Psalm 51 gives a description of spiritual brokenness. This article shows that this brokenness is a result of understanding the nature of sin. It also show true trust in Christ to clean all sin.

Source: Faith in Focus, 2015. 3 pages.

Psalm 51: A Song of Brokenness

Psalm 51 is David’s song about his repentance and brokenness for sin. If repentance is a complete change of direction, like turning around on the expressway, then brokenness is like the off ramp.1 We talk a lot about people needing healing and restoration, but brokenness for sin must come before any healing can happen.

While this Psalm hits us hard and makes us face our sin honestly, it also offers the wonderful hope of gospel forgiveness which can be found only in Christ. Let us look at a few hard, but honest facts about sin:

Call Our Sin, Sin🔗

The heading of Psalm 51 is graphic and gripping. It was written by David after Nathan the prophet paid him a little visit. “To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba” (Psalm 51:1).2 We don’t have to imagine for long what David is writing about. He took another man’s wife. We might be more comfortable with talking about some affair! Or we might talk about sleeping with someone else. But the Bible calls adultery what it is, having sex with another man’s wife.

Sin is Irrational🔗

John Bunyan called adultery and sexual impurity “a very taking sin” because “it is natural above all sins to mankind”. Not exclusively, but especially men are inclined to sin sexually.3 But all sin including adultery is irrational, and blind. Why would a man risk lifelong damage to his own family and reputation for a few minutes of sexual pleasure? Think of the grief David could have spared himself if he had not rested his eyes so long on beautiful Bathsheba bathing? But sin so twists our hearts, minds and wills that we think irrationally, forgetting the consequences. Many a man has lost his reputation and office in the church because of a few moments of sin.

Do not lust after her beauty in your heart, nor let her allure you with her eyelids. For by means of a harlot a man is reduced to a crust of bread; and an adulteress will prey upon his precious life. Can a man take fire to his bosom, and his clothes not be burned? Can one walk on hot coals, and his feet not be seared? So is he who goes in to his neighbor’s wife; whoever touches her shall not be innocent. Proverbs 6:25-29

Sin Snowballs🔗

When a snowball rolls down a hill, it becomes bigger and bigger, accelerating as it rolls. Our sins are soon bigger than we imagined and fast rolling out of control. “Sin always takes us further than we wanted to go, keeps us longer than we wanted to stay, and makes us pay far more than we ever wanted to pay – even the price of our souls.”4

David called Uriah back from the frontlines to sleep with Bathsheba, to explain her pregnancy. But Uriah was more duty-bound than David. He refused to celebrate and sleep with his wife while the Lord’s cause was being fought. David then had Joab place him where the battle was hottest and then suddenly retreat. The next day brave Uriah died. When David knew that Uriah was dead, he relaxed. After Bathsheba finished mourning for her husband, David married her and continued to enjoy his bathing beauty.

Sin is Deceitful🔗

For over a year, David was in honeymoon mode, until a prophet named Nathan came to pay him a visit. Some people get nervous when a minister comes to visit, but initially this visit did not even make David jittery. Nathan preached to David with a parable. The rich man with flocks of sheep stole the poor man’s only pet ewe in order to entertain a traveller. Not even Nathan’s penetrating parable awakens David’s sleeping conscience. In self-righteousness, David demands justice: So David’s anger was greatly aroused against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this shall surely die!” (2 Samuel 12:5).

Nathan was a preacher who did not chicken out with the application. We can see him shaking his forefinger in the king’s face: “You are the man!” Nathan applies the law: “Why have you despised the commandment of the Lord to do this evil in his sight?” (2 Sam 12:9). When we are deceived by sin in our lives it can take more than listening to sermons to wake us up. We are often the first to see the sin in others and the last to see it in ourselves. Remember that David slept in the pleasure of his sin for over a year until God sent Nathan to awaken him. Our consciences are like smoke alarms with dead batteries until the Holy Spirit re-energises them with His Word.

When David’s conscience was awakened by the Holy Spirit, he wrote the poignant, poetic words of Psalm 51.

Sin Crosses all the Boundaries🔗

In his Song of Brokenness David confesses sin as his transgression (verse 1b). To transgress is the same as to trespass. This means to cross a boundary established by God into forbidden territory. When I was a young fellow I had such a passion for old cars that I would jump fences with big No Trespassing signs into junk yards full of rusty treasures. I soon found out that junk yard owners are almost as mean as their dogs. David confesses that he sinned because he wanted to. He deliberately crossed God’s clear boundaries to live his own way.

