Thank You! Changed by the Spirit
9/25/2017 7:47:34 PM
“Thank You! Changed by the Spirit”
September 24, 2017
Rev. David Williams
Scripture: Psalm 51:1-12
She was beautiful; long flowing hair, great curves. She was beautiful when she caught the president’s eye. He was restless and out on his balcony for some air. From the height of his residence, he caught a glimpse of her in the privacy of her back yard. She was beautiful. And at that moment, he saw all of her, slipping into her hot tub, oblivious of peering eyes from above.
[pic] “Who is she?” thought the most powerful man in the nation. All he knew is that having seen her, he wanted to know her. So he summoned is personal assistant and sent him to find out who the woman was.
His loyal assistant returned with news and a warning. She was the daughter of a general and married to a Navy SEAL, an elite special operations soldier, who was at this very moment, deployed overseas on a mission for his country. [pic] The president, a war hero himself, had met the SEAL before. The soldier had served under the president’s command and he was a man upon whose chest the president himself had pinned a medal for bravery! The assistant’s subtle plea was in his eyes and voice, “Leave this woman alone!”
But the most powerful man in the country was not deterred. The woman’s husband was away. Her father was away. She was here. The president was here. And he was not a man who was to be denied. So he sent a car around to pick her up and she was brought to him. Thus began an affair that would rip the nation apart.
Nights of passion, seduced by power, unable to say no to the most powerful man she had ever met, the woman became pregnant. She sent word to the president of her condition, and so began the cover up. The president pulled some strings to get her husband, the soldier, a temporary leave to come back home. The SEAL reported to the capital, but remained in his barracks instead of going home to his wife. Faithful to his comrades, the soldier would not go to the comfort of his home and the embrace of his wife while his brothers in arms were sleeping in a combat zone.
Pulling more strings, the president had the man invited to a party where the president’s allies got the soldier thoroughly drunk. But still, his honour held and he would not go home to his wife. The president was getting desperate!
So when the soldier’s leave was over and he was redeployed to the front, the president hatched a new plan. Using his power as commander in chief, the president contacted the general in command of the forces in the field. The president authorized a bold, but risky operation. He personally selected the navy SEAL’s team to lead the mission. He knew he was putting the man and his whole squad of soldiers in harm’s way. That was the plan.
At the crucial moment, when the SEAL team was under fire and in danger of being overrun, the president withheld permission to send in reinforcements. He cancelled the rescue mission to get the men out. He grounded the helicopter with the rescue team. The whole SEAL squad was wiped out, including the woman’s husband.
When news of SEAL’s death reached the capital, the wife, now a widow, went into mourning. Then, when the time of mourning was over, the president summoned her again to his residence and she became his wife. The baby was born. It was a boy.
Rumour of the scandal rocked the capital. The military was flooded with rumours about the failed, risky operation and why the rescue team was prevented from moving in. But the president’s grip was firm. Nobody had the courage to confront him to his face. Nobody had all the facts. There was no hard proof, just rumour, suspicion and innuendo. But the woman’s father knew, in his heart, what had happened. And he harboured that grudge, biding his time.
So would the story be told today of David and Bathsheba. A story of lust, passion, adultery, murder and cover up. A story of the abuse of power that lead to revolution in David’s lifetime and civil war after his death that divided the nation of Israel.
Today, a president guilty of such action might go unpunished, never confronted in a meaningful way. But that’s not what happened in David’s day. God, thoroughly disgusted by what David had done, sent the prophet
Nathan to confront David. What a brave man, Nathan! It would be frightening indeed to confront David, the mighty warrior, the king of the nation, with his sin! But Nathan was obedient. And Nathan was wise. David was not an evil man. He was not normally a man to abuse power. He was actually a godly man, a “man after God’s own heart.” So Nathan appealed to David’s honour and sense of justice. He told David a story of injustice. He told David a story about a wealthy man with many sheep stealing and eating a sheep from his neighbour who had only one sheep that he treated as a pet. At the story of such injustice, David was outraged and pronounced judgement on the wealthy thief. Then Nathan revealed that this was a parable, that the wealthy man was actually David and the sheep was Bathsheba, and the man robbed was Uriah her husband.
