When we mess up

Many of us who have been Christians for a while will have had times when we think that what he have done, said or thought is so bad that it either disqualifies us or at the very least means we have to try and sort ourselves out before we can come again to God in praise and thanksgiving.

King David was one person who messed up big time. He saw a beautful young woman and decided that he must have her at all cost. And even though she was married to another, he arranges to sleep with her. Then, when she becomes pregnant, he tries to cover up the crime by more crime ending in arranging circumstances that led to her husband being killed. When he is confronted by the reality of his sin David is thrown into deep sorrow. But it is interesting to see how he then handles the question of his guilt. Psalm 51 is written by him shortly after these events.

The psalm begins with, “Have mercy on me, O God…”[1] David does not duck the question of his guilt. He doesn't try and explain it away or justify it. You do not give mercy to the innocent but to the guilty. But what is equally important is that mercy, by definition, cannot be earned. It is entirely at the disposal of the one with the authority to give it. When I sin I cannot put right the damage done to my relationship with God. Only God can do that.

All too often when we mess up we forget this. We think that we have to somehow get ourselves sorted again, have some "good" days doing right things again, before we can enjoy God and come to him in prayer. Unconsciously we are saying that there is something that we can do to put ourselves right. That way, when we do come back to him, God will be pleased with us.

But if God is angry at my sin, there is nothing I can do about it. I cannot make myself good enough. Even if I could do all that God wants of me, perfectly from now on in (which none of us can), I would only be doing what was required of me. I could not make any recompense for the failings of the past. 

That is why David asks God for mercy. But there is a basis for this plea that means that David is not simply making it from an utterly hopeless position. David says he asks, “because of your unfailing love.” David knows that the Lord has made a covenant (an agreement) with him and that, unlike us, he will always be faithful to it. One of the Puritans notes that when God makes his covenant with all the earth, through Noah, he does so even though God knew that “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (KJV). Then he says, “The covenant that the Lord makes with His people is such a covenant as the Lord made with Noah; so says the prophet Isaiah…Therefore if God be in covenant with a man, he shall never lie under wrath again.”[2] It is to the character of God that David, in the aftermath of his most glaring sin, rests his cry for mercy. And we find the same idea elsewhere in the Bible; “If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” (1 John 1:9). Just as it was for David, so it is for John. And so it can be for us as well because God is the same yesterday, today and forever.

David also rests his plea on another aspect of God’s character; his compassion. “Because of your great compassion…” He knew that when he let his glory pass by Moses, the Lord declared his name saying, “Yahweh! The Lord! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.” (Exodus 34:6). And what does David ask God to do? What does he trust in the character of God to bring about for him? It is that God might “blot out the stains of my sins.” Blot out. Remove completely. Take them out of the record of wrongs that stand against me. Restore the page to a blank. It is a request to have the copybook rewritten so that this sin is no longer written there. And it is the stain of sin that he seeks to be removed. He understands that his sin has consequences that he cannot undo. It is not simply that he cannot restore the right relationship. He knows that his sin sends ripples flowing out to eternity and that these, unless dealt with, will lead to judgement and condemnation. On the day of judgement when the books are opened, there, unless something is done to expunge it, will be his adultery with Bathsheba and his arranged killing of Uriah the husband of Bathsheba. And though he may wish to be able to do so, he cannot ascend to the heavenly throne room and tear out that page. It stands forever. His only hope is if God, through his great mercy and compassion, might blot it out so that on the day of judgement the page remains blank. It says a lot about David’s confidence in the character of God that he dares to ask to have the record of his wrongdoing removed in this way.

We know that David was not disappointed in his confidence. God's character, consistently revealed in the Bible is that he will deal with the sins of his people. We know, this side of Easter, that this happened when Jesus died on the cross. David's sin was punished there and then in Christ. As was my sin. As is yours if you believe and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. Isaiah predicted that Jesus would be "pierced for our transgressions..." (NIV) and that by the wounds that Jesus bore, we can be healed. Indeed we are healed if we are truly his.

There is a flip side. Fail to repent of your sin, refuse to believe and trust in Jesus Christ, and your sins remain. When the end comes and the book of judgement is opened, all that you have ever done, said, left undone that you ought to have done, all that you have thought, will be exposed to God's judgement. And the consequences don't bear thinking about!

It is only those who believe in Jesus Christ as God's one and only Son who will inherit eternal life.

And we know these things to be true because Jesus said they were. And Jesus died and was raised from the dead by God. God would not have done that had Jesus been lying.

Christians will mess up. The Bible never tells us that we are free from the struggle. But if we turn back to God in repentance at our sin, at how we have messed up, God is faithful to forgive. He will not punish us for that sin because when he looks at Jesus standing there, with scars on his hands and his feet, he knows that the penalty for that sin has already been paid in full.

So next time you mess up, no matter how badly, take it to the Lord with the same confidence in his faithful character that David had. Jesus said "It is finished." Sin's curse is finished for those of us who trust in him. And that means every single sin.

[1] All Scripture citations from the New Living Translation unless otherwise stated.

[2] William Bridge, A Lifting Up for the Downcast (1649. Repr. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2001), 70-71.


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