David also called his sin iniquity. This word means our sinful nature, which is twisted and perverted. I do some hobby, fine woodworking; it is always disappointing to pull out a beautifully grained board and find that it is twisted. God’s crown of creation, man created in his own image, fell into sin and is twisted. He is unable to fulfill his original purpose to glorify God. When you look closely at your life, do you cry out in brokenness because you are so bent and perverted by nature? When David says, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5), he is not excusing his sin. Rather, he realises that his twisted nature is rooted in original sin and conception. He understands that he sins because he is a sinner; not that he is a sinner because he sins.

Finally, David calls sin, sin. In archery, an archer shoots the arrow at the target, but sometimes the arrow falls short of the mark. This word for sin means that we were created to aim our lives at the target of God’s glory but we all fall short. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Paul sums up our depravity this way: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

In Paul’s description of the way we were, he says that we were dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1). We were dead because we lived in the realm of trespasses and sins. We commit sins of commission (crossing the boundaries) and sins of omission (falling short of God’s target).

Sin is against God🔗

David realises that what makes sin so terrible and the sinner so broken is that sin is primarily against God. We memorise how he expresses this: “Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight – That You may be found just when You speak, And blameless when You judge” (Psalm 51:4). This confession does not mean that David ignores the damage he has done to Uriah’s family and his own family. David has sinned terribly against Bathsheba, against Uriah, against the men who were killed in battle. But he sees that the essence of his sin is that he has sinned against God. Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones preached, “Now that is the essential difference between remorse and repentance. A man who suffers remorse is one who realises that he has done wrong, but he has not repented until he realises that he has sinned against God”.5

Lloyd-Jones preached that true repentance is when the sinner admits that he has absolutely no excuse or plea.

Let me put it bluntly, by putting it to you like this. As long as you are in the position of trying to justify yourself you have not repented. As long as you are clinging on to any attempt at self-justification and self-righteousness, I say you have not repented. Surely the man who is repentant is the man who, like David, says: There is not a single excuse. I see it clearly. I have no justification. The things which I see in my life – I hate them, I had no business to do them, I did them willfully, I knew it was wrong. I admit it! I frankly confess it – 'that you might be found just when you speak and blameless when you judge.'6

Sin must be Cleansed🔗

David realises that sin sticks to us like used bubble gum or builder’s foam. Builder’s foam is great stuff to seal gaps in our draughty homes, but this spray foam does not wash out of clothing or off one’s hands. It is messy and sticks worse than used chewing gum. Sin is messy and sticks to us. When you read this Psalm you hear David crying to God, Have mercy upon me ... Blot out my transgressions, wash me thoroughly, Purge me with hyssop, Wash me, Create in me a clean heart, O God, Deliver me from blood guiltiness ... Here is David, the sinner, aware that everything he needs for cleansing his sin can come only from God. Before we are broken, we think that everything comes from us.7 Just look at all of those verbs again. Read the entire Psalm for yourself. Unless God scrubs us clean, sin sticks to us. The blotting out, the washing, the purging David pleads for can only take place through the cleansing blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The memories of sin stick to us as well. David certainly remembers his transgressions! Psalm 51:3 For I acknowledge my transgressions, And my sin is always before me. Voddie Baucham provides three reasons why the memory of sin remains with us until we get amnesia or die. If we could forget our sins, we could not testify to the goodness of God in forgiving us. If we could forget our sins, we would repeat them. Think of what life would be like if we forgot that fire was hot! If we could forget our sins, we could not grow in victories over sin.8

However, when God removes the guilt of our sins through Christ’s blood, and assures us of this, he also lifts the weight of sin from our burdened consciences and memories. Then we delight in worshipping him again. Apart from brokenness for our sin, we are incapable of true worship. This is why David prays that God would restore to him the joy of his salvation, that God would open his lips with praise, that God would fill his hands and contrite heart with the sacrifices of a broken spirit.


  1. ^ From a sermon on Psalm 51 preached by Voddie Baucham; see:
  2. ^ The historical account is described in 2 Samuel 12
  3. ^ The Works of John Bunyan, p. 569
  4. ^ Richard D. Phillips, Saved By Grace, p. 27
  5. ^ Out of the Depths: Studies in Psalm 51, p.19
  6. ^ Out of the Depths: Studies in Psalm 51, p.21
  7. ^ I gleaned this insight from Voddie Baucham’s sermon.
  8. ^ Same sermon by Voddie Baucham.

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