Acronyms are all around us nowadays aren’t they? Acronyms are initials representing one thing or other – in the past week, for example, my work has involved dealing with the T.S.B., the G.D.P.R. and a P.T.O. - you can ask me later what they all stand for! Frankly, I find all these acronyms a bit OTT!
But if you can bear it, let me introduce you to one more acronym this morning – the acronym A.C.T.S. – ‘Acts’. ACTS is actually a useful acronym, because it helps us remember what to say when we pray. Because ACTS stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication.
Three weeks ago Ken reminded us of the value of Adoring and Thanking God – of praising him for who he is and what he’s done for us. And two weeks ago I spoke on the subject of ‘Supplication’ – supplication simply means asking God for things in prayer. Today I want to tackle the one letter of ACTS that we haven’t looked at so far – ‘C’ for confession. Confession is a word that means saying sorry to God. Confession is an essential part of our church service every Sunday, and it should be a regular fixture in our personal, private prayer life as well.
To help us understand how and why we should confess our sins to God, we’re going to look this morning at the words of Psalm 51. Psalm 51 has been called ‘The Sorry Psalm’, because it provides a perfect example of Christian confession. Psalm 51 was written by King David after he had committed adultery with Bathsheba and been an accomplice to her husband’s murder – and its probably the Bible’s best example of repentant prayer:
- You see, Psalm 51 shows us how we can tell God that we are truly sorry for whatever we’ve done wrong.
- It provides a great example of an honest and heartfelt prayer of confession.
- It’s a great guide on how to ‘get right’ with God after we have gone astray.
So as we look at Psalm 51 this morning, I hope we will see why confession is such an important part of prayer, and why it can even be a source of great joy! But first let me pray: Gracious Father, as we think about confessing prayer this morning, help us to take our sins seriously, and to rejoice in the good news of the Gospel. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
- Sin is serious: Why confession is necessary!
The first thing we should take from today’s psalm is that sin is serious. Sin is about more that eating too much chocolate or driving a few miles per hour over the motorway speed limit - it is far more serious and wide ranging in scope than that! A sinful act is any act of rebellion against our Heavenly Father, any act of disobedience against our good God, any act that is essentially selfish rather than selfless - any thought, word or deed we do at someone else’s expense.
So if we have ever lied, cheated, harmed or hurt anyone else we have sins to say sorry for. If we have indulged in anger, greed or lust, we have sins we need to confess. In King David’s case, he had laid eyes on a beautiful woman called Bathsheba, who was married to a soldier called Uriah. While he was away at war, David had taken Bathsheba to bed and got her pregnant. He then arranged to have her brave husband killed on the battlefield, so he could take her as his own wife. You can read about the whole sordid affair in 2 Samuel chapter 11.
In our psalm today, David uses a variety of words to refer to his great sin. Words which express different dimensions of what he had done wrong. For example,
- In verse 1 and 3 he talks about his “transgressions” - a word which emphasises that sin is breaking God’s laws.
- In verse 2 David speaks of his “iniquity”, a word which means his behaviour has deviated from God’s good standards.
- And in verse 4 David simply says his sins were “evil”. He doesn’t mince his words!
Do you also notice that David makes no excuses for his sin? He doesn’t try to pass the buck or point the finger at someone else for what he did wrong. He freely admits his guilt - he repeatedly refers to “my” sins – he doesn’t search for a scapegoat. Its easy to make excuses, but it takes real courage to take personal responsibility for what we’ve done wrong.
In fact, David is honest enough to acknowledge that his sins are deep-seated. In verse 5 he writes that “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” In other words, David acknowledges that he has a sinful character. He is honest God that he has a fallen nature - that his sins come from within him, from his imperfect heart. And its not just David. The Bible is clear that from Adam and Eve onwards, we have all inherited a fallen nature, we all have desires and temptations that naturally lead us to be selfish and sinful.
David is also aware of the effects of his sin on own thinking. His troubled conscience has led him to this prayer of confession. He tells God he feels completely “crushed” and “broken” - he says his sin is “always before him”. David’s guilty conscience is making him feel uncomfortable, anxious and restless.
But it gets worse, because David also acknowledges that his sin has damaged his relationship with God as well:
- In verse 4 he says to God that “against you, and you only, have I sinned.” David realises that every sin, even sins against other people, are ultimately against God. When we hurt other people, we are hurting men and women made in the image of God, creatures fearfully and wonderfully made by their Creator.
- David goes on in verse 4 to say to God that “you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.” David recognises that he deserves God’s condemnation, he realises that he has grieved God’s Holy Spirit within him - he knows he’s in the dock and deserves to have a guilty verdict pronounced over him.
Well, if the Psalm were to simply end there it would be a sad and sombre prayer, wouldn’t it?! Make no mistake that our sin is serious. It hurts other people, it submerges us in guilt, and it damages our relationship with God. Honest and heartfelt confession should be a permanent feature of our prayers, even the prayers of the most committed Christian. Our specific sins may be different, but are all fallen and fallible - just like King David.
