Tuesday, August 6, 2019

The Abundant Mercy of God

Part 4 of Summer in the Psalms 2019

Text: Psalm 51

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions (v. 1). 

Will God Always Forgive Our Sin? 

Psalm 51 is a psalm of lament. According to one dictionary, a lament is “a passionate expression of grief or sorrow.” Usually the laments in Scripture are about something external (e.g., the condition of Jerusalem in the book of Lamentations). But Psalm 51 is different. In this psalm, David laments about something internal: his sinfulness.

Will God always forgive our sin? Maybe my sin is too great? What if I keep committing the same sin over and over again? Will God always forgive my sin? Psalm 51 gives us the answer to this question.

Will God always forgive our sin? Yes, God will always forgive our sin. In Psalm 51, we find the reason for this answer and a condition to this answer.

The Reason 

Psalm 51 was written after the prophet Nathan had confronted David about his sin of adultery with a woman named Bathsheba. [1] And the psalm begins begins with David crying out to God, “Have mercy on me” (v. 1).

David’s request for mercy indicates that he believes he doesn’t deserve God’s forgiveness. He’s like a guilty man throwing himself on the mercy of the court. Will God show David mercy? Will God forgive him? Yes. God will always forgive our sin because he is a God of “abundant mercy” (v. 1).

“Mercy” [2] means “compassion.” In the story of the prodigal son, when the father sees his son returning home, he “[feels] compassion, and [runs] and embrace[s] him and kisse[s] him” (Luke 15:20). That’s a picture of the mercy of God.

When God revealed to Moses his “name” (i.e., who he is), he proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Exod. 34:6-7). [3] This is who God is.

How merciful is God? God has “abundant mercy.” What do you think of when you hear the word “abundant”? I think of wealth. Ephesians 2:4 says that God is “rich in mercy.” God will never say to us, “Sorry, I can’t spare any more mercy.” God always has enough mercy for us--no matter how great or frequent our sin.

The Condition 

There is a condition we must meet in order to be forgiven by God. We must come to him with a “broken and contrite heart.” Verse 17 says, “A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” This is what is called repentance.

The prodigal son returned home with a broken and contrite heart. He confessed to his father, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (Luke 15:21). But what did the father do? He celebrated the return of his son (vv. 23-24). God will never turn away anyone who comes to him with a broken and contrite heart.

In Psalm 51, David is no longer trying to hide his sin. Verse 6 says, “Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being.” We can’t hide the truth from God, but we can hide the truth from ourselves (i.e., by telling ourselves lies about our sin).

In verses 3-5, David is finally honest about his sinfulness. First, he confesses his sin: “I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me” (v. 3). Second, he doesn’t minimize (i.e., sugarcoat) his evil acts: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment” (v. 4). Third, he acknowledges his evil nature: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (v. 5).

In 2 Samuel 11, David’s question was “How can I get away with this?” Now in Psalm 51, David’s question is “How could I have sinned against God like this?”

The Cost 

What’s amazing is that God himself has paid the cost for our forgiveness. Ephesians 1:7 says, “In [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according the riches of his grace.” Without the death of Christ, there is no forgiveness.

Jesus said, “He who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:47). The opposite is also true: He who is forgiven much, loves much. We who have been forgiven much should love much. We should, as Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted [i.e., compassionate], forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”


[1] This story is found in 2 Samuel 11-12.
[2] In the ESV, two different Hebrew words have been translated “mercy.”
[3] This doesn’t mean that God doesn’t care about sin. Verse 7 goes on to say that God “will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.”

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