How to Confess Sin

How to Confess Sin

I want to begin this morning’s message with a question: Do we want to be remembered by the worst sin we’ve ever committed? By the worst thing we’ve ever done? Or, conversely, do we want to be remembered by the most virtuous act we’ve ever committed? By the best thing we’ve ever done? What is our identity? Are we sinners—or are we saints? Well what we see throughout Scripture is how unheroic some of its heroes are—and many see this as indicative of the fact that Scripture presents us with real historical people since we see them warts and all. Even those mentioned in the “Who’s Who of the Faith” that we considered a few weeks ago[1] didn’t lead perfect lives: Abraham lied about Sarah being his wife; Sarah laughed at the thought of God being able to enable to her conceive in her old age; Moses killed a man and hid him in the sand; Rahab was a harlot. Yet despite these moral failings, they all made it into the book of faith for, in the end, they all trusted not in themselves but in God’s goodness and greatness.

Thus do the Scriptures similarly present David.[2] If being Israel’s most beloved king and “a man after God’s heart”[3] are the most positive facts we know about David, surely his adulterous affair with Bathsheba—which led to her becoming pregnant while her husband was at war—followed by David having her husband, Uriah, put to death in order that he might have her, are the most negative. If you’ll recall, after David had Uriah killed and Bathsheba had mourned for him, “David had her brought to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing David had done displeased the Lord.”[4] And God didn’t keep his displeasure to himself but sent him Nathan the prophet who confronted David by reporting to him the following account:

There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him. Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.[5]

Well, David didn’t need to hear anymore. He “burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.’”[6] And then Nathan answered with those immortal words: “You are the man!” As he went on to tell David,

This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: “I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.”[7]

Even at the time, David immediately owned what he had done and said, “I have sinned against the Lord.”[8]

These actions by David provide the backdrop of Psalm 51[9] which was written, as some of your Bibles may note, “When the prophet Nathan came to him after [he] had committed adultery with Bathsheba.” When Nathan told David he was “the man” who so heartlessly and ruthlessly had had one of his faithful and upright soldiers killed in order that he might steal his wife, David’s response, as stated in verse 1 of our psalm, was to pray the sinner’s prayer:[10] “Have mercy on me, O God,….” Have you ever felt like this? Have you ever been so overwhelmed by the enormity of something you said, or thought, or did, that you’ve fallen before our LORD and pleaded for his mercy? Well what I want to suggest this morning is that one of the most valuable lessons you and I have to learn from David is how to confess sin. For this sinner was indeed a man after God’s own heart.

Again, as we see in verse 1, to confess sin we begin by turning to our holy God and asking him to show us mercy. We need God’s mercy because sin is a violation of his purposes for us. Sin damages our relationship with him. It damages our relationship with each other. It damages us. This is why God hates sin. God seeks to destroy sin because sin stains and destroys everything it touches. Therefore if we have acted in a sinful manner, we must seek God’s forgiveness. We must acknowledge what we have done. We must throw ourselves on his mercy.

And the good news is that showing mercy, displaying forgiveness, is but one of God’s specialties. David seeks God’s mercy on the basis of God’s character. He asks the LORD to show his mercy “according to your unfailing love.” God’s love never fails. He is always ready and willing to bestow it upon us. And it is because of God’s unfailing love that we can turn to him and trust in his mercy, in his forgiveness. David continues to focus upon God’s character when next he asks, “according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.” God isn’t simply able to show compassion but he is a font of great compassion. He knows the devastating and destructive toll sin takes upon his creation and he is moved by the harm it does us. This is why when we see our sin and renounce it, he is so quick to act and forgive. David wants his sins blotted out. He wants them removed completely from the record book.[11] And he knows that God wants to blot out our transgressions even more than we do and so he turns to him in prayer.

But David asks not only for God’s mercy; he asks not only that his transgressions be blotted out; but in verse 2 he asks that the LORD might cleanse him: “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.” David understands that sin isn’t simply an act of the body. It isn’t simply a matter of a single deed that has been committed. No, sin is far more serious than this for sin is a matter of the heart. It’s about our whole disposition and orientation away from God. Since the time of the Fall we, like misfunctioning magnets, are attracted to sin and are repelled by God rather than being attracted to God and being repelled by sin as he intended. Therefore in order to be restored to our proper functioning we need our iniquity to be washed away; we need our sin to be cleansed out of us. These are the basic principles David builds upon in the remainder of this psalm.

In verse 3, he again owns his sinful acts. Having acknowledged his need for cleansing, he reiterates, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.” And though David is aware of his sin his greater concern is for how his behavior has affected his relationship with God. As stated in verse 4, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” David has hurt the One whom he most sought to please. By his adultery with Bathsheba and his having her husband, Uriah, killed David has acted against God’s holy nature as well as against his purposes for him. Further, he has harmed two of God’s image-bearers. Therefore rather than fulfill God’s purpose to love him above all others, David has hated him. And rather than fulfill God’s purpose to love his neighbor, David has loved himself by yielding to his lust and has thereby harmed his neighbor. And it is because God identifies so strongly with those who are his that when we harm each other it is as though we are harming him for he takes any harm done to his loved ones as harm done to himself. David knows this. And so he confesses, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” This is why he further confesses, “so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.” “You are the man,” Nathan said. “Yes, I am the man,” David acknowledges here.

