Where Did That Come From?

Where Did That Come From?

Psalm 51:5-6
by Bob Burridge ©2012

When we do stupid or sinful things, and we begin to feel the guilt or suffer the consequences, we often look back on it and wonder, “Where did that come from?” “Why did I do that?”

Our fallen nature does not like to admit the truth of it, so it comes up with some very creative attempts to explain it away more acceptably.

One very popular excuse is the “blame the teacher” approach. Perhaps we do wrong things because we were taught to behave that way by our parents, school teachers, friends, and those nasty movies and television shows to which we were subjected. So it’s not our fault. We blame it on those who have influenced us.

Then there is the “blame laziness” approach. We say, “I’ll just have to try harder next time.” There is a little more personal responsibility in this explanation for our transgressions, but it also minimizes the seriousness of the matter. It is as if we are saying, “I am better than it appears. I just slacked off a bit. I just needed a little more effort is all.”

A nice dodge of accountability can be found in the “blame the circumstances” approach. This is where we convince ourselves we had no other choice but to do something technically wrong. Since God is sovereign over all his creation, it amounts to a “blame God” approach.

Another very creative set of excuses is found in the “It’s not really wrong” approach. Blame is placed upon the church, overly strict parents, or a society with unrealistic standards. It is very common and acceptable to the fallen heart to say we only seem to sin because the standards are unfairly set too high.

These tragic misunderstandings of where sin comes from leave us locked in its grip and discouraged. They never deal with the cause. They only attempt to cover up the problem, and explain away the consequences.

Rather than acting surprised or victimized when we do wrong, a better question to ask is, “Where does God say our sin comes from?”

King David had sinned horribly in his lust and adultery with Bathsheba. He made repeated efforts to cover it up, including risking Israel’s national security by having his troops pull back in battle to leave Bathsheba’s faithful husband to be killed. David paid a heavy price for that one night of sin.

When God’s prophet confronted him with it, we see how a true believer responds to his sin. David admitted that what he did was wrong. He grieved and humbly repented before God. He did not make excuses or put on a display of sorrow to win the sympathy of the people. His heart was broken. He repented, and wrote this moving Psalm from which we all can learn.

We have already studied the first four verses.

Psalm 51:1-4
To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.
1 Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I acknowledge my transgressions, And my sin is always before me.
4 Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight — That You may be found just when You speak, And blameless when You judge.

Then David continued by owning up to the real source of his sin.

Psalm 51:5, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.”

When a verse begins with the word “behold” we know we are about to look at something important. He was not telling God to behold something his all-knowing Lord had not noticed. He was humbly saying to God that he was no longer going to try to hide the depth of his own depravity.

The poet Robert Burns around the end of the 18th century was in church when he noticed a bug crawling on the bonnet of a well dressed lady in front of him. He wrote his famous poem To a Louse. It was about how differently we might come across to others while thinking we look quite impressive. In old English he wrote: “Oh wad some power the giftie gie us; To see oursels as ithers see us!” Today we would approximately translate it, “Oh would some power the gift he give us; To see ourselves as others see us!”

Here David sees a greater gift, to see ourselves as God sees us. David had seen the awful corruption of his own human nature. He knew that it had infected his heart from the moment he was conceived in his mother’s womb.

David admitted where his sin came from. God assigned Adam to represent all the humans who would naturally descend from him. When he sinned, guilt and moral corruption spread to everyone who would be ever born. The only exception is the birth of Jesus who was specially conceived by the Holy Spirit. We call this inherited condition original sin.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism summarizes this biblical fact in Question 16, “The covenant being made with Adam, not only for himself, but for his posterity; all mankind, descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him, and fell with him, in his first transgression.”

More simply, the old New England primer said, “In Adam’s fall, we sinned all.”

The Bible is clear about this. Paul summarized how we got to be sinners in his letters to the early churches. In Romans 5:12 he wrote, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men …” Then in 1 Corinthians 15:22 he explained, “For as in Adam all die …”

Our guilt and the corruption that moves us to sin are inherited. Sin is a congenital disease of the soul, and a universal infection of all souls. Psalm 58:3 says, “The wicked are estranged from the womb; They go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies.”

By saying that he was a sinner from his conception, David was not excusing his sin as if he could not help it. David was confessing that he had done wrong because he was responsibly corrupt from the beginning and in need of a Savior.

