Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

I've been studying the 51st Psalm, which David wrote after he had committed adultery with Bathsheba and then ordered the death of her husband Uriah. This Psalm is one of the so-called "prayers of penitence," and as such it deals primarily with the extent of David's sin and the profound need for repentance that he knew.

One thing in particular struck me recently, the word 'create.' The Hebrew word David used was the same word used in Genesis to describe God's creation of the world. Why is this striking? Because of the very nature that a psalm about sin and repentance - it leads us to focus on ourselves and our separation from God. Sin is something we do, as is repentance, an act we commit to counter the sin we wish we hadn't done.

But when David asks for a pure heart, he realizes that the repentance that he needs in his life is not one that he can accomplish, not a gift he can bring before God. He knew that he needed God to recreate his heart, the very center of his being. Only then could he live the life of repentance he so passionately desired.

David had to look forward to this new creation of his heart expectantly, trusting in a work of God that he did not yet know. While he had symbols of what such a re-creation would involve, he perhaps didn't comprehend the fullest implications of what he was asking. But we know the story of Christ in its completed state. The more we understand the implications of his work on the cross, the more our hearts can be re-created to bring about the change that we know we need, but cannot work out on our own.
True believers may have the assurance of their salvation divers ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted; as, by negligence in preserving of it, by falling into some special sin which woundeth the conscience and grieveth the Spirit; by some sudden or vehement temptation, by God's withdrawing the light of his countenance, and suffering even such as fear him to walk in darkness and to have no light: yet are they never utterly destitute of that seed of God, and life of faith, that love of Christ and the brethren, that sincerity of heart, and conscience of duty, out of which, by the operation of the Spirit, this assurance may, in due time, be revived; and by the which, in the meantime, they are supported from utter despair. - Westminister Confession of Faith, 17.4

One of the really surprising things about the present bewilderment of humanity is that the Christian Church now finds herself called upon to proclaim the old and hated doctrine of sin as a gospel of cheer and encouragement. The final tendency of the modern philosophies has been that the influences of heredity and environment, of glandular make-up Â…the unconsciousÂ…and the mechanisms of biological development bind us fast in the chains of an iron determinism. The dreadful conclusion is that, while we are not responsible for evil, we cannot alter it. If we could really be persuaded that we are miserable sinners—that the trouble is not outside us but inside us, and that therefore, by the grace of God, we can do something to put it right, we should receive that message as the most hopeful and heartening thing that can be imagined. -– Dorothy Sayers

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