And, again, David knows that this isn’t merely a matter of an isolated sin. Indeed, as he states in verse 5, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” David knew the Scriptures God had disclosed to his people. Therefore David knew the devastation that the Fall had brought about for since that dreaded day not only David but all of us are sinful at birth, from the time of our conception. For even the most seemingly innocent and sweet newborn baby will one day feel the lure of temptation and sin in their lives. This will be true even if that baby is raised in a godly home. Even if that baby is taught the difference between evil and good from the time they’re in the cradle, they will still feel—and at some point succumb—to sin’s allure. This is why, apart from God’s help and cleansing, we cannot escape sin for how can we escape something that is a part of us? How can we escape something that feels as natural as eating and breathing to us? For our dilemma isn’t that the Fall has taken away our ability to recognize our sin for we often do. It isn’t even that the Fall has taken away our desire to do what is right for we often desire to do what is right. Our dilemma is that the Fall has taken away our ability to consistently resist sin and follow through with doing what is right in the eyes of God. As the apostle Paul acknowledged, “15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do….18 …I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” Paul so very eloquently expresses how our Fallen nature is at odds with our Created nature. As David similarly notes in verse 6, “Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place.” Our Fallen nature hasn’t destroyed our Created nature, but it’s certainly muddied the waters, making it difficult for us to be wise to both desire and act upon what is right.

And so David again turns to God to ask for cleansing in verse 7: “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” Hyssop was a shrub whose twigs were used for sprinkling in ancient Jewish rites of purification.[12] David desires that cleansing. So much so that he desires to be even whiter than snow. He further wants to be delivered from the misery his sin has caused him and so he asks God starting in verse 8, “Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.” With these words David teaches us yet another important aspect of how to confess sin: Once confessed and repented of, we’re not to remain in the state of grief that has resulted from our transgression but are to seek God’s help in moving beyond that heartache back to the path of joy and gladness. The path to joy and gladness lies in embracing our created nature rather than our fallen nature.

Yet this can only occur with God’s intervention. And so David asks God to intervene starting in verse 10: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” David is asking for a remake. He wants God to exchange his impure heart for a pure one. And he’s also asking God for a redo. Once God has granted a pure heart, he prays for a spirit that will be steadfast; for a spirit that will not succumb to unbidden temptation or sin. For what David desires most is to remain in God’s presence and it’s impossible for an unholy sinner to stand in the presence of a holy God. Therefore he asks in verse 11, “Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.” To lose God would be to lose everything to David. To be cast from his sight would be unbearable. And so David seeks God’s help and favor.

As he again asks in verse 12, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” By definition when we sin we have lost the joy of our salvation for sin, and its effects, is what we need to be saved from. God has saved us from separation from him; he has saved us from our destroying his creation; he has saved us from our destroying each other; he has saved us from our destroying ourselves. Whereas sin calls us to destruction, God calls us to salvation. Once having been delivered from our sin you would think that we would never forget that joy or lose that gratitude. But we do forget and so David asks that the joy of his salvation be restored and that God would grant him a spirit that is willing to respond to him rather than to temptation; he asks that God would grant him a willing spirit that would sustain him.

The result of being granted such a request would be far-reaching. As stated in verse 13 David would share that salvation joy with others: “Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you.” As we often note, to know God is to love him. This is what David desires to teach other transgressors; this is what he desires to teach other sinners like himself. He wants all to know the joy of God’s salvation. He wants all sinners, like himself, to turn back to their Maker and Lord. And no doubt with Uriah in mind, David asks God in verse 14, “Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, you who are God my Savior, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.” There’s nothing David can do to bring Uriah back so asks God, his Savior, to save him not only from his sin but also from its effects. He asks God to deliver him from his guilt in order that he, the song-writer—for a psalm is but another word for a song—might sing of his Savior’s righteousness. In the midst of his guilt he asks God, verse 15, “Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise.”

David desires nothing more than to please God. And knowing God, he knows what will—and won’t—please him. As he states starting in verse 16, “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.” If not in sacrifices and offerings, then what does God delight in? The sacrifice stated in verse 17, “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” As Paul notes, we’re to offer ourselves, our entire bodies, to God as living sacrifices, seeking to be holy as he is and seeking to please him in all we do.[13] This is the sacrifice in which God delights for to feel contrition over sin, to confess our sin to God and seek his forgiveness and restoration God will not despise.

The psalm ends with David, broken king, praying for those whom he’s been given the responsibility to lead, God’s people, Israel: “18 May it please you to prosper Zion, to build up the walls of Jerusalem. 19 Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous, in burnt offerings offered whole; then bulls will be offered on your altar.”

