Father forever. The author of this paper believes that when Jesus prayed for the cup to pass from Him in the garden of Gethsemane, he was not praying away the physical pain, but the pain he would feel of knowing the Father could not look at Him at the moment He hung on the cross because He bore the sin of the entire world. He was praying that God the Father would not turn His presence from Him. David may be feeling this pain here in Psalm 51:11.
Hence, what David is expressing here is not that God is going to “throw him away” after he sinned, but rather, that God can barely look at him because of his sin. Fredrik Lindstrom comments here, “Consequently, the sufferer never asks for preconditions for ethical conduct. The prayers concerning divine guidance, point rather to the idea that the sufferer desires to be led away from the evil sphere.” In his present state, David was living in the sphere of evil. God cannot have His presence in this sphere. Where dark is, light cannot be present. God’s presence here is His Holy Spirit. When sin is committed, that fellowship we have with God is broken, not completely severed. We must ask forgiveness and repent and the Holy Spirit restores us to Himself.
The presence of God is a big deal in other Old Testament passages. In the book of Joshua, the story of Achan takes place. Achan kept some valuables for himself when the Lord commanded everything to be burned. Thus, sin was in the camp and God’s presence was taken away from His people. Again, this does not mean that he had completely cut His people off, but that His holiness could not come in contact with their sin. Therefore, when Joshua and his army tried to fight, they lost. However, when the sin was rectified, the presence of God was restored, and the enemies were plundered. The presence of the Lord always drives away sin and evil.
Hence, we can then conclude that to be “cast from the presence” of God is not to be out of His grips forever, but that God cannot let the true believer continually to live in sin while His holiness is put upon the shelf. A casting from His presence is therefore temporary and not permanent.
Secondly, the question of whether or not the Holy Spirit can be taken from the true believer comes into light. In 1 Samuel 16:13 it says “… and from that day on the spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David.” Walter Brueggemann points out beautifully that the spirit (רוח) enabled David to take reign. David was a lost man without this power. He continues to say that “tradition recognizes that in his unthinkable act against Uriah and Bathsheba, David has lost the power of YHWH authorizing him to rule.” Isaiah 11:2 explains that the spirit of the Lord rests on whomever he chooses. This is a gift and not a possession. Sin had the power to keep David from accomplishing everything that God had for him, especially as it relates to his royal duties. This is broken fellowship. Again, the author of this paper agrees with Bruggemann when he says “Such utterly alien sin can leave us powerless and without authority for living our lives.”
Furthermore, the word used here in verse 11 for spirit is רוח, as mentioned above. This “spirit” could be defined as “effective power emanating from YHWH that pervades all feeling, thinking and will.” So, if the LORD removes His Spirit from you, your power is gone and you have been pushed away from the presence of God. The reader then sees that the main thrust of this verse lies within the first half of verse 11. David is not concerned that he will lose his salvation; moreover, he is scared that he will be rendered powerless. The Holy Spirit is power in our lives, when we are not connected to this power source, we are week and feeble.
You are now able to recognize that David seems to play the words “presence” and “spirit” synonymously. This is not to say that he used the same word for both God and an inanimate object and the translators translated the passage inaccurately, but to say that God’s presence is equal to God’s Spirit and that God’s Spirit is equal to God’s presence. This goes quite well with the New Testament understanding of the Spirit. Right before Jesus ascends into heaven He tells His disciples that he is going to send the Holy Spirit to comfort them, to be a help and presence to them. Where the presence of God is, that is where His Spirit is and where the power is.
As a result, the reader must not understand Psalm 51:11 as David questioning his eternal security. We must understand that David recognized where his real power came from. His forgetfulness in this area almost took him to his death. Thankfully Nathan followed the Lord and confronted David in his sin. We must understand that to quench the Holy Spirit is not a light matter. We must understand that Jesus has sent us the Spirit that is now ever indwelling in us that believe on Him and that when we are in fellowship with His Spirit is when we are at peace in our lives. When we sin, we essentially have the Spirit suspended, not taken away, and find ourselves spiraling in an anti- God direction. We can live securely in eternal salvation, but we must remain conscience that our sin is ever before us. It is only by the grace of God that we remain in His presence, and it has nothing to do with our own merit.
We now take a step away from such serious statements and again look at the result of coming back into fellowship with the Lord. Verse 12 seems to be building upon verse 8 as both speak about joy. Verse 8 finds the Psalmist asking the LORD to let him “hear joy and gladness” and verse 12 finds the psalmist asking the LORD to give him experiential knowledge of joy. This experiential joy will come from being in the presence of the Holy Spirit. David knows that his heart is prone to sin now; therefore, he asks that he will be given a spirit that is willing to follow hard after God. Derek Kidner suggests that a willing heart is one of God’s ways of protecting the believer from temptation. He explains that a delight in the will of God will cause for the lure of temptation to lose its attractiveness.
We then must conclude that we must remain in tune with the will of God; for while we are in the center of His will, we are truly the happiest. When we lose the joy of pursuing hard after the will of God, we lose the joy of our salvation and the power of it. We forget what we were truly saved from and thus we fall into sin.
The average Christian spends their day unaffected by the true affects of sin upon their relationship with their God. They view sin merely as a game being played between them and some force outside their realm, of which they cannot see or touch, making the realization of their sin affecting such a holy God confusing at best. When we sin, we must be careful to not fall into the trap of categorizing our sin. We must ask for a new heart to be created. We must not cover up our sin as an attempt to look good on the outside, but still living terribly perverted on the outside. Complete restoration does not come from a simple comprehension of sin, but complete restoration comes from yielding to the Holy Spirits work in our lives, purposing to live steadfastly, understanding that our sin hurts a holy God, and delighting in doing the will of God. We must understand that our sin does not cast s out of the presence of God forever, nor does the Holy Spirit leave us. We can rest in our eternal security, which should drive us to live in a manner worthy of eternity spent with Jesus Christ.
Alexander, Joseph Addison, Commentary on Psalms, Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel
Artur Weiser, The Psalms: A Commentary, Louisville, KY: Westminister John Knox
Brueggemann,Walter, Message of the Psalms, Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg 1984
Calvin, John, Heart Aflame, Phillisburg, PA: P&R.
Dahood, Mitchell. Psalms. 3 vols. AB 16 (1965), 17 (1968), 17A (1970). Garden City,
Dalglish, Edward R., Psalm Fifty- One, Leiden: E.J. Brill 1962
Eaton, J.H., The Psalms: A Historical and Spiritual Commentary with an Introduction,
New York: T&T, 2006.
Fredrik Lindstrom, Suffering and Sin, Stockholme, Sweden: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1994
Kidner, Derek. Psalms 1-72: An Introduction and Commentary on Books I-II of the
Psalms. TOTC. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1973.
Kraus, Hans- Joachim, Psalms 1-59: a continental Commentary, Minneapolis, MN:
David Carson, The Unconverted Subconscious in Psychotherapy: Biblical Foundations,
Psychological Explorations and Clinical Applications, Journal of Psychology and Theology, VOL. 37, 2009