Summary: In Psalm 51 King David gives us a picture of the "spiritual breathing" believers do every day. We exhale our sorrow and repentance over our sins. We inhale God’s mercy and forgiveness by faith.
Take a deep breath and hold it. Now exhale. What just happened? You took some air into your lungs. Your lungs removed the oxygen from the air for your body to use. You then exhaled what your body doesn’t need—carbon dioxide. What you took in sustains your life. What you breathed out is of no use to you. In fact if you kept it in your lungs too long it would actually be harmful.
Some have used the breathing process as an illustration of the ongoing exchange between believers and God. Every day we inhale his love, forgiveness, and mercy. On a daily basis we also exhale our confession of our sins, our sorrow over them, and our desire to change our lives. This “spiritual breathing” as it has been called is worked in us through God’s Word. His holiness, his Commandments, and his righteous justice, lead us to exhale our sinfulness, our disobedience, and our guilt. His gift of salvation, the perfect obedience of Jesus in our place, and the declaration that we are not guilty of any sin lead us to inhale those things into our soul. We are then empowered by them to surrender our lives to the LORD and live for him.
On this Baptism Sunday we are recalling the relationship God has formed with us in the “washing with water through the Word.” Through his Son Jesus we are now his dearly loved children. Our old sinful nature was drowned in the water that was connected to the words and promises of God when we were baptized. But baptism is not just an event that we are to recall from time to time with sentimental feelings. It is to be a daily reminder of what God has done for us. It also serves as a daily reminder of how we interact with God. Again and again we soil our robe of righteousness through our sinful thinking, talking, and acting. But again and again we go back to our Heavenly Father and ask him to forgive us, to cleanse us, and to change us.
In our sermon let’s focus on one small part of our baptismal relationship to God. Using the soul stirring words of King David we will be led to:
“BREATHE LIKE A BELIEVER”
I. Exhale your sorrow and repentance over your sins
II. Inhale God’s mercy and forgiveness through faith
The context or background of a section of Scripture is important for a correct understanding of what is said there. In the case of Psalm 51 King David gives us the background for what he wrote in a short introduction. These sentences are loaded with information. “For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.” You may be able to recall the sad story of David’s sin. In his lust for a woman who was not his wife he committed adultery. Then he had her husband murdered to cover up his sin. But as David found out a person can’t hide his or her sins from God. The prophet Nathan came and confronted King David with his sins. David repented. In deep sorrow he breathed out both his sins and his utter sinfulness. God invited him to take a deep breath of forgiveness. David was then moved by the Holy Spirit to write Psalm 51. This Psalm would be used at the worship services in the Tabernacle. Through it David was inviting everyone to breath like a believer. Believers constantly exhale their sorrow and repentance over their sins. They also continually breathe in God’s mercy and forgiveness through faith.
First David declared what he needed from God. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.” David understood that God had every right to punish him for his sins. Only mercy from God could change his situation. He needed the LORD to erase the record of his sins. And in words that seem to provide a prophetic pointing to holy baptism he asked God to wash away his iniquities and cleanse him from his sin. Clearly David knew what he needed from God and he asked for it.
But in order to enable him to receive a fresh breath of God’s love the Holy Spirit compelled David to exhale in sorrow and repentance. He wrote, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.” David wasn’t exaggerating his situation for dramatic effect. In Psalm 32 he wrote about how his guilty conscience plagued him day and night. He knew that what he had done was sinful. There was no rest for David’s guilt ridden soul. In his sorrow and repentance David continued, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.” We might say, “What about his sin against Bathsheba’s husband Uriah? How can he say that he only sinned against God?” David wasn’t playing down his sins against other people. But he was confessing the truth that all sin ultimately is against God and is an assault on his holiness. Then David expanded his confession to include his natural rottenness in God’s sight. “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.” What an exhaling of sorrow and repentance over sin! From the bottom of his heart and the depths of his soul David confessed his sins to God.