Psalm 51 (Part 1) – How To Confess Your Sins

Reading Time: 7 Minutes

Psalm 51 is the most complete instruction on how to confess our sins in the entire Bible. One medieval author wrote a 1200 page paper on this one Psalm. My blog articles won’t be that long.

I will attempt to capture many of the main points in a few short blog articles. Without a doubt, the best way to appreciate the Psalm is to pray it frequently.

Many people make praying Psalm 51 a daily exercise. I suggest that you experiment with praying the Psalm often and see how God uses it in your life.

In today’s article we will examine three terms for sin and grace. We will also examine three petitions that can be made when asking for forgiveness.

The Backstory

The events that led to King David’s public confession in the Temple had to do with adultery and murder. The events of David’s adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah, can be found in 2 Samuel 11.

God sent the prophet, Nathan, to confront David over his sin. In one telling verse Nathan said, “Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites” (2 Samuel 12.9).

David’s response was to say to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord” (1 Samuel 12.13). David’s prayer in Psalm 51 is a public confession of his sin that he made in the Temple.

Three Words for Sin

As David began his confession, he used three words to describe sin.

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.
(Psalm 51.1-2)

(1) Transgression – David transgressed God’s clear directions. He was quite versed in the 10 Commandments and willingly violated two of them.

His transgression was a willful, knowledgeable violation of God’s standard set forth in Exodus 20.13-14. He willing broke trust by using his power and status to violate Bathsheba and to arrange the murder of Uriah.

He also demonstrated the nature of transgression when he defied God’s revealed guidance for life in the 10 Commandments.

(2) Iniquity – The bent nature of David’s actions was a deviation from God’s standard of behavior. Iniquity twists or bends something that is intended to be straight.

Twisted or perverted behavior is the essence of iniquity. The way that David perverted justice is obvious in the way he wronged Bathsheba and Uriah.

(3) Sin – David missed the mark and fell short of God’s plan for his life. God blessed David, so that he could be a good leader over the nation.

David fell short of God’s plan because he chose his own self-pleasing and crooked will over responsible action.

Sin is an offense that breaks our relationship with other people and with God.

Sin is ultimately against God and his word. Nathan said to David, “Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight?” (2 Samuel 12.9).

The nature of sin is to despise or to think lightly of God’s word, as if God’s direction doesn’t really matter.

Three Words for Mercy

The very first words of Psalm 51 appeal for God’s mercy. Just as there are three words to describe sin, there are three words that fully illuminate God’s mercy.

When God revealed his character to Moses, “the Lord passed before him, and proclaimed,

‘The Lord, the Lord,
a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness'”
(Exodus 34:6).

(1) Be Gracious – David’s first request was literally for God to be gracious to him. He asked for a favor that he could not claim for himself.

He had murdered Uriah and committed adultery with Bathsheba. He could only fall before God and ask for a kindness that he could never earn or claim for himself.

(2) Steadfast or Constant Love – David appealed to the loving relationship that he had with God. He knew from experience that God was slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

In Hebrew, “slow to anger” pictures a fire and a chimney. As the heat moves from the fire to the top of the chimney, it gets cooler. David counted on the heat of God’s anger to cool before it reached him in judgment.

(3) Abundant Mercy – Mercy denotes the tender yearnings, affections, and love by a superior for a helpless inferior.

As a superior over both Bathsheba and Uriah, David did not show them tender love or affection. Rather, he acted in complete self-interest and greed.

From God, David asked for “abundant mercy,” because he knew he needed greater mercy than what is natural among humans. He had spit in God’s face, and he asked for kindness and love from the absolute Ruler of all.

As we contemplate the cross of Jesus Christ, we can see the depth of our sin and the cost of God’s forgiveness for us. Praise God for his absolutely amazing character and nature!

Cleansing and Restoration

Just as there are three words for sin and three words for God’s mercy, there are three appeals for God’s forgiving activity.

Blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.
(Psalm 51.1C-2)

(1) Blot Out – Kings kept written records of events in their day. David asked for the written record of his adultery and murder be erased from God’s heavenly record.

There have been times when I have made a written record of every transgression, iniquity or sin I could remember. After confessing my sins, I burned the paper. This is the image behind “blot out.”

(2) Wash Me Thoroughly – David’s conscience was like a dirty garment. It needed to be taken to the river, rubbed with lye soap, and scrubbed until clean.

The cheap view of grace where someone says, “God and I have a deal. He likes to forgive and I like to sin,” completely misses the serious nature behind getting clean before God.

(3) Cleanse Me – David knew he was not worthy to worship God. He was physically, ethically and ritually unclean. His restoration to a right relationship with God involved being cleansed by the grace of God.

Our Response

The confession of David is a very sobering prayer. It shows us the depth of our sin and the height of God’s grace.

Let’s meditate on the definitions that are in today’s article. Let’s use them to take a very careful look at our own behavior.

Please pray through all of Psalm 51 today. There will be more material in tomorrow’s article that will hopefully expand our understanding of our confession and God’s grace.

May We Pray for You?

Maywood Baptist Church’s prayer team is honored to pray for you. Please email me at or private message me on Facebook. I will pray for you and ask the team to pray, too.


  1. Following up our study yesterday of Psalm 50 and God’s judgment, it is so very appropriate to move into Psalm 51 and this amazing tutorial on confession, contrition and repentance. If we don’t understand the depth of God’s love by knowing the depravity He sent Jesus to save us from, we are missing something in our worship.

    Thank you again Pastor Bob, for leading us through the Psalms and the depth of Truth we find there.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks Denise. I am thankful for good books that help me think about my own life and give me insights into the Psalms. By the way, the picture of your grandson in the truck should be framed and hung on the wall as a treasure.


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