Who Exactly is Allowed to Perform Baptisms?
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Who Exactly is Allowed to Perform Baptisms?

You Can Get From Guilt to Joy

Posted August 28, 2023
RepentanceJoy

How can I continue as a believer after I’ve failed miserably? Even our smallest sins offend God and frustrate our desire to live obediently. But massive failures can make us think that we’re beyond the reach of God’s grace. Terrible sins are so incongruous with God’s holiness that they can overwhelm us with guilt. Jesus’s disciple Judas concluded that there was no way to continue after he betrayed the Lord Jesus, so he hung himself. Even true Christians can feel the temptation to give up after big sins.

This is why Psalm 51 is so special. It shows a secure way forward for true believers who sin terribly. According to the superscription, David wrote this psalm after Nathan confronted him for committing adultery with Bathsheba (see 2 Sam. 11–12). But that historical notation only scratches the surface. David was Israel’s king, a public figure and role model—truly God’s anointed one. Yet he had sex with the wife of one of his trusted “mighty men” (2 Sam. 23:39). When she became pregnant, he had Uriah—her innocent husband—purposefully killed in battle. David was an adulterer and a murderer. His evil actions greatly “displeased the Lord” (2 Sam. 11:27) and must have weighed heavily on his conscience. The scandal could have resulted in David’s apostasy.

But, moved by God’s word and Spirit, David confessed his sin and turned to God in prayer and worship (2 Sam. 12:13, 16, 20). God chastened David for his sin. But he forgave his guilt and restored his joy (2 Sam. 12:13).

How can Psalm 51 help miserable sinners like us get from guilt to joy?

Confess Your Sin

In condemning himself, David held nothing back. He blamed no one else: “My transgressions … my iniquity … my sin” (Ps. 51:1, 2); I have “done what is evil” in God’s sight (Ps. 51:4). And he didn’t present his particular sins as blunders that were totally out of character. He sinned because he was a sinner: “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51:5).

David’s confession to God is so strong that it could be easily misunderstood. He says, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Ps. 51:4). That doesn’t seem right to us. Didn’t he sin against Bathsheba by violating her marriage covenant? Surely he sinned against Uriah by murdering him. He sinned against Israel by failing to model godliness.

But there is a sense in which David was right. “Ultimately, sin is sin because we are breaking a law.”[1] “Where there is no law there is no transgression” (Rom. 4:15). As king, David had almost no human accountability. But he was accountable to God. David laid his sin before the ultimate bar of justice, knowing that God’s judgment would be right (Ps. 51:4). That’s a bold move.

You can only tell your failures to one whose love is steadfast and whose mercy is abundant (Ps. 51:1). The love of ordinary beings changes with circumstances; we can’t always fully trust others with knowledge of our failures. But God’s love can’t diminish or increase. When a husband pledges to love his wife, he uses a ring as evidence. God used the cross. And his mercy is abundant. It’s a resource that cannot be exhausted. There is plenty to go around, for you too.

Cry Out for Healing

David’s poem is a declaration of surrender: His first words are, “Have mercy.” David came to realize that God’s grace was his only hope. And, appropriately, his request for help is multifaceted. Sin is like a systemic cancer that threatens the whole body. Here are four requests we, too, should put to God when we sin.

Wash Me

Sin violates a standard external to us. But sin also has internal consequences. It troubles our consciences, induces shame, and can make us feel gross. We need to be washed with a balm more powerful than hyssop. “What can wash away my sin? … What can make me whole again? … For my cleansing this I see: nothing but the blood of Jesus.”[2]

Forgive Me

“Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities” (Ps. 51:9). Sinners can’t turn back time and undo their sins. Once done, they become real history with tangible consequences. But God forgives. By hiding his face from our sins, he isn’t overlooking them. On account of Jesus’s righteousness, which we receive by faith, he’s choosing not to allow our sins to tarnish his love for us.

Restore My Joy

Sin is a great liar; it promises happiness but steals joy. By repentance, we admit that our sin has made us miserable. We also must trust that our sins are forgiven and accept that we can actually be happy again. God’s work of forgiveness should make us glad (Ps. 92:4).

Abide with Me

David’s sin made him fear that God would abandon him. So he pleads, “Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me” (Ps. 51:11). For true believers this fear is unfounded. God’s Spirit is the non-refundable guarantee of our full salvation. Still, it is right for believers to ask God to be patient with us despite our unfaithfulness (Ps. 38:21).

Commit to Change

Repentance doesn’t permit us to stay the same. It’s a commitment to new obedience. David models two ways that penitent believers commit to change.

Restored Believers Worship

“My tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness … and my mouth will declare your praise” (Ps. 51:14, 15). The kind of worship David has in mind is different than simply going through religious exercises—showing up to church, paying a tithe, and participating in the liturgy. Religious formalism is no replacement for heartfelt worship. So, David says that God “will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering” (Ps. 51:16). That’s interesting because David anticipated God delighting “in right sacrifices” and “in burnt offerings” (Ps. 51:19). But only “a broken and contrite heart” can offer acceptable worship (Ps. 51:17).

Restored Believers Help Others Repent

“Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you” (Ps. 51:13). Our repentance isn’t only for us, it’s also for those around us who need real-life examples of how to properly deal with sin. Psalm 51 itself is evidence of David teaching sinners how to repent. We can do the same thing. Tell your children, your church friends, and your neighbors about the beauty of forgiveness.

Biblical faith isn’t about pretending to be good. God calls us to imitate his holiness. But we don’t, and the consequence of a careless life of sin is horrific. But God invites us to come to him when we fail and ask for his mercy, and he has never turned away a single penitent person.


[1] R.C. Sproul, Truths We Confess: A Systematic Exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith (Sanford, FL: Ligonier, 2019), 339.

[2] Robert Lowry, Trinity Psalter Hymnal, 278.

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William Boekestein

William Boekestein is the pastor of Immanuel Fellowship Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He has written several books and numerous articles. He and his wife, Amy, have four children.