33081 Your Sin Diagnosis: The Personality of Sin

The Personality of Sin

Have you ever wondered why you are more vulnerable to certain types of temptation than to others? Have you ever wondered why your sin diagnosis looks different from that of a friend or a family member? Why does your problem happen to be with this sin and not that?

Each of us has a unique personality, and our personality type predisposes us more to certain kinds of sin than to other kinds. By understanding our personality type, then, we can better predict what kinds of temptation might most easily waylay us. We all are born with a sin nature, but the way in which our innate sinfulness is manifested will vary based upon at least three areas affecting our personality.

The first factor is our family environment—what kind of home we grew up in. It may seem that our childhood was a long time ago. But because childhood experiences happen at a formative time in our lives, they can exert an influence upon us for the rest of our lives, whether for good or for ill. They help to determine our sin diagnosis.

A second factor helping to determine our particular tendencies to sin is our individual temperament. The many factors of temperament can influence how our sin nature expresses itself.

A third factor that affects our sin diagnosis is the impact of external events. You have been through a unique series of experiences in the course of your years, and they have contributed to making you who you are. How have these experiences affected your spiritual health? External events build upon the foundation of family environment and temperament to set the pattern for sin susceptibility.

“Know thyself” is an ancient maxim of philosophy. It is good advice in many areas of life, not least in applying the soul prescription to your sin problem. Take some time to ask God for insight into yourself, to think through your personality history, and to get the opinions of those who know you best so that you can use your personality as a clue to your sin diagnosis.

As we continue in our investigation of sin sickness, we will learn that if we do not deal with our sins early on in their development, they have a way of gathering more sins and worse sins. They snowball. Or maybe it is more like an avalanche!

The Problem with “Little” Sins

Often there is an accumulation and the escalation of sin in a person’s life. A good example of this type of pattern would be in the life of King David.

When we think of David and sin, our minds often jump immediately to Bathsheba. But perhaps David’s first sin in that period of his life was irresponsibility, as he chose not to go to war with his troops. Then he entertained lust as he ogled the bathing Bathsheba. This led swiftly to adultery when he had sex with the neighbor woman. Then he practiced deception in trying to get Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, to sleep with her so as to account for her pregnancy. Finally, he arranged for Uriah’s murder. (See 2 Samuel 11:1-15 for the whole story.)

That’s how little sins grow into big ones. For David, the sequence of events led to a dramatic change for the worse in his fortunes. His family life and kingship were never the same again.

Many of us are like David, thinking we can safely dabble in little sins. Foolish! Sin is sin. It is always serious. It always erects a barrier between us and God. And any sin can become a beachhead for others, affecting not only ourselves but