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, O God.
In Psalm 51, David confesses his sin without holding back. He implores the Lord to forgive him and create within him a clean heart. Then David adds that God does not “desire a sacrifice” or a “burnt offering.” Yet there is a sacrifice that is pleasing to the Lord. “The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God” (51:17).
When we sin, God is not impressed by the things we try to do to atone for ourselves (as if we could!). We cannot offer any goods or services to the Lord to motivate him to forgive us. After all, God can produce all the goods and services he needs. But we can offer that which we alone can give to the Lord: our open hearts, our sorrow over our sin, our fervent intention to repent, our desire to be made right with him. This is the “sacrifice” God desires from us.
How do we become broken over our sin? There is no simple answer. Sometimes we are shattered by the sorry results of sin. Sometimes we are so overwhelmed by the grace of God that we hate anything in us that dishonors him. But, in all times, genuine sorrow over sin comes as a result of the work of the Holy Spirit in us. Through the Spirit, God helps us to see our sin as it is and to yearn for cleansing and a new, holy life.
Psalm 51 offers wonderfully good news. God “will not reject a broken and repentant heart” (51:17). Thus, we don’t have to clean ourselves up and put ourselves back together in order to be accepted by God. In fact, the cleaning up and the putting back together are works that God alone can perform. In order to be restored to relationship with God, all we must do is to offer ourselves in genuine neediness and repentance, trusting in God’s grace through Christ. God receives the sacrifice of our broken spirit, thus receiving us back into loving relationship with him. What a wonder!
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Have you ever offered to God the sacrifice of a broken spirit? When? What helps you to feel genuine sorrow over your sin? What helps you to turn from it?
PRAYER: Gracious, Holy God, I cannot offer you anything to make you forgive my sin. Your forgiveness comes as a free gift through Jesus Christ. For this I am eternally grateful.
But, when I sin, I can offer the sacrifice of a broken spirit and a repentant heart. I can offer my true sorrow over how I have wronged you. I can present my desire to turn from sin so that I might live my life for you.
Help me, dear Lord, to be able to offer the sacrifice that you desire. Keep me from tolerating my sin. Penetrate my defenses and rationalizations, so that I might see my sin as it is. By your Spirit, give me a passionate desire for you and your righteousness.
Indeed, create in me a clean heart, O Lord. Amen.