It’s spring – the season of cleansing and renewal! Many of us have turned our houses upside down with our long list of spring cleaning rituals. We’ve sorted, organized, de-cluttered, and deep-cleaned. Hopefully, the result has been a sparkling, spotless house all ready to functionally shelter us through another year of living. But what about our hearts?
Are we as faithful to focus time and energy each year on a spiritual spring cleaning? Do we prepare our hearts to face another year with the same attention to detail we give our homes? As I ponder this question for myself, I am challenged by Psalm 51 to cry out to God and ask Him to give me a clean heart.
After all, He is the one who has the power to cleanse me from the inside out. He is the only one who can make me clean. So let’s look together at Psalm 51, and the idea of cleansing in Scripture, as we seek to make the state of our hearts even more of a priority than the condition of our homes this year and every year.
Before we do anything else, let’s look at Psalm 51 in its entirety. Then we will break down the ideas into sections and look at other Scriptures to help us understand and apply the Word of God in our own lives.
Have mercy on me, oh God, because of your unfailing love.
Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins.
Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin.
For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night.
Against You and You alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in Your sight.
You will be proved right in what You say, and Your judgement against me is just.
For I was born a sinner – yes, from the moment my mother conceived me.
But you desire honesty from the womb, teaching me wisdom even there.
Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Oh, give me back my joy again; You have broken me – now let me rejoice.
Don’t keep looking at my sins. Remove the stain of my guilt.
Create in me a clean heart, oh God. Renew a loyal spirit within me.
Do not banish me from Your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and make me willing to obey You.
Then I will teach your ways to rebels, and they will return to You.
Forgive me for shedding blood, oh God who saves; then I will joyfully sing of Your forgiveness.
Unseal my lips, oh Lord, that my mouth may praise You.
You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one.
You do not want a burnt offering.
The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, oh God.
Look with favor on Zion and help her; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
Then You will be pleased with sacrifices offered in the right spirit – with burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings.
Then bulls will again be sacrificed on Your alter.
Ceremonially Unclean – The Significance and Importance of Cleansing in the Bible
David was a man who knew he was a sinner, and understood how completely this separated him from God. Right from the beginning of Psalm 51 we find a man who, when confronted with his sin, fell face down before God pleading for mercy.
This is the posture of one who is ready for some spiritual spring cleaning as well! As I prepare to ask God to give me a clean heart, I must begin by humbly admitting it isn’t clean to begin with, and searching out Scripture to understand the stains my sin leaves there.
Leviticus 10:10 – You must distinguish between what is sacred and what is common, between what is ceremonially unclean and what is clean.
Wash Me Clean from My Guilt. Purify Me From My Sin.
The Bible talks a lot about cleansing, what is clean and unclean, and what must be done to move from one category to the other. In Leviticus alone the Bible talks about what is ceremonially clean and unclean more than 30 times, and in the Old Testament the system that was put in place for cleansing was arduous.
Under the Old Covenant there were ceremonies and sacrifices designed to provide temporary cleansing. You can read about one of those ceremonies in Numbers 19:18-19 to get some context for the role of the hyssop branch, which is referenced in some translations of Psalm 51:7. However, these rituals did not provide true, lasting purity.
Hebrews 10:1-4 – The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship. If they could have provided perfect cleansing, the sacrifices would have stopped, for the worshipers would have been purified once for all time, and their feelings of guilt would have disappeared.
But instead, those sacrifices actually reminded them of their sins year after year. For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
This system was only meant to point us to a time when a New Covenant would be made. A time in which true cleansing would be made possible. This system was a dim preview of the time in which we live now, when I can ask God to give me a clean heart and know that everything needed to accomplish it has already been done!
Against You and You Alone Have I Sinned
Before we move on to the process we might undergo for a good spiritual spring cleaning, though, let’s first be sure we understand, as David did, exactly who it is our sin offends.
It is not to appear righteous in the eyes of people that we should seek cleansing. We don’t want to be like the Pharisees and concern ourselves with what others think about us, but instead, we should be like David and understand that it is against God, and God alone that we have sinned.
Matthew 23:25-26 – What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy – full of greed and self-indulgence! You blind Pharisees! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too.
Spiritual spring cleaning that is worth doing is going to look inward. When it is God I seek to please, I will rend my heart before Him, ask Him to point out anything that offends Him, and plead with Him to give me a clean heart. Basically, it is all about Him!
Psalm 19:12 – How can I know all the sins lurking in my heart? Cleanse me from these hidden faults.
Spiritual Cleansing in the Bible – Give Me a Clean Heart
So far, in our quest for a good spiritual spring cleaning, we’ve looked at the first paragraph of Psalm 51 and seen that we are all sinners and that our sin is against God alone. We understand that the old system for cleansing was just a dim preview of what was to come, and not the way for us to achieve right standing with God. So now, let’s look at the New Covenant under which we live, and the process of spiritual cleansing available to us.
Hebrews 9:9-14 – This is an illustration pointing to the present time. For the gifts and sacrifices that the priests offer are not able to cleanse the consciences of the people who bring them. For that old system deals only with food and drink and various cleansing ceremonies – physical regulations that were in effect only until a better system could be established.
So Christ has now become the High Priest over all the good things that have come. He has entered that greater, more perfect Tabernacle in heaven, which was not made by human hands and is not part of this created world. With His own blood – not the blood of goats and calves – He entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever.
Under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer could cleanse people’s bodies from ceremonial impurity. Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered Himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins.
Purify Me from My Sin and I Will Be Clean
Under the old system, people had to continuously bring sacrifices and practice cleansing ceremonies year after year because these sacrifices could not provide permanent justification. But when Christ died, His sacrifice was sufficient to cover all our sins. Once for all time.
1 Corinthians 6:11 – …But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God.
The truth is, once we’ve been justified (declared righteous) at the moment of our salvation, we are clean forever. We don’t actually NEED to do anything more. If we choose to do a spiritual spring cleaning, it won’t be to accomplish anything more in the sense of our eternal security than what has already been finished on the cross.
Wash Me and I Will Be Whiter than Snow
So why do I need to ask God to give me a clean heart? Why waste time on spiritual spring cleaning if we’ve already been declared righteous? Well, let’s look at what Jesus told Peter on the night before His crucifixion as He prepared to wash Peter’s feet.
John 13:6-10 – When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to Him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.”
“No,” Peter protested, “You will never ever wash my feet!”
Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.”
Simon Peter exclaimed, “Then wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet!”
Jesus replied, “A person who has bathed all over does not need to wash, except for the feet, to be entirely clean. And you disciples are clean, but not all of you.”
Jesus told Peter that one who is clean does not need to be washed all over again and again, but he only needs to wash his feet. In other words, once we’ve been saved we don’t need to be justified again and again, but as we go through the process of being made more and more like Christ (sanctification) we do need to wash our feet.
2 Corinthians 7:1 – Because we have these promises, dear friends, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that can defile our body or spirit. And let us work toward complete holiness because we fear God.
Spiritual Spring Cleaning – The Sacrifice God Desires
Back in Psalm 51 David acknowledged that God didn’t want a sacrifice, because if that was all it would take to be clean, David would do it in a heartbeat. But what God wanted, David remembered, was a broken and repentant heart. While much about the system between Old and New Covenant has changed, this aspect has not.
1 John 1:9 – But if we confess our sins to Him, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.
God is still pleased when our sin breaks our heart. The people of God who regularly find themselves face down before Him, broken and repentant over their sins are the ones He is going to use greatly to accomplish His Kingdom work here one earth. After all, this is what He died for!
Titus 2:14 – He gave His life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us His very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds.
2 Timothy 2:21-22 – If you keep yourselves pure, you will be a special utensil for honorable use. Your life will be clean, and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work. Run from anything that stimulates youthful lusts. Instead, pursue righteous living, faithfulness, love, and peace. Enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts.
1 Peter 1:2 – God the Father knew you and chose you long ago, and His Spirit has made you holy. As a result, you have obeyed Him and have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ. May God give you more and more grace and peace.
Give Me a Clean Heart that is Whiter than Snow
So now that we understand all of that, it’s time to ask, what does a spiritual spring cleaning actually look like? What will I actually do year after year as I evaluate and examine my life and ask God to give me a clean heart?
Hebrews 10:21-22 – And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting Him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.
Well, first of all, we will go right into the presence of God, knowing we have been given a permanent audience with our High Priest because of His work in cleansing us from our sin. From there, we will ask HIM to point out any impurity or sin in our lives. (Psalm 139:23-24, 1 Thessalonians 5:23) Then, we will remind Him in faith that if He is willing, He can make us clean.
Matthew 8:1-2 – Large crowds followed Jesus as He came down the mountainside. Suddenly, a man with leprosy approached Him and knelt before Him. “Lord,” the man said, “if You are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.”
This postures us in humility, acknowledging that it is not through any power of our own we can be purified. Next, we will allow His Spirit to wash us by the cleansing of God’s Word. In other words, we will re-commit to regularly place ourselves under the power of Scripture through daily Bible study and prayer. (2 Timothy 3:16)
Ephesians 5:25-27 – … Christ loved the church. He gave up His life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s Word. He did this to present her to Himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault.
We will confess our sins, ask God for forgiveness, and then re-commit our lives to obedience to God. Finally, we will go forward seeking to live clean, innocent lives that shine brightly for Jesus.
1 Peter 1:22 – You were cleansed from your sins when you obeyed the truth, so now yo must show sincere love to each other as brothers and sisters. Love each other deeply with all your hearts.
Philippians 2:14-15 – Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.
1 John 1:7 – But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, cleanses us from all sin.
Won’t you take the time to pray with me today, “Give me a clean heart, oh God, and renew a right spirit within me.”