Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. (ESV)
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. (NIV)
If you stopped by my apartment on Friday to say "hi" to my wife Rachel and me, there are a few things that would be true nearly every week. You'd likely find a coffee mug in the sink from a slow morning, a few receipts on the desk ready to be tracked in our budget, and cleaning supplies on the counter. That's right. Friday is cleaning day in the Harsh household. Typically, I vacuum, clean the toilet and shake the rugs while Rachel sweeps the floors and wipes down all the surfaces in our house. Each week I'm amazed – perhaps repulsed is a better word – by the amount of dirt/dust that accumulates each week. We clean each Friday because: (1) the counters are dirty (so is everything else), and (2) they can't clean themselves. What if I told you that your heart (and mine) is more like my counters than we'd like to admit – dirty and unable to clean itself?
The Bible tells us this is the reality of every human heart, and King David knew it by experience. Psalm 51 is a prayer of confession after he committed adultery with Bathsheba — it was the lowest point in his life. By reading David's prayer, we understand that the default nature of our hearts is sinful. He writes in vs. 5, "Indeed I was guilty when I was born. I was sinful when my mother conceived me." In other words, you and I are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners. David knew this to be true. Paul Tripp writes, "David understood that his problem wasn't his eyes, or that beautiful women exist in the world, or that he lived near such a woman as Bathsheba; the problem was his identity as a sinner." If you're honest, you've also seen this to be true in your own life. The problem isn't your mouth, phone, roommate, or Instagram; the problem is your heart. It's always the evil inside of us that draws us toward the evil outside of us. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, a Russian novelist, once said, "If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it was necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?" In other words, there is a rebellious heart in every person. We are like kitchen counters — dirty and unable to clean ourselves.
If that's true, the only hope for us is the same hope David turned to in Psalm 51:10. He prays, "God, create a clean heart for me and renew a steadfast spirit within me." David asked God to do something he was completely incapable of doing himself — radically changing his heart. Let me ask you a question. Why does David ask God to create a clean heart for him? The answer is that a clean heart doesn't come naturally. It's not something he was born with; the same is true for you and me. On our own, we are incapable of producing a clean heart. You and I cannot mend the brokenness in our hearts — we can't bring about long-term heart transformation.
The good news, however, is that God doesn't expect you to. One of the central promises of the Old Testament — the thing that God's people looked forward to for centuries — is the promise of the New Covenant. One of the key verses that God's people held to is Ezekiel 36:26, where God says, "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." In these verses, God promises to do in us what we can't do in ourselves. He promises to give us a new heart. This is why David comes to God at the lowest point in his life and asks for a clean heart. He doesn't try to work harder or clean himself up. He brings his brokenness to God and asks for healing.
This is our story as well. The truth of the gospel is that we are in desperate need of God's grace. We don't need better accountability. We don't need better spiritual habits. We don't need better restraints on our behavior. We don't even need better Bible reading programs (though all these things are good and are the sequel to our necessity for grace). We need the grace of God to meet us in our brokenness and radically transform us. I've heard it said that grace is when God does for you what you can't do for yourself. A prayer God loves to answer is, "Create a clean heart for me." I hope you and I will live this week confidently, depending on God's grace to clean us.
Written By: Nick Harsh
Nick Harsh (MDiv, Clarks Summit University) is a ministry leader with The Salt Company, a ministry of Cornerstone Church in Ames, Iowa. While publishing regularly at nickharsh.com, his writing has also been featured at The Gospel Coalition, For the Church, and Relevant Magazine.