Today, when confronted with such a sin, most politicians would lie, deny, cover up and justify their actions. I don’t think human nature has changed much over the centuries. I think most people in David’s day would have done the same thing. But not David. When confronted with his sin by the bold prophet of the Lord, David was crushed. He admitted his sin. He was humbled and repentant. He had been hardening his heart against God. He had piled sin upon sin, trying to cover up Bathsheba’s pregnancy and then arranging for her husband to die in battle. But after this time of hardening his heart, the words of the prophet, empowered by the Holy Spirit, pierced David’s heart and brought a mighty change.
David’s repentance led him to worship. He responded to God in many ways, including fasting and prayer. He also wrote Psalm 51, which is out text today. Take a look with me at the words David penned when the Lord brought him to repentance after an ongoing period of grievous sin and backsliding.
Please turn with me to Psalm 51:1-12.
What It Says
Whenever we deal with a Psalm, we must always remember that it is poetry. It is an attempt to use images and emotions to convey truth. We are going to take some time to analyze this Psalm, but to truly understand it we cannot leave off with analysis. To truly grasp this Psalm we must also feel the Psalm. We must feel what the author felt when writing it. We must feel what the Spirit is saying through the text. Poetry is a form of communication that attempts to move the emotions as well as the mind. In order to understand what the Spirit is saying, we need to understand the words first, but then also the feelings behind and in the words.
David begins where all sinners must begin- casting himself on the mercy of God. When we come to God for forgiveness we are never in a position to demand forgiveness. We cannot claim to deserve forgiveness. We can never earn forgiveness. So David begins at the right point- casting himself on the mercy of the Great Judge.
The term unfailing love comes from the Hebrew word “Hessed” which means undeserved saving love. The Hebrew concept of Hessed, unfailing love, forms the background for the Christian concept of agape love. Hessed is a saving love that cannot be demanded or earned. It saves the person who receives it and without it the recipient will surely perish.
David appeals to God’s compassion, a word which means a gut response, a visceral response. This is the word used to describe Joseph’s response when he sees his brothers in Egypt and he weeps. [Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72, p. 189] In the NT, when Jesus sees the crowds he has compassion on them. He is physically moved, it is gut-wrenching. This is what David appeals to in God for his forgiveness, gut-wrenching compassion.
He asks God to blot out his transgressions, literally to wipe them away like wiping away words written on a page. [Kidner, p. 190]
So we see that David’s appeal for forgiveness begins with God’s character. David doesn’t begin with his own worth. He doesn’t go back to all the things he’s done for God. He doesn’t point out his good actions, his obedience, his religious observance. He begins with God’s character, which is a God who is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. [Ex 34:6-7]
Having cast himself on God’s mercy, David now reveals his sight of his sin. He understands the problem of sin. He knows he has done wrong, he cannot get away from it. Verse 4 can cause some confusion. “Against you and you alone have I sinned.” This may lead us to wonder about Bathsheba and Uriah?
At its root, all sin, against ourselves or others, is rebellion against God. [Kidner, p. 190] Others are affected by our sin, but the reason sin is wrong is that it is rebellion against God, it is treason against the King of
Kings. We can make amends to one another, and that is important, but we must also seek God’s forgiveness too. Because of this, God is right when he casts judgment on us, even if our sins are not directly against God, like blasphemy or something.
Notice the contrast here. Now David is admitting his sin and the depth of it. What a contrast to 2 Sam 11 when David tried to avoid and cover up his sin! He is admitting his sin and repenting of it. This is Godly sorrow for his sin. He isn’t just sorry he did it and trying to avoid consequences anymore. Now he is truly sorry for having offended God, “How could I treat God so?” [Kidner, p. 190]
David goes even deeper, recognizing that his sin flows out of the core of his being. He recognizes that sin is not just bad actions, but the corruption of the human heart in rebellion and revolt against God. The depth of the problem goes back to before he was even born! This isn’t an excuse, “I was born this way,” but rather a recognition that this is not an isolated problem, but a problem in David’s very nature. God desires truth in our inner parts and wisdom in our inmost places.
