For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.
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.
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
In what ways do our culture and the painful, personal circumstances of life nudge us towards impurity?
In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.
One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, ‘She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.’ Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (Now she was purifying herself from her monthly uncleanness.) Then she went back home. The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, ‘I am pregnant.’
2 Samuel 11:1-5
It was a stressful time. The responsibilities were weighing heavily on his heart. No-one could share his burdens — no-one could fully understand the pressure or pain. He just wanted some release — a moment of comfort, a chance to indulge. ‘And why shouldn’t I?’ he thought to himself, ‘I deserve to have what I want.’ And so, he acted. He gave in to his sordid and sinful desires. Fully aware his actions were wrong. Far from ignorant of what the consequences could be. In the moment, he didn’t care about godliness, respect, dignity, or love — lust won the day and what he saw, and wanted, he took.
It’s the story of a King reigning a thousand years before Christ — adulterous, abusive, reckless with the responsibility of his role. It’s the tale of a businessman in a 21st century town, logging on to porn at the end of another frustrating day. It’s the narrative of a woman, sitting alone, running headlong into a fantasy that pretends to offer the intimacy she so desperately desires. The reality of many a Christian — male, female, young, old — whose glance lingers a little too long, whose imagination plunges into depths so dark, whose text messages flirt with leading others astray. We know it’s not right. We proclaim that purity is best. But somehow, some days, our sexual drives win and we hate ourselves for our rebellious ways.
Hiding in the dark
Of all the sins with which we can struggle, lust is the one we keep most firmly in the dark. If people knew the content of our thoughts, our dreams, our actions, we imagine repulsion and rejection would be the order of the day. Our instinct is to hide, to cover, to deny. Maybe we don’t go as far as King David. He, on discovering Bathsheba was pregnant, tried to manufacture a sexual encounter between her and her spouse, when that failed, he opted for murder by proxy: send Uriah to the front, he’ll have no chance of surviving there. But our attempts to cover our tracks are no more pleasing to God. Proudly asserting we have accountability software (when all too often we turn it off), being able to lead a Bible study on purity (when the latest smutty novel sits by our bed), or modelling wise boundaries on a Sunday (while fantasising wildly on a Saturday night), may give the impression of godliness — but the One who matters most is not taken in.
It took a wise and brave prophet, in Nathan, to approach and rebuke David for his sin. He reminded him that when we lust after another we take what does not belong to us. We objectify, use for our own pleasure, those who are precious image-bearers and loved by the Lord. It hurts those around but, most importantly, it dishonours the One who made us and calls us to live a life honouring him. At its core, lust is a worship-disorder: we take our eyes off Christ and elevate our desire for satisfaction above his throne.
Hope of cleansing
But all is not lost. Even the most hardened sexual sinners can find forgiveness in God’s grace-filled arms. When we turn to him, in true repentance and faith, the wonder that King David was able to express in Psalm 51 can be ours as well: washed whiter than snow, a renewed joy in our salvation, and a mouth full of praise. Doesn’t that sound better than wallowing in the shame of hidden lust?
Of course, there may be consequences for our wayward behaviour. The legacy of David’s atrocity lingered in his family for years. We may need help to overcome an addiction, a time of restoration with someone we have wounded or tossed aside, accountability for future conduct — we’ll need our brothers and sisters every step of the way. But there’s hope. There’s a calling to a life, centred on Christ, which is increasingly pure, more fulfilling, and ever more beautiful than anything our darker desires could achieve. And, through Jesus’s work on the cross, that life is no pipe-dream. Washed clean, empowered by the Spirit, and with eyes fixed on eternity, a passion for purity is a privilege we all can enjoy.
Questions for Reflection
1. Are there struggles with lust which you are currently indulging or hiding rather than addressing? What desires are you seeing as more important than Jesus and his call?
2. How can the Psalm 51 reminder of grace spur you on to a life of repentance and faith?
3. What would it look like for you to seek the help of others as you pursue purity? Or what would it look like for you to stand alongside others as they battle sexual temptation week by week?
Holy God who,
in accordance with your nature and good purposes,
called us to a life of purity and trust:
mercifully grant that we, who know the futility of lust,
may turn to you for grace and hope;
through the love of the Father,
the cleansing of the Son,
and the sanctifying work of the Spirit,