In Psalm 51, David is not only crying out from his moral collapse with Bathsheba, he is crying out from a revelation of the iniquity in his inmost being.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me. (v. 5)
The exposure of his sin with Bathsheba may have tipped the scale of conviction, but his prayer is not the knee-jerk, self-effacing reaction of an embarrassed politician. He is not chiefly concerned with his reputation as King, but with the offense that he has caused against God Himself.
Against You, You only, I have sinned… (v.4a)
Until you’ve cried out about being a man you’ve not cried out. Righteousness is not something learned by discipline. Righteousness is very God.
(Art Katz, from a spoken message on 1.7.2006)
This profound revelation of the depravity of our hearts is a wonderful work of grace. We need to come to this Davidic foundation, lest we find ourselves strutting in self-sufficiency, albeit with all kinds of Christian phrases and trappings. The only solution to the predicament of man is a miracle work of grace and power in the innermost parts. And we cannot come into that work until our hearts have become aware of the profundity of our iniquity. From there we cry out to the only One who can perform a new and creative work in our souls.
Only an act of God, only his intervention can turn all things around. The psalmsinger prays for new creation in his depraved inner self. Incomparably bold is the use of the verb for “create” in v. 10. This word in the OT is absolutely strictly reserved for the creative work of God only. It is never used in reference to a human undertaking. God alone is always the subject of this verb. God’s creation is fundamentally different from all human endeavor; unique is his creative activity- free of all presuppositions and contacts, uplifted above all chaotic impossibilities. The “clean heart” one cannot provide for oneself; no rite can bring it to life. Only God’s independent, creative act can renew a person’s heart. That is the knowledge of the petitions of Psalm 51, which tower so steeply in the OT.
(PSALMS: A CONTINENTAL COMMENTARY, Hans Joachim-Kraus; Fortress Press, pp. 504-505)
The psalmist was aware of his total and radical need for the creative work of God in his heart. Are we aware of our need, and aware of it daily? And are we crying out to Him out of that awareness, or have we slipped into a mechanical and surface-level brand of discipleship?
Jesus, Redeemer, and my one Inspirer,
Heat in my coldness, set my life aglow.
Break down the barriers, draw, draw me nigher,
Thee would I know, Whom it is Life to know.
Deepen me, rid me of the superficial,
From pale delusion set my spirit free.
All my interior being, quick, unravel,
Pluck forth each thread of insincerity.
Thy vows are on me, O to serve Thee truly,
Love perfectly, in purity obey.
Burn, burn, O Fire, or Wind now winnow throughly,
O sword, awake against the flesh and slay.