Psalm 51: How to be Clean
There is simply no doubt about it, verse 10 is the epicenter of Psalm 51. It's the summary, the definition, the description of David's true need. Verse 10 proves that David gets it. It demonstrates that David understands how he's gotten himself into such a mess. It makes it clear that David knows what spiritual warfare is all about. It tells you that David has given up on the personal change agendas that focus on changes of situation, location, and relationship. It tells you that David knows that he needs something greater than corrected theology and pragmatically effective principles.
When David says, "Create in me a clean heart, O God," he's admitting the one thing we don't want to admit. He's confessing to the depth of his moral dilemma. He's looking at life God's way. He's saying, "I'm facing something that I can't free myself from. I'm dealing with something that I can't solve. I'm in the middle of something that I don't have the independent power to alleviate."
Here's the confession. Here's the plea. "God, my problem is that I've a fundamentally unclean heart. I bring this uncleanness to every situation, location, and relationship of my daily life. In some way, it influences all of my thoughts, desires, choices, words, and actions. Lord, I want to be clean because now I can see clearly the legacy of my uncleanness, but I'm not able to make my heart clean. God, I'm asking you to do what I can't do for myself. I'm asking you to create in my heart what isn't there; fundamental moral purity - a moral goodness of heart that will then shape all of my actions and reactions to life."
The word for create here is the same word that's used in Genesis 1. Why is this important? Because it tells you that David understands to whom he's talking. He's appealing to the One who's the Creator of all things to do exactly what he did as he spoke the physical universe into to being. He's asking the Redeemer to exercise the expansiveness of his creative power to create moral purity at the motivational core of his personhood, the heart. David is pleading for a miracle that's every bit as astounding as what's recorded in Genesis 1. He's asking God to create a moral universe in his heart that doesn't yet exist. And he's asking for this because he knows that unless he's the recipient of such a miracle, he'll never be what he's supposed to be or do what he's supposed to do.
David gets it. He gets that he desperately needs forgiveness, but he also understands that he needs something more. He gets that he needs to be recreated at the core of who he is as a person. His prayer for a "clean" heart is a prayer for deliverance from the moral pull and the vulnerability that's the functional danger of an unclean heart. In praying this way, David prays for all of us.
Why am I impatient? Because I have an unclean heart.
Why do I over-eat? Because I have an unclean heart.
Why do I say things that I shouldn't say? Because I have an unclean heart.
Why do I get angry at the people I say I love? Because I have an unclean heart.
Why do I desire things that God says are wrong? Because I have an unclean heart.
Why do I struggle to be content? Because I have an unclean heart.
Why am I not motivated by the glory of God? Because I have an unclean heart.
Why do I spend more than I should spend? Because I have an unclean heart.
Why do I doubt the goodness of God? Because I have an unclean heart.
Verse 10 is the "says it all" diagnosis of the moral struggle of all of us. So, isn't it wonderful that Jesus, the Messiah, was sent to earth so that we could be the recipients of the one thing that we could never provide for ourselves; a new heart? So, don't be discouraged and don't let yourself be defeated. There's help for us! There's hope for us! There's a Creator Redeemer who delights in exercising his power to create a moral cleanness in the hearts of needy people who seek it because they know that it can only be found in him.
Be humble enough to pray David's prayer, recognize your need of the same Creator cleansing, and watch what your Redeemer will do.