Original sin leaves our souls morally inclined to displease God. We are born in sin. We all know that the fruit of a tree reveals its true nature. Apples being produced proves we have an apple tree. Sin being produced, proves that we have a corrupted heart.

Some are quick to say, “But, I’m a Christian! Isn’t that corruption taken away now?” It’s true that believers are forgiven for their sin because Jesus paid the penalty for it in their place. He clothes them with his own perfect righteousness by crediting it to those who have not deserved or earned it. He also renders them able to have truly God-honoring motives, and to be able to honor God both outwardly and inwardly, but always imperfectly in this earthly life. The infection of sin is not yet fully removed. Even redeemed hearts still sin. Only in our glorification after death is sin’s power eradicated from us. Until then we struggle as did King David when he wrote this Psalm.

We have conflicting moral desires. On the one hand we want to do good because of God’s love at work in us. But there is that not yet eradicated evil present within us too. We sometimes do what displeases our Savior. This reminds us that we are only sinners saved by Grace. This was Paul’s experience as he explained in Romans 7:23, “But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.”

David realized that his recent flood of sins exposed what had been there all along. It was only God’s merciful restraint that had sometimes put chains upon his depravity. God never withdraws our salvation, but he does at times leave us to ourselves to see what we would be without his constant provision.

In this life, there remains some corruption in our hearts no matter what we do. No one can perfectly remove all selfish motives and purely do all for God’s glory alone, or always keep from wavering in times of stress or temptation. So sometimes God lets us see those remains of sin at work in us.

One of the hardest things for parents to do is to let their children make their own mistakes. Certainly they never let them do dangerous or fatal things. However, there are times when they lovingly step back to let them learn the limits of what they can do. God as our loving Father sometimes lets us see how much we need to rely upon his grace.

When we discover the depth of sin in us, it drives home the truth that all the good we do is purely a result of his merciful work in our hearts. We learn that since sin is in us from birth, we cannot blame our circumstances, our upbringing, or our human choices. This also means that our victory over it does not come by the efforts of men. For God’s children it is more sure than that.

No one has a natural advantage or disadvantage before God. Those brought up in a godly surrounding are greatly blessed, but no less corrupt from birth. Those deprived of good surroundings, are no more depraved in their souls. Refinements do not make a Christian. If you refine a depraved sinner with all the culture and manners imaginable, all you end up with is a very cunning and skillful sinner who believes he doesn’t need a Savior.

Our depravity is not overcome by our efforts or refinement. It is conquered only by grace through God’s application of the work of Christ.

In that inner place where we have in-born sin,
God desires to insert his truth and wisdom.

Psalm 51:6, “Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.”

Again, here is something David calls God to behold. This time it is not the fact of his original sin that David so humbly holds up before God. Here it is God’s own holy expectation which is satisfied in us only by grace.

What God desires is what ought to be found in man’s innermost being. The place he speaks of here is where our desires and motives lie. God is not impressed merely with our outward show, or our words.

To Israel, David looked like a godly king all the while this cover-up was going on. But the king knew that what he appeared to be was not what he really was. We can often fool those around us for awhile, maybe for a long while. We may even fool ourselves for a time. In 1 Samuel 16:7 God warned Samuel not to look at a man’s appearance or stature, “… For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

That’s where the corruption lies, deep under the appearances we put up to make us look good. It is the heart that is corrupt, and that continues to tempt us even as believers. While we remain imperfect in this life we are potential sinners even as David was. James 4:1 asks, “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?” The desires deep inside us are what cause the moral conflicts that often snare us and hurts others.

David shows us an important contrast in these two verses. First he confesses the problem of his inherited iniquity and sin. Then he turns the spotlight to what ought to be there in its place, God’s desire for truth in our hearts. He does not want to find imaginings or false beliefs there.

We need to have in our hearts an awareness of our real inner nature. If we do not admit that we need a Savior, we are lost in hopelessness. Even as believers we need to admit our need to continually rely upon God’s grace. Otherwise we are living a lie.

Truth is that which agrees with what God knows. For us, it is that which conforms with what has been revealed to us by our Eternal Lord. We need to replace the lies with honesty. If we hope in fantasies about our moral nature, or rely upon mere wishes of what we would like to be true, we will never find real solutions. If we look to our own imagined abilities to overcome our problems, we will never discover God’s love, mercy, forgiveness, and deliverance in Christ.

