To call sin by any other name is to give it dignity it neither deserves nor merits. Sin is not worthy of praise, laxity, or any kind of tolerance. Though one’s choice to sin is indeed a mistake, it is not merely a mistake; though one’s choice to sin may be a bad habit, it is not merely a bad habit. To compromise the severity of sin is to compromise the necessity of our Savior. He, our Lord, stated that to practice sin is to enslave oneself to sin (Jn. 8:24), reiterating the potentially lifelong consequences our sins can have. Worse than even these are the eternal consequences of our sins, as we know that people of God can be separated from Him if sin stands between them (Is. 59:2).
For this, too, we are able to consult the Psalms for understanding and guidance. The 51st Psalm, penned by David, follows the events of 2 Samuel 11. Despite having been a “man after God’s own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14), he was nonetheless susceptible to being lured and enticed by his own desires (Jas. 1:14). David, having stayed home during a time of battle (2 Sam. 11:1), begins to long after Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite. After seeking her out and bringing her to his home, he commits adultery with her (2 Sam. 11:3-4). Make no mistake, there is no rational method of justifying David’s actions. To worsen matters, may we be reminded that David sought to cover up his affair by murdering Uriah, maliciously sending him to the front lines of battle and implicating Joab in his scheme (2 Sam. 11:14–15). Nathan, a prophet of the Lord, confronts David with an allegorical rebuke, ending the figurative with the direct “You are the man!” (2 Sam. 12:7). David recognizes his guilt, states that he has sinned (2 Sam. 11:13), and bears the consequences of his actions.
Turn to Psalm 51:3-6, as it will be the focus of our remaining time. After pleading for God’s mercy and cleansing (Ps. 51:1-2), David reaffirms that he has indeed sinned, giving a firm recognition of his sin. He states that he is aware of his rebellious transgressions, and that his sin is continually before him (v. 3). Following this, he states the impact of his sin, remarking that his sin is ultimately against God alone (v. 4). The linguistic repetition of this idea, rendered as “Against you, you only” in the ESV, denotes an emphatic understanding. The fact that David’s actions were “evil” in God’s sight is enough to constitute them as sinful. This is seen in 2 Sam. 11:27, as we read that David’s actions displeased the Lord. Nevertheless, David’s sinful actions prove that God is solely righteous and just in His statutes and judgments.
The fifth verse shows a further, matured understanding of sin’s seriousness and severity. David earlier remarks that God has been with him since his beginning (Ps. 22:9-10), but he juxtaposes this through masterful hyperbole. This statement is emphasized with a pronounced “Behold” in its introduction, and the same is true in the following verse. David proclaims the converse truth that God, knowing his sinful behavior, is pleased by truth in the “inward [secret] being,” teaching wisdom in the “secret [inner] heart” (v. 6). While David shows that sin pollutes the innermost parts of oneself, he nonetheless shows that God is willing to teach us what pleases Him. Said another way, the heart can indeed deceive (Jer. 17:9), but it can also be rightly informed (Ps. 20:4; 37:4). Though our sins should make us grieve, God provides a purifying solution. Next week, we will discuss the Psalmist’s view of forgiveness, and how a wayward man is able to be made right with God.