Psalm 51:1 (ESV)
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
You cannot ask for mercy from an unloving God. Neither can you expect to receive mercy from one whose love is doubtful. God is both loving and steadfast in His love. We sin – repeatedly. And when we do we get to feeling that there is no way that God is going to forgive us this time. Whether it is the sin we have struggled with for years or just the plain old fact that we keep sinning in a variety of ways, we start believing that God is like us. We would not keep forgiving. Our love is not steadfast. Our mercy is not abundant.
David has committed murder, and adultery and lying and failure to perform his duties as king. He has sinned against Bathsheba, Uriah, Nathan the prophet, the captain of his army, the nation, his wife, his family … the list is endless. And the only thing that enabled him to get back on the right track was that God’s love was bigger than his sin.
We do not say this in order to encourage people to sin. When great love and mercy cause a person to sin with abandon, planning to repent later in the hope that God’s love is greater than his sin, he is testifying that he is so far from God that He has never really known Him and will not truly repent in any case. Planned repentance is not a quality we find in Scripture anywhere. Having inserted that needed caveat, we return to our regular programming.
Our problem, when we feel we have sinned beyond the grace of God, is an ignorance of God, an ignorance of what happened at the cross, and a reshaping of God into our own image. God’s love is steadfast. We are not forgiven because of our superior grovelling or because our repentance is so obviously from the heart. Such thinking is just works righteousness dressed up to look more religious. We are forgiven because God’s mercy is abundant – beyond our ability to comprehend, and because His love is steadfast – it is rock solid and it is utterly dependable. It is too great to comprehend.
We are forgiven because God sent Jesus into the world to save us. He saved us by taking the full wrath of the Father upon Himself for our sakes. He absorbed all the wrath that was due to us for eternity – in a matter of three hours. There is no coming to understand the magnitude of the love of God for us. And His forgiveness is just that big as well.
David does not ask to be forgiven out of God’s abundant love. He prays to be forgiven according to the abundance of God’s love. That means that the forgiveness will be as big as the love that spawned it.
How willing is God to forgive? Look at the cross. If God should refuse to forgive a true penitent He would be claiming that the cross of Jesus had been exhausted of its ability to triumph over sin for us. God will never dishonour His Son that way. So we are forgiven because God loves us. And we are forgiven because God loves His Son, works for the glory of the Son and will smash Satan into oblivion because of the work of the Son.
David lived a thousand years before the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. But he was still forgiven on the basis of its merits. He may not have known what was entailed in “steadfast love”, but his request was honoured. He was forgiven according to the steadfastness of God’s love for him. He was forgiven by virtue of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as every forgiven person from Adam and Eve to the last forgiven person in the history of humanity have all and will all be so forgiven. It is a powerful, abundant mercy. And it is for all who truly seek Him and for all who truly rest in him and never trust themselves.
In the face of such a love, how could we ever seek to work our way into the good books of God? It would be an insult to the cross. Just hang on His abundant and steadfast love. It will powerfully change you.