Next David pleads with God that he would come to have wisdom. He does not mean that he wants his IQ to increase, or to improve his memory. He does not mean he wants a more analytical mind or a more creative genius. The wisdom he means here is of the heart, not of just the head. One ancient writer spoke of a “full head and an empty heart.”

David wanted God to improve his ability to accept the truth and to follow after the right path. On that night of temptation he thought that a moment of sin with the beautiful Bathsheba would give him a good moment of pleasure. Godly wisdom would have judged that there is no real pleasure in things that displease God.

Moses showed this wisdom when he sided with the calling of God in Hebrews 11:24-25, “By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin,”

Wisdom is found in those desires which conform to what God says is true and good. God does not want outward show. He wants inward truth, holiness, and devotion to moral purity. So we must have our hearts united with Christ if our outward behavior is to be enabled to truly honor God. When obedience is externalized the most we can hope for is to put on a good act.

Because of the inner origin of sin, an inner cure is needed. God wants truth and wisdom in there where sin tries to dominate our lives from birth. Though in Adam we were created in holiness, ever since his fall humans are conceived as sinful beings. We must be redeemed to inward holiness if we are to enjoy God’s blessings in this life and forever.

Our fallen nature’s answer is like the plan of a cheap handy-man. When the wood of a wall or fence is rotten and brittle, it can sometimes be covered over with heavy coats of paint. Though that might make it look acceptable or even beautiful from the outside, the fence or wall is rotten at its very core and will not hold up when it is stressed.

In the same way we can often put on good outward behavior, even religious behavior, while inwardly the heart is deceptive and self-centered. There can be no hope or confidence before God until there is a changed heart. This transformation by grace will show itself in humble confession and repentance and by seeking God’s provision in Christ.

There is an important and encouraging message for us in this Psalm. Though the setting is one of tragic sin and its discovery, David points us to the wonderful cure.

Before we get to the remedy, we need to realize that there can never be real spiritual progress or confident inward assurance until we are brought to see the real problem. By understanding the source and nature of our inward corruption we can begin to deal with it at the source. A polluted stream cannot be cleaned up if the source of pollution is not stopped.

Our own behavior and that of those around us can be confusing and discouraging. We do things we know are neither wise nor moral, and when the fleeting moment of imagined pleasure is gone we ask ourselves, “Where did that come from?” “Why did I do such a stupid thing?” When our eyes are opened to see where sin originates in us we can finally understand the moral struggles we face daily without searching for foolish excuses.

When we understand the impossibility of moral progress on our own, we can begin to understand the amazing work of grace in our lives. We can also have hope for those around us who seem irretrievably lost. The most evil people on earth can be transformed by the work of our Redeemer. Believers who fall deeply into sin as did King David, can also discover a sense of complete forgiveness when the appreciate what our Savior accomplished on the Cross of Calvary.

We learn from this Psalm to own up to our sin, then to deal with it effectively by coming to the Lord, our only hope for restoration, forgiveness, and the promise of victory.

John Calvin began his Institutes of the Christian Religion with these words, ” … We are accordingly urged by our own evil things to consider the good things of God; and, indeed, we cannot aspire to Him in earnest until we have begun to be displeased with ourselves. For what man is not disposed to rest in himself? Who, in fact, does not thus rest, so long as he is unknown to himself; that is, so long as he is contented with his own endowments, and unconscious or unmindful of his misery? Every person, therefore, on coming to the knowledge of himself, is not only urged to seek God, but is also led as by the hand to find him. On the other hand, it is evident that man never attains to a true self-knowledge until he has previously contemplated the face of God, and come down after such contemplation to look into himself. For (such is our innate pride) we always seem to ourselves just, and upright, and wise, and holy, until we are convinced, by clear evidence, of our injustice, vileness, folly, and impurity. Convinced, however, we are not, if we look to ourselves only, and not to the Lord also —He being the only standard by the application of which this conviction can be produced. …” (Institutes 1:1:1-2)

Paul wrote in Romans 6:17-18, “But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.”

(Note: The Bible quotations in this article are from the New King James Bible unless otherwise noted.)

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About Bob Burridge

I've taught Science, Bible, Math, Computer Programming and served 25 years as Pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Pinellas Park, Florida. I'm now Executive Director of the ministry of the Genevan Institute for Reformed Studies

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