The Cost of Confession
“Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.”
Psalm 51:10-12 ESV
Even the best intentioned people sin. In the Bible, the story of one of the worst sins is ironically told of one of the best people. King David was anointed as a young boy to be the chosen king of Israel. He did became the second king of Israel, and the Psalms would call him the greatest king Israel had known. But after some kingly success, David famously sinned by sleeping with a woman who wasn’t his wife (violating the 7th commandment), murdering her husband (violating the 6th commandment), and lying to everyone about it (violating the 9th commandment).
No doubt after the moment David sinned, he was faced with a decision: what do I do now that I’ve done this? Sadly, David chose the route of a cover-up, trying to do damage control. He married Bathsheba, and tried to trick everyone into thinking that the child was legitimately his. For a year, David and Bathsheba live in the sullen secret of his sin. Instead of coming clean, it takes an act of God to draw out David’s sin. A prophet confronts him and calls him out.
For me, this story is just one Keith Morrison voiceover shy of being a Dateline episode—murder, adultery, intrigue—But this is real life for our day. Our sin causes real problems in our lives. What we choose to do when we sin reveals much about the health of our hearts. So many of us, like David, go into fix-it mode: hiding our sin, managing our sin, hoping we never get found out. But one of the truest statements in the Bible is this: “be sure your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23).
As a result of this confrontation with his sin, David sat down and wrote a psalm of confession, Psalm 51. You might pause reading right now and open Psalm 51 and read it for yourself. In it, David models for us some heart-revealing conditions that we must break through, the first being the challenge of confession. I imagine the conviction David feels as he writes these words is mixed with fear and embarrassment. Embarrassment over the wickedness in his heart, and appropriate fear of how tragic his sin is to God. So David in his fear of God says, “Have mercy.”
Isn’t it true that the first step is always the hardest? The first step is admitting you have a problem. It’s a breakdown of our pride—to acknowledge your stains and imperfections, to confess—it’s a challenge for us. But because God has mercy, we can approach God when we feel most unworthy to approach him. Mercy means that God in his love does not give me what I deserve. And thank God that he is merciful!
David then models for us the clarity of confession. We get the picture from David that he’s able to point out exactly what it was that he messed up. Sometimes at my home, a child will disobey and when we process their actions, they cannot tell me what was wrong. But true confession has a clarity about it. David is clear on his actions and calls them sin. Do you know your sin? Chances are you know your sin well and it’s ever before you. But do you call your sinful actions sin?
Knowing his sin, David asks the Lord for his healing. He shows us richly the cleansing of confession. To purge is really to cleanse or “de-sin” me. Wash away the stains of my life. Confession is bleach for the soul, the removal of all impurities and wickedness. I find tremendous comfort in the fact that if we are courageous enough to overcome the challenge of confession, if we clearly see our sins for what they are, we too like David can ask God to hide his face from our sins, and have them cleansed from our conscience and our lives.
This ultimately leads to the fourth condition of confession, found in verse 10: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). Here’s the beauty of this psalm, and even more of our God: we expect confession to bring the walls down around us and imprison us in guilt; but God has designed confession to be a creative act! David is pleading for the creation of confession, where God creates a clean heart when we confess.
This is completely surprising to us. It’s natural for us to feel when we sin that our world has fallen apart. We assume in confession a certain level of destruction will take place, and perhaps we are right. The wages of sin is death, as Scripture says. The choice to sin is a choice to destroy what is good.
But if you think that confession is what will hurt your family, you’re missing the point. If you have cheated on your spouse and you think that telling them will hurt them, you’re looking at it all wrong. You have already hurt them. You have already detonated the bomb. They just haven’t felt the aftershock yet. Sin is what brings about destruction, but David shows us that confession brings about creation. They work together—cleansing and creating; renewing and righteousness.
Confession does not destroy relationships, sin does that. Confession restores relationships. Confession restores hope. Confession restores hearts. Confession, dare I say, restores marriages. If we lose the art of confession, we lose the joy in a life renewed by God. But that renewal comes at a cost. The cost of confession is what David acknowledges at the end of Psalm 51. All forgiveness comes at a cost. For the Israelites, this was delivered via the sacrificial system. But for us, today, who know the sacrifice of Jesus, we look to him and see our sins forgiven and life restored!
The reward of Christ comes at a cost. Will you confess your sins? If so, he is faithful to forgive, because he’s already paid the cost. David knew the worst sin requires the best sacrifice. And God in his mercy sent Jesus, his son, to die in our place for our sins. He is the best sacrifice for the worst sins! So when we come to God in confession, we are asking Him, “Will you pay the price?”
And Jesus calls out in response to us, “I already have!”