He thought it was a one-night stand, a little midnight tryst. Who would find out? She was exceptionally beautiful. She was particularly vulnerable. And in the end—after he used her for a few moments of pleasure—she was, unfortunately, pregnant.
While these words aptly describe all too many incidents ancient and modern, the one we have in mind here is David’s taking advantage of Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11. David sinned grievously. He failed miserably. And as he learned, and as we must learn as well, sin of any kind cannot simply be sealed away in the past. It does not go away with the tap of the Delete button. Sin and guilt are not eradicated when we say in our minds, Oh well, I don’t want to think about that anymore. It’s in the past anyway. It’s all okay. No, it’s not!
Sin of any kind cannot simply be sealed away in the past. It does not go away with the tap of the Delete button.
Even if the courts don’t punish it, even if public scandal doesn’t expose it, even if we manage to conceal it, sin will eventually bring decay in our lives. The rot will smell so bad that nothing can cover it up. There is no way to avoid its putrefying effects. It will disable us from the inside out. To quote John Lennon, the “one thing you can’t hide is when you’re crippled inside.”1 Or as Lady Macbeth would have it: “What, will these hands ne’er be clean? … All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.”2
Plenty of people out there have a streamlined system to make you a better person—maybe a better parent, a more astute student, or a more productive employee. You can read the book, attend the seminar, or watch the video series, and they very well may help you as advertised. But no man-made strategy can deal with the stains of sin. It can’t wash away the guilt. No seven-step plan can offset your transgressions against God.
So, when we face our failures and when guilt weighs heavy on us, where are we to go? Is there anywhere we can turn, anything we can say, any cleansing for our sins?
One Place to Go
When King David was confronted with the gravity of his crimes, he confessed to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD” (2 Sam. 12:13). It’s worth pausing to consider just how profound it is that Israel’s king, recognized as a man after God’s heart (1 Sam. 13:14), was not afraid to let his sin be known—by Nathan, by God’s people, and, most importantly, by God Himself. Psalm 51 pulls back the curtain even further on David’s confession and shows us how he went straight to his God:
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
For I know my transgressions,
And my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned. (vv. 1–4)
Notice that as bad as David’s offense against Bathsheba, Uriah, and all of Israel was, he knew that ultimately, he had sinned against God. But it doesn’t take much more Bible reading to realize that he also knew that it is in God’s very nature to abound in love and overflow with mercy. He had seen God’s loving-kindness again and again in his people’s history and in his own turbulent journey to power. So it was to this God that David turned and confessed.
For us, at our point in redemptive history, we see God’s overflowing grace most clearly at the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Only there do we find the cleansing balm of forgiveness we all so desperately need.
We see God’s overflowing grace most clearly at the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Only there do we find the cleansing balm of forgiveness we all so desperately need.
One Thing to Say
We have no inherent claim to such grand forgiveness. God gives it freely (Rom. 6:23), but that doesn’t mean we receive it automatically. Rather, just as there is only one place for us to flee—the cross of Christ—so there is only one plea that helps us before a holy God. Like David, we must confess our sins and turn to God “that [our] sins may be blotted out” and “that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19–20).
David confesses readily, “I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me” (Ps. 51:3). He stops making excuses. He stops trying to cover his sin up—as if anyone could hide it from God anyway! He doesn’t shift blame to extenuating circumstances—the pressure he faced at work, his family strife, or anything of the sort. He knew that he was sinful down to the core of his being (v. 5) and that he required purging (v. 7), and so he was upfront about his transgression.
Sometimes our “repentance” looks more like this: We sin, and we don’t really feel bad about it, but somebody catches us and blows the whistle on the whole thing. So we get angry that we were caught, and only then are we “sorry.” But when we’re given the opportunity, that sin rears its head again, only this time we do a better job keeping it hidden.
That is not repentance. That doesn’t even come close to confession. Duplicity doesn’t yield forgiveness. Only when we come to terms with our true guilt before God can we experience the freedom He offers us in Christ. Only when we learn to scorn secrecy and “confess [our] sins to one another” can we “be healed” (James 5:16).
One Lasting Solution
In the end, what we all require is a heart transplant. David makes this clear in Psalm 51:10–13:
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Too often, we try to clean ourselves up from the outside in: we resist more, try harder, and even have a regimen of worship to keep us in check. But behavior modification and a little sanding down of rough edges will not give us what we truly need. The only lasting solution for our sin and guilt is a brand-new heart—one that is pure, unstained, clean.
Here we can see in high definition why the Gospel is so wonderfully precious. Christ doesn’t bid us come and earn a new status or clean ourselves up to some out-of-reach standard. The good news of the Gospel is that Christ takes all our sin and guilt upon Himself and bears it on our behalf. Only with Christ as our substitute can we “become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Only Jesus provides the lasting solution of transformation from the inside out. Only He can give us a new heart.
We must not bottle up our failures or sweep our sins under the proverbial rug. Instead, we repeatedly flee to the cross, confess the depth of our sin, and ask the Lord to keep re-creating our hearts, time and time again.
Even on the best of days, our hearts can yet rage with sin and guilt. Sanctification requires some painful stripping away of the old self. We make mistakes along the way—perhaps some rather grievous ones at that. But we must not bottle up our failures or sweep our sins under the proverbial rug. Instead, we repeatedly flee to the cross, confess the depth of our sin, and ask the Lord to keep re-creating our hearts, time and time again.
So no matter your role in this world—whether you’re a pastor or a nurse, a parent or a child—look to King David’s example, then look to King Jesus for eternal hope and forgiveness. Bring your sin before the Light of the World, knowing that through all the conflict, all the confession, and all the necessary cleansing “there is … now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).
This article was adapted from the sermon “The Cry of a Fallen Leader” by Alistair Begg.
1 John Lennon, “Crippled Inside” (1971).
2 William Shakespeare, Macbeth, 5.1.