- Forgiveness and a fresh start: What sinners should ask for!
Thankfully, that’s not the end of the story. Because our prayers of confession shouldn’t just contain a list of our sins and transgressions. Our prayers of confession should seek God’s forgiveness and a fresh start as well.
When we go to the Doctor we don’t just reel off a list of our aches and pains – we also ask him for medicine to make us well. We got to the doctor to get a prescription, not just a for listening ear. It’s the same with our confessions to God. We don’t just knock on the door of Heaven to tell him what we’ve done wrong - we should also ask for his forgiveness and grace in return.
David uses some wonderful words in our psalm this morning that express his desire for forgiveness and a fresh start. Follow them again with me:
- In verse 1 he asks God to “blot out” his transgressions, and in verse 2 he prays that God will “wash away” all his iniquity and “cleanse” him from his sin.
- In verse 10 David asks for God’s help to be good – for God to change his whole character. So he prays that God will “create a new heart” within him, and “renew his spirit” at the same time.
- David is also desperate for God remove the burden of guilt from his shoulders. He asks him to restore the “joy of his salvation”.
In short, David’s prayer is that God will provide a solution, a remedy, a reversal of all the spiritual damage that his sin has caused. Make no mistake, David will still have to live with the consequences of his sin (Bathsheba is still pregnant and Uriah is still dead) - but he believes the Lord can undo the spiritual damage that has been done - his guilt before God can go away.
David even tells God what he wants to do if he’s given a fresh start. In verses 13-19 David describes what his life will be like if he’s forgiveness by God:
- So in verse 13 he says he wants to call other transgressors to repentance, he wants to point other people to the Lord for forgiveness.
- In verse 14 and 15 David also promises to praise God if his guilt is removed.
- And in verses 18 and 19 David says he we wants to see God’s people prosper. In his day that meant the peace and prosperity of Jerusalem, Zion, but for us that means using our fresh start to commit to the Church – to commit time and energy to building up God’s people here at St.Michael’s Gidea Park.
So if you are struggling with guilt this morning - if there is some sin you feel particularly burdened with - then please take it to the Lord in prayer. Just as David did, ask for your relationship with him to be renewed, seek forgiveness for what is past, and pray for a fresh start - serving and praising him. In fact every Christian should be characterised by joyful praise and service of the Lord. If we have experienced and enjoyed God’s grace through Christ, its only right and natural to praise him for it, to tell others what the Lord has done for us - and to build one another up in faith, hope and love.
- Grace and mercy: What God wants to give us!
Have you ever had the experience of being on the phone to someone and suddenly realising that they are not there anymore? Hopefully they haven’t hung up on you, but they have gone through a tunnel, got on a train or experienced some other problem with their phone signal. You feel a bit silly when you realise you have been wasting your breath, and you have to re-dial their number and repeat everything you’ve just said!
Imagine if David had had that experience with God. Imagine if he had just poured out his heart in confession to God and then discovered that either God wasn’t listening or simply wasn’t interested. What if David’s pleas for forgiveness had fallen on deaf ears?!
Well, thankfully, the third and final lesson from our Psalm this morning is that God is ready and able to accept our confessions. Thankfully the great news of the whole Bible, the whole Christian Gospel is that God wants to give us forgiveness and a fresh start whenever we sincerely seek it.
You see, David can be confident God will hear his confession because David knows God’s character. David knows that God is pleased when his people are humble enough and honest enough to say sorry. David’s confidence is expressed right at the very start of our psalm, isn’t it, when he asks for God’s mercy “according to his unfailing love” and his “great compassion”. And then in verse 17, David proclaims with confidence that God will not “despise” a “broken and contrite heart”.
If we are Christians here this morning we can actually be even more confident in God’s grace and mercy than David was, can’t we? We know more than the human author of this Psalm, because we live after the Lord Jesus. We know that God was so determined to offer forgiveness for sin that he sent his Son to take our guilt upon himself. Christ went to the cross to take the condemnation we deserve. Our sin was put on his shoulders so we could enjoy a fresh start with God.
As Christians we know too, don’t we, that the Risen Jesus has sent his Spirit into our hearts. A Holy Spirit who is doing exactly what David asked for all those years ago. A Spirit who is slowly changing our hearts and making us more and more like Jesus.
So whoever you are - whether you have been a Christian for fifty years or are thinking about Christians things for the very first time – come to God in prayers of confession. Seek forgiveness of your sins for Jesus sake. Have complete confidence in God’s great compassion and unfailing love – just like David did!
Let’s pray: Heavenly Father, help us to confidently come to you to confess our sins. Forgive us and give us the joy of your salvation, so that we may praise your name and tell others of your great love. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.