Psalm 19 is a reminder of God’s glory and greatness which are showcased through the skies and Scripture. No matter who we are, creation provides our bodies and souls with wonder and refreshment. Likewise, God’s laws in Scripture are true and beneficial for human flourishing, “making wise the simple”. But the Bible tells us that it is impossible to know God personally by loving nature or having an intellectual knowledge of Scripture, because sin separates us from Him. Sin is the fatal disease infecting every son and daughter of Adam, and its only antidote is the Saviour God provided. Our healing is free and total if we trust in Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God who died in our place (Isa 53:5). But Christ’s healing does not immunise Christians against sin, especially the hidden sin of self-righteousness. This sin is a devious charlatan that lulls us into thinking we are quite good after all and blinds us to the truth about ourselves. Unless we see our hearts clearly and know our desperate need of Christ’s grace every day, we will be easy prey for Satan and sin that entangles us. J.C Ryle gives us a realistic diagnosis of the human heart:
“We are all naturally self-righteous. It is the family disease of all the children of Adam.”
Today we look at the last four verses of Psalm 19. It is a heartfelt prayer that is as vital for Christians today as it was for King David in 1000BC.
Who can discern his errors?
“Who can discern his errors?
Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
13 Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.
14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer (Psalm 19:12-14)
The anatomy of sin
John Piper probes beneath the skin and scans the anatomy of sin:
“What is sin?
It is the glory of God not honoured.
The holiness of God not reverenced.
The greatness of God not admired.
The power of God not praised.
The truth of God not sought.
The wisdom of God not esteemed.
The beauty of God not treasured.
The goodness of God not savoured.
The faithfulness of God not trusted.
The commandments of God not obeyed.
The justice of God not respected.
The wrath of God not feared.
The grace of God not cherished.
The presence of God not prized.
The person of God not loved.
That is sin.”
― John Piper
Piper scan reveals that sin is subtle and deeply embedded in the human heart. Likewise, the prophet Jeremiah warns us not to be fooled by the false pretences of our hearts (Jer 17:9). James describes the journey of sin from its conception as temptation, to its birth as sin, and to its end as death. The shocking image of sin as a stillborn baby is a sober reminder of sin’s critical consequences (James 1:15). For a Christian, sin kills our love for God and intimacy with him, and quickly leads to slavery (1 John 1:6; Rom 6:16). For someone who has never received the forgiveness God provides through Christ, sin ultimately leads to eternal death in hell (Rom 6:23, 5:12). The stakes are high.
It is easy to slide on the slippery slope of what is socially acceptable and what is not, but sin is not just the shocking exposé we see on the news or the public scandal. Long before an action is performed or a word is on our lips, distorted desires have already infected our choices.
When we look at sin in this way, who can claim to be healthy?
Faith in the Physician
That’s exactly the point of the gospel! The gospel announces the arrival of the Great Physician who heals the sick from the deadly disease of sin. There is no sin hidden from Him, even if it is invisible to us. Jesus knows everything about us– every thoughtless word, shameful thought, envious glance and malicious motive. He sees how we seek justice, vindication, belonging, identity, peace and fulfilment apart from Himself. He knows every way in which we’ve been infected and affected by sin, and even our blind spots are perfectly clear to Him. “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight; everything is laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Heb 4:13).
But despite everything He knows about us, Jesus died to heal sick people like us. He did not come as a celebrity or king, but as a doctor without borders. He came to the people who knew they were sick, not those who thought they were healthy. Jesus made the meaning of his metaphor explicit, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners(Mark 2:17; Matt 9:12).
We are in danger the moment we feel smug and think we have moved beyond the need for Christ’s healing every day of our lives!
The gospel is not a once-off door we walk through, but a path of healing and restoration for our entire lives.
Humility means inviting Jesus to remove the giant cataract of self-righteousness, so that our eyes can see our hidden faults. Instead of fleeing the Doctor or feigning perfect health, let us come to the Lord Jesus Christ and hand over the scalpel. Has He not come to proclaim good news to the poor, liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind (Luke 4:18)?
Minding our own planks!
The starting point is to know that we are those poor, blind captives who cannot help ourselves. But self-righteousness is the ‘plank’ in our eyes that prevents us from recognising Jesus as Saviour and trusting Him as Lord. It remains the greatest blind spot for every follower of Jesus and has the potential to turn us into hypocrites:
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye (Matt 7:3-5).
Only Jesus can remove the “planks” from our eyes and give us insight into ourselves. In David’s case, God used Nathan the prophet to show him his planks. At first David was full of self-righteousness and could only blame a fictitious man, but then Nathan held up a mirror to David’s own heart and exploded the fiction, “You are the man!” Little by little, the scales fell off David’s eyes and his fortress of self-righteousness crumbled. His heart was laid bare and it was not a pretty sight. King David may have been able to justify and hide his secret sins for over a year, but they were not hidden from God and their outcomes were severe and public: “You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.” Finally the cataracts were removed and David admitted to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” (2 Samuel 12:11-13). Only when David perceived the true state of his heart, could confession, repentance and healing begin. He was finally able to write Psalm 51 which is a template of confession for every believer. God delights in truth in our inward being and will not despise a broken and contrite heart (Ps 51:17).
Like David, don’t you long for a clean heart, the joy of salvation and a renewed, willing spirit to do what is right? (Ps 51:10, 12, 17). The problem is that although we are naturally self-righteous, we cannot find righteousness in ourselves. But a thousand years after David, his promised heir came to earth and lived a perfectly righteous life. Jesus Christ was the only man who could justifiably be self-righteous. He heralded a gospel that makes morally flawed people like us new from the inside out through faith in Him. For those who believe day by day, the gospel has the power to transform and empower us to be more like Jesus (2 Cor 3:18; Phil 2:13).
Today is the day
Psalm 19 reminds us that we hear the voice of God every day through the skies, the Bible and our consciences. The Bible warns us: “Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Heb 3:15). We can never be sure about tomorrow, but today is the day to soften our hearts before the Lord. If you are not sure that you are saved, today is the day to speak to a trusted Christian about what it means to get right with God. If you know you are born again, today is always the day to invite Jesus to expose your “hidden faults” and “presumptuous sins” before they rule you (Ps 19:13). Let us never be “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” or gently nurse a sinful habit (Heb 3:13-15). We dare not live a single day without ordering our hearts to follow Jesus and fighting to the death against our sinful selves (2 Cor 5:17; Eph 4:22, 24). “Today is the favourable time; behold, now is the day of salvation!”(2 Cor 6:2).
Handing over the scalpel
Are we ready to trust the Great Physician to heal us, even if that means painful surgery or amputation of deeply rooted sin? Unless we believe that His skills are superior to ours and that only He can heal us, we will not be willing to hand over the scalpel.
Lord, it is humbling to think that you created the universe and everything in it, and yet you care so deeply for each person you have made. You cared enough to leave your glory and the holiness of heaven to die for people like us, who do not seek, honour, obey, thank, praise, revere or love you by nature. Thank you for your forgiveness and your gift of a new heart that longs to please you. Today we lay our hearts bare before you and ask you to remove the cataract of self-righteousness from our eyes. Save us from our own hypocrisy! Use your scalpel to remove every offensive way in us set us free from our blindness, sickness and captivity to sin. Purify our hearts and lead us into the light and freedom of your presence today.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Worship as you listen to “Purify my heart”.