Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.

If you had a bad experience with a certain food, it’s easy to not make that same mistake again—you just don’t order it, prepare it, or put it in your mouth. If you had a bad experience on a ride at an amusement park, you just don’t get in that line ever again. But what about when you do something bad in a spiritual sense? Is simply staying away from an outward behavior and not committing that sin ever again all it takes to be right with God?

David had committed adultery, then lied and had a good guy murdered in order to cover it up. Psalm 51 is a prayer that reveals David was painfully aware of his sin and didn’t try to make excuses or shift blame. He made a full confession of guilt that deserved divine justice. But simply admitting he messed up and feeling sorry about it wasn’t enough. The source of the problem was David’s corrupt heart, so he asked God to cleanse him. He needed God’s forgiveness. Only then could he be right with God.

Verse 10 follows David’s confession of sin and receiving God’s forgiveness. David asked God to give him a pure heart, a new heart, to replace the sinful, corrupt heart that had led to his sin. Only God could renew his heart with a steadfast, or faithful, spirit of purity. Genuine repentance that softens our hearts toward God involves more than admission of guilt to God. It’s foolish to think we can simply avoid certain behaviors and move along in the way Jesus wants us to. When we’re inviting daily transformation by the Spirit of Christ, we give Him free reign over our hearts.

• How do you usually approach your sins—ignore them, try hard to do better next time, confess them and get forgiven for the same things over and over again, or invite the Spirit of God to purify your heart and to give you the strength to stay faithful to Him?

• How would you counsel a person who struggles with a particular sin about how to persevere in holiness?

• Thank God for the promise of His forgiveness and for His power to cleanse the heart. Ask Him for a renewed sensitivity to sin and the need for repentance.