Sing Psalms of the Spirit
March 25, 2001 • AM
Peter A. Lillback, Ph.D. 
President of Westminster Theological Seminary
Professor of Historical Theology


In the ups and downs of life, we can lose our joy. As this happens, we may discover that our words become cutting, our attitudes become bitter and we are unwilling to forgive those who have hurt us. As this happens, perhaps we become tempted to diminish our pain by alcohol or loud music. Our hearts become isolated and we avoid close community with others. There is no longer thanksgiving toward God nor joyful service of to others. When we find ourselves in such a state, we are in need of spiritual renewal.

That is why the psalms of David are so precious. They show us that God is not done with us just because we seem to be done with Him! In the history of the Christian Church, seven psalms have been identified as the penitential psalms, psalms that help us to repent and renew our spirits in communion with God. They are psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130 and 143. These psalms especially point to forgiveness in a time of a keen sense of our own guilt before a holy God.

These psalms also identify the inwardness of the spiritual life. The human spirit is identified in Ps.32:1-2; 51:10,11; 143:4. They also remind us of the inner work of God’s Holy Spirit as in Ps. 51:11 and Ps. 143:10. The full name of the "Holy Spirit" is used rarely in the OT. We find it here in Ps. 51:11 and also in Isa. 63:10-11. The Isaiah passage connects directly to Ephesians 4:30 in the NT in terms of "grieving the Holy Spirit." (See also Ps. 106:33 for a possible parallel text.) Let us focus on Ps.51:10-12, verses that come from David’s great confessional psalm for his sin with Bathsehba.

I. Note the Inwardness of the Repentance.
A. "Pure Heart, O God"—see Matt. 5:8.
B. "Steadfast spirit within me"—see James 1:6-8.
C. "A willing spirit to sustain me"—see Matt. 6:10.
D. "Inner parts"—v. 6
II. Note the Sovereign Grace of God that Produces the Change.
A. "Create." This is the same word as is used in the creation account in Genesis one.
B. "Renew."
C. "Restore."
D. "Grant." See here Ezek. 18:31; 36:26-27. We need God to give us a new heart.
III. Note the Necessity of the Holy Spirit’s Presence for the Repentance to Occur.
A. "Do not cast me from your presence" is paralleled with "or take your Holy Spirit from me."
B. Compare these texts of OT leaders’ spiritual lives: Samson (Judges 16:20); Saul (1 Sam. 16:14,23); David (1 Sam. 16:13; 2 Sam. 23:2.)
C. NT believers will not lose the Holy Spirit. See Rom. 8:9. But we can grieve the Spirit (Eph. 4:30).
IV. Note the Impact of True Repentance.
A. "Broken spirit" and "broken and contrite heart" v. 17.
B. The vital signs of the Holy Spirit’s ministry in Eph.4:29-32: words, attitudes and forgiveness.
C. The vital signs of the Holy Spirit’s ministry in Eph.5:15-21: wisdom, service, worship marked by non-abuse of alcohol, words informed by Scripture, music in the heart to God, thanks, mutual submission and a spiritual reciprocity with God, Christ and one another. Is the Spirit at work in your heart today?

Peter A. Lillback, Ph.D. 
President of Westminster Theological Seminary
Professor of Historical Theology
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