So, dear sisters and brothers, what do you think? Are we sinners or are we saints? Martin Luther, that great Reformer, held that we were, at one and the same time, both saints and sinners, both righteous and sinner.[14] Though as we noted last week, all who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ are already saints, are holy ones, because of his obedience and sacrifice on our behalf; yet this side of heaven, despite such a holy sacrifice, we will struggle with temptation and, at times, yield to temptation and thereby sin against God.

But when we do, let us learn from David, that sinner who was also a man after God’s heart, concerning how to confess sin:

Let us begin by praying the sinner’s prayer as we turn to our Lord Jesus and seek his mercy saying, “Lord, have mercy on me.”

And after seeking his mercy, let’s trust in his character, in his “unfailing love” and “great compassion.”

And knowing God’s goodness and greatness and character, let us confess our sin before him. As we regularly pray—and as we learned a few weeks ago when Ron preached from 1 John—John agrees with David in teaching that we must both acknowledge and confess our sin. As stated in the closing verses of chapter 1 of his epistle, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.” David was a man who wasn’t self-deceived. He didn’t claim to be without sin. He didn’t make God out to be a liar. Instead he confessed his sin, sought God’s mercy, and trusted in God’s character. He knew God was faithful and just. He knew God would both forgive his sin and cleanse him from all unrighteousness.

And having sought God’s mercy; and trusted in his character; and confessed our sin, let us, like David, move beyond our sin and seek to have the joy of our salvation restored. For isn’t the receiving of forgiveness one of the greatest joys we can ever experience? I often think of the nameless woman in Luke’s Gospel— described as “a woman…who lived a sinful life”[15]—who, upon learning that Jesus was eating at the house of a Pharisee, went to Jesus with “an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 [And] as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.” When the Pharisee thought ill of her, Jesus asked him which of two men who owed money to a certain moneylender would love that man more—the one who was forgiven a debt of a day’s wage or the one who was forgiven a debt of fifty days’ wages? When the Pharisee answered the latter, Jesus acknowledged his correct answer and added,

Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.[16]

This is what having our joy restored looks like. This woman loved Jesus much because she’d been forgiven much; she was forgiven much because God loves us so much. He doesn’t hold our sins against us—and neither should we. This is what the joy of salvation looks like.


having sought God’s mercy;

and trusted in his character;

and confessed our sin;

and having been restored to our relationship with him and thereby rediscovering the joy of our salvation,

let us, like David, take the final step and share the joy of knowing our Savior and Lord, with others. When the apostle Paul lamented his double-mindedness, his not understanding what he did by not doing what he wanted but doing what he hated; desiring to do good but finding himself unable to carry it out, he concluded by exclaiming, “24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” And then Paul answered his own question by proclaiming, “25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”[17] Thanks be to God, indeed, who delivers any and all who turn to him through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord!

We who are fortunate enough to know, love, and serve God after the time of Christ Jesus’ life, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven don’t need a prophet like Nathan to approach us and point out our sin for we have been given God’s Holy Spirit to indwell us and show us our sin not that we might hate ourselves but that we might, individually and corporately, be remade into the image of our living, loving, and ruling Lord Jesus. By his indwelling Holy Spirit we have the opportunity each and every moment to receive his cleansing, have our sins blotted out by Christ who came to take away our sins, and thereby have the joy of our salvation restored.

Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, let us tell others about his unfailing love; let us tell others about his great compassion; let us encourage others to turn to him that we might together sing of God’s righteousness.

Let us pray.

[1] Confident Faith preached on 08/11/19 on Hebrews 11:1–3, 8–16 and Successful Faith preached on 08/18/19 on Hebrews 11:29–12:3.

[2] Mentioned in passing in Hebrews 11:32: And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets,….

[3] 1 Samuel 13:13–14:13 You have done a foolish thing,” Samuel said. “You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. 14 But now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.” Acts 13:22: After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’

[4] 2 Samuel 11:27.

[5] 2 Samuel 12:1b–4.

[6] 2 Samuel 12:5–6.

[7] 2 Samuel 12:7–10.

[8] 2 Samuel 12:13.

[9] For the entire account, see 2 Samuel 11–12.

[10] I’m thinking of the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9–14. The Pharisee prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.” However Jesus commended the tax collector who instead prayed, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

[11] For another instance of this desire see, Exodus 32:31–32 (after the golden calf incident): 31 So Moses went back to the Lord and said, “Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. 32 But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.”


[12] Exodus 12:21–23: 21 Then Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb. 22 Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. None of you shall go out of the door of your house until morning. 23 When the Lord goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.; Leviticus 14:5–7: Then the priest shall order that one of the birds be killed over fresh water in a clay pot. He is then to take the live bird and dip it, together with the cedar wood, the scarlet yarn and the hyssop, into the blood of the bird that was killed over the fresh water. Seven times he shall sprinkle the one to be cleansed of the defiling disease, and then pronounce them clean. After that, he is to release the live bird in the open fields.

[13] Romans 12:1–3: 1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

[14] Simul iustis et peccator.

[15] Luke 7:37.

[16] Luke 7:44b–47.

[17] Romans 7:24–25.