An interesting thing about the way these verses, 6-9, are structured is that they are not just “wishes” or requests. Rather, they are statements of what God will do. [Kidner, p. 191] “You will teach me wisdom,” “You will cleanse me with hyssop,” “You will wash me” “you will make me hear joy and gladness,” etc.
Hyssop is a reference to the OT Laws of purification. Hyssop was a plant made into a brush used to sprinkle sacrificial blood on lepers to declare them clean and to purify those who had come in contact with a dead body. (cf Lev 14:6ff; Nu 19:16-19)[Kidner, p. 191] The word translated “cleanse” in verse 8 is to purge, literally to “de-sin” David. [Kidner, p. 191] David is saying, “You will de-sin me like a leper being cleansed.”
Declaring that God will, indeed, go through the process of not only forgiving David but also cleansing him of his sin, David asks for a miracle! In verse 10 David asks, “Create in me a clean heart.” Create is a miracle word. Only God can create! This is something God alone can do. It can refer to an instant action or an ongoing process. [Kidner, p. 192]
What does David ask God to do? To create a clean heart within him. Remember, in the Bible, the heart it not just the feelings. The heart includes the mind, the will, the emotions, desires, preferences and imagination. “The heart is the seat of one’s personality.” [John B. Taylor, Ezekiel, p. 232] David asks for a clean heart and a renewed right spirit within him. Heart and spirit together form the core of a person’s nature. The spirit describes the impulses that drive us to action, that regulate our desires, thoughts and conduct. [Taylor, p. 232]
So a clean heart and a right spirit means a complete renovation of David’s character and nature. Many years later, God would speak through the Prophet Ezekiel and say, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezek 36:26) This was a promise to God’s people which came true after the resurrection with the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Today, the Spirit undertakes this renovation of the character of Christians. The technical term is “sanctification” and it is the process through which the Spirit changes us to be like Jesus.
David asks God not cast him from his presence and not withdraw his Holy Spirit from David. Why does David ask this? Because God would be completely within his rights to cast David away! David is sinful, God is holy. David does not deserve a renovated character. He does not deserve to be in God’s presence, and so David continues to call on God’s mercy not to cast him away.
David knows he is completely dependent upon God’s Holy Spirit to walk with God. He knows he is dependent upon God for his salvation. He knows he needs to keep in step with the Spirit if he is to maintain his relationship with God. As an interesting note, this is one of only 2 places in the OT where God’s Spirit is referred to as the “Holy Spirit.”
This is where we need to really feel this Psalm. Remember, David had just gone through a period of tremendous rebellion against God. The term that we often use is “backsliding.” David had been filled with lust, he followed up on that lust, he dismissed warnings to resist the lust, he acted on the lust. Then he got caught- Bathsheba was pregnant! So he tried to lie and cover up his adultery. When Uriah didn’t cooperate, David conspired with his general to have Uriah killed. David basically murdered Uriah to hide his own sin and brokenness. David slid back far. He knew he had sinned, otherwise he wouldn’t have tried to cover it up. But his sorrow for sin was over the consequences of his sin, not for the sin itself.
And here David has come to repentance. The Spirit has been at work on David’s heart and, through the
confrontation with Nathan, David has come to cooperate with the Spirit and come to repentance. God has opened David’s eyes and softened his heart to have sight of his sin and godly sorrow for his sin. And, responding to the work of the Spirit in his heart, David doesn’t ever want to be that far from God again. He doesn’t want to backslide again. He doesn’t want to fall into sin like that again. And he knows that the only way to hold on to God, the only way to stay in a right relationship with God, is for God’s Spirit to continue to work in him. So he asks that God not cast him away nor withdraw the Spirit from him. Now, because of God’s character, David is confident that God will not withdraw his Spirit from him. Just as when we come to God and ask God to forgive us, we have confidence that he will! But we must always remember that even our desire to come to God for forgiveness is a work of the Spirit in us. If God were to remove his Holy Spirit from us, we not want to repent, we would not repent and we would be lost.
Verse 12 asks God to restore the joy of salvation, and grant a willing spirit to sustain David. David recognizes the need for God to continue to work in him. The rest of the Psalm, which we didn’t read, talks about how David will tell others of God’s redemption and how David will declare to the nations God’s merciful character.
What It Means
So what does this mean? What can we do with this Psalm today? Hopefully none of us arrived here having committed adultery and murder. So if we’re not exactly in David’s position, what use do we make of this Psalm?
Let’s look at the overall structure of this Psalm. Look at where we started, David begins on his knees, desperate for God. He throws himself on God’s merciful character. Then, he has sight of his sin, he recognizes that his sin is not just the bad things he has done but he is rotten to the core. He needs God to fix his heart. He needs God to renovate his character. He knows that God will forgive him and asks God to also transform him. This is a great structure for us to understand the nature of repentance: God’s character, sight of our sin, the nature of our sin, the depth of our sin, God’s work of restoration, forgiveness, ongoing work of purification, our worshipful response and declaration of God’s nature.
At the risk of systematizing repentance, these are key factors in how we are reconciled to God. First, we are dependent upon God’s character to begin with. Then, we must have sight of our sin. And this is not just sorrow for the consequences of our sin, or fear of punishment. Sight of our sin means realizing that we have sinned against the gracious God who made us and whose Son died for us!
We also do well to understand the nature of our sin. It’s not just the bad things we do. Even a person in a coma, who can’t do anything, let alone something “bad” still needs Jesus as their savior! Our problem with sin is a problem in the orientation of our very nature. We are, by nature, disobedient, rebellious creatures. Sin is an issue that is at the core of our being.
Jesus said that the issue with sin and righteousness is not about religious activity. In context, he was talking about Jewish food laws. But the point is the same. It’s not the stuff that goes into our bodies that is the problem, it’s what is already inside us. It is out of our hearts that our mouths speak. It’s out of our hearts that come murder, lust, deceit, etc. We have a heart problem. And that’s not a feelings problem, but a mind, will, desires and preferences problem. It is the core of our being that needs to be changed. In Ezekiel’s words, we need God to give us a new heart and a new spirit, removing our hard heart of stone and replacing it with a soft heard of flesh.
Any only God can address that deep issue of the core of our being. It is a work of God in us to change our hearts. It is his work and only his work to do. But, being a gentleman, God will only work on the willing. We must submit ourselves to the work of God on our hearts. We must cooperate with the Holy Spirit in the transforming work he does on our nature.
Now, sometimes there is confusion over this transforming work the Spirit does. Sadly, for much of the 20th Century, the emphasis in evangelism was on getting people to make a decision for Jesus. But it was left at that. I know many people who made a decision for Jesus at one point in their lives, but they are not walking with Jesus today. They did not continue to cooperate with the Spirit. They do not, now, walk with the Spirit, to use Paul’s image from Galatians 5. But I suspect, if you could go back and ask them, each one of them would have admitted that during the time of their conversion experience, the Spirit was working in them.
So we need to remember that our whole walk with God, our whole relationship with Christ, is a work of
God in us. We are reliant upon God daily to keep walking with the Spirit. Christian discipleship is about living a life of repentance, not just repenting once. That work of repentance in us is the work of the Spirit.
We see this at work in the Lord’s Prayer too. The Lord’s prayer is designed to be a model for daily prayer. That’s why we ask for “daily bread.” And yet we are also to pray that God forgive us our debts, or trespasses, or sins in the Lord’s Prayer. That means we are to pray for forgiveness for our sins every day, even though we have already asked Jesus to forgive us when we first came to Christ! Similarly, we ask God not to lead us into temptation. God never tempts us! But we pray this daily because we know that we cannot withstand temptation. We know that when we come to temptation we give in far too easily. So we ask God daily to lead us away from temptation so that we do not fall.
This ongoing nature of salvation is seen in Paul’s writings too. Paul uses all 3 tenses when speaking of salvation. He speaks of having been saved – past tense. Jesus died on the cross. He was resurrected. Salvation is a past event. But Paul also talks about salvation in the future, “we will be saved.” That refers to the return of Jesus and the final completion of his work conquering death and sin. That’s future. Finally, Paul also talks says “we are being saved.” That is a present tense, ongoing thing. So salvation is partly in the past, partly in the future, and partly ongoing in the present.
What does this mean? It means that even for those of us who have been saved in the past, who have come to repentance in the past, we are still in the process of being saved. We must still cooperate with the Spirit. We must continue to submit to the cleansing work of God in our hearts. And so it is appropriate to continue to pray for forgiveness, to continue to pray for God to create a clean heart in us. I know my heart isn’t perfectly clean yet! And, frankly, I know yours aren’t either. Similarly, we must continue to acknowledge that the work of salvation, while completed on the cross in the big picture, is still being applied to us daily through the Holy Spirit. Without the Spirit’s work in us, we are doomed. Without the Spirit’s work in us on a continual basis, we will be like the seed that fell on shallow soil or among the weeds. We will not produce fruit. We are continually dependent upon the Spirit, so it is appropriate to pray that God will continue to work in us through his Spirit, not taking the Spirit from us. It’s a humble acknowledgement that we are sinful, fallen creatures totally dependent upon God for salvation and sanctification.
Why It Matters
So why does all this matter? How do we apply this? Remember, our series is about gratitude to God. Why? So that we develop an attitude of gratitude and so that we are motivated to make the difficult changes necessary to grow as Christians. Most of us are not mature Christians. Most of us are emotionally very immature. But change is hard. Change takes energy. It takes work, even when we are cooperating with the Holy Spirit!
We want to be thankful to God for what he is doing in us. We want to be thankful so that out of gratitude we will put in the work necessary to change.
God loves you! God loves you because you are his creature. He created you and chose to redeem you even when you rebelled! Not only did he redeem you through Jesus, but he adopted you into his royal family! But being part of the New Family of Jesus comes with certain expectations and requirements for how we live and how we relate to one another.
Thank God, not only does he redeem us, not only does he adopt us, but he also changes us! If it were not for the Spirit’s work in our hearts, we would not be sorry for our sins. We would not have sight of our sins. We would not be humbly coming to God to forgive our sins or to restore us from our sin. Thank God he sends his Spirit to work in us and change us! He loves us and wants to be in relationship with us so he sends the Holy Spirit to change us.
God loves you just the way you are, and too much to leave you that way. God loves you, even when you are a sinner. Paul says as much, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8) Having loved you and sent his Son to die for you, God also wants to transform you. God wants to renew your heart. He wants to change how you think, how you feel, how your will works, what you desire, what you prefer and what you imagine. That is the ongoing, transformative work of the Spirit. That is maturing and growing up in the new life, in the new birth that Jesus provides.
And that requires our ongoing participation and cooperation. So we pray for continues forgiveness, for
ongoing salvation, for continued softening of our hearts, for the continued presence and work of the Spirit in our lives. Thank God he sends his Spirit to change us!
The problem of sin is not just what we do. It’s about who we are. And God loves us so much that he not only redeems and adopts us, but he does the work of changing our very nature to make us ready for an eternity with Him. Thank God that we are changed by the Spirit!
Now, being big boys and girls, the Spirit does ask us to cooperate, to participate in that transformation. We are not transformed instantly. We are not transformed against our will. We are not transformed automatically. We are given tools, we are given methods to use in conjunction with the Spirit to facilitate this ongoing process of creating a new heart within us.
Here at Priory, we are investing time, energy and resources into a series of classes called Emotionally Healthy Relationships. The elders and I believe that these can be the kinds of tools that the Spirit uses to help us grow and mature as believers. That is, the lessons and habits taught in this course are precisely the kinds of tools the Spirit uses to sanctify us, to teach us how to relate to one another in a Christ-like way. We hope that you will join us on Tuesday nights, beginning in a couple weeks, on Oct 10th.
But attending the course is not enough. We need the work of the Spirit in us. We need the Spirit to change our hearts to even be receptive to the material in the classes. We also need the Spirit to change our will so that we will want to change, so that we will put the effort into changing. My prayer is that developing a sense of gratitude to God for what he has already done in us will help us have the right attitude when it comes to the further changes God wants to make in us.
So, to foster our sense of gratitude, please continue to spend 2 min twice a day thinking about how much God loves you, that you have been redeemed, that you have been adopted and that you have been transformed. Amen.
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