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. (Psalm 51:10–12)
When we first hear and receive the good news of Jesus Christ, we’re quite content to have our sins forgiven and our shame removed. We sense the consequences of offending an all-knowing and all-powerful God, and feel the heavy burden being lifted of all we’ve done wrong. In one sense, we know there’s still work to do, a lingering sense of our remaining sin, but the relief of simply being forgiven is even more powerful.
But what if Jesus died for more than forgiveness?
The good news of the gospel doesn’t stop with pardon. We treat grace like it’s God’s big eraser for our every wrong or mistake. But God does not only mean to rub the page clean. No, he intends to write a new story in sin’s place, replacing what was once broken, wicked, and dead with love, faithfulness, and life.
The gospel doesn’t just get us out of hell; it also makes us new. Grace doesn’t just help us shed the weight of past sins; it empowers us to feel and live differently.
More Sinful than We Know
David says, “I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me” (Psalm 51:3). He had just seen a married woman bathing naked from his palace roof (2 Samuel 11:2), lusted over her, brought her into his home, slept with her (11:4), and gotten her pregnant (11:5). Then, he tried to cover his sin by having her husband come home from war and sleep with her (11:9–13). And when that didn’t work, he conspired to have her husband killed in battle (11:15). He murdered an honest man to protect his affair with his wife.
And then Nathan confronted him about it all (12:1–14). By the time David wrote this psalm, he knew all about his sin — the wickedness and rebellion of his heart.
Or did he? “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5). The adultery, the lying, and the murder were all just symptoms of a larger, deeper problem. David was evil at his core, and he’d been that way since birth, even before birth. Sin infects and cripples us more than we’ll admit, and far more than we ever know.
Grace Greater than All Our Sin
David knew that his sin was great, but he also knew something greater than all his sin. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions” (Psalm 51:1). God has revealed something about himself that can make even sinners feel safe and confident in his presence. David knows he’s fallen into awful, murderous sin, and yet he comes boldly before God to ask for forgiveness and cleansing. And he prays and pleads not according to anything he has done to make things right, but according to the Lord’s love and mercy.
His prayer does not end with forgiveness (Psalm 51:1), but with newness. He goes further than forgiveness and asks for more, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. . . . Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:7, 10). God, I want to change. I want to love what’s right and good. I want to live differently. I want to love like you love. By the same grace that you rescued me from hell, please make me new.
A Rescued Life Repurposed
The pattern of Psalm 51 — a forgiving grace that is also a transforming grace — shows up again and again throughout the Bible.
For example, Philippians says that Christ humbled himself to the point of death on a cross (Philippians 2:8). He died a bloody death in our place. “Therefore,” Paul writes, “my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). How? “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (2:13). The God who saves us by his power empowers us to live more and more like him.
Or, again, in 1 Peter, Peter spends several verses unfolding the glory of God in our salvation: resurrecting our dead souls through the new birth and guarding our faith and joy forever into eternity (1 Peter 1:3–6). So is all the work done then for us in this life? Peter writes, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct” (1 Peter 1:14–15). The holiness of God emerges in those whom he saves. He creates in them a new heart like his own.
As God shows you more and more of the ugliness inside your heart, ask him to forgive you, but then ask him to renew you. The grace he gives in forgiveness is beyond our wildest imaginations, but he’s promised even more grace than that. As we look to our Savior, our greatest Treasure, “We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Our old me made new.