Psalm 51 is David’s penitent prayer to God in the aftermath of his sin with Bathsheba. In this psalm David pours out his heart to God in remorse over his sin and in his fervent desire that God would forgive him. In v. 10 of this psalm David said, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” These words summarize David’s realization that his only hope to be right with God was for his inner person to be changed. They also reflect David’s awareness that it is by God’s power that this change takes place.
David understood that for his life to change his heart had to change. This is why he asked God to create a clean heart within him. The truth of David’s understanding is validated by the teaching of our Lord during His earthly ministry. In Mt. 15, after His encounter with the scribes and Pharisees over the disciples not performing the ceremonial cleansing before eating, the Lord explained that the heart is the source of the evils that defile us. In Mt. 15:19 the Lord said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.” He said in v. 20 that these are what defile a man, not eating with unwashed hands.
Since the heart is the source of evil thoughts and conduct, it behooves us to seek to have clean hearts, as David prayed in Psa. 51. And, since it is God who creates clean hearts, it behooves us to seek His intervention in our lives to make this happen. Having said this, however, we must understand that although God creates a clean heart in us, He does not do so by supernatural means, or without our participation in the process.
According to the scriptures spiritual cleansing occurs when we obey God’s will, first by being baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of our sins, and second, by repenting of our sins and asking His forgiveness each day once we have become a Christian. The conversion of Saul of Tarsus, who became Paul the apostle, demonstrates the first cleansing. In Acts 9:1-19 Luke tells us how Saul saw Jesus in a blinding light on the road to Damascus, and how he fasted and prayed for three days in the city waiting to hear what the Lord would do with him. Some years later, as Paul the apostle, he told of his conversion in Acts 22, and quoted the message of the preacher Ananias, who said, “Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.” (v. 16) When Saul of Tarsus was baptized into Christ, he was cleansed of all his sins.
The second cleansing is for those who are Christians and we read about it in 1 Jn. 1:7. John said, “But if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” In vs. 8-10 we learn that walking in the light involves confessing our sins so the Lord will forgive our sins. This is how Christians continue to be cleansed by God.
At the heart of both of these cleansings, however, is devotion to God’s word, for without this, no one would ever have a clean heart. In Rom. 12:2 Paul told the Christians in Rome to not be conformed to the world but to be transformed by the renewing of their minds. In scripture, the mind and the heart are synonymous for the source of our thoughts and actions. In order to renew our minds, then, we must focus on godly things. In Phil. 4:8 Paul told us how to do so. He said, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” If we dwell on God’s word, our minds will be renewed and we will not be conformed to the world. If we dwell on God’s word, God will create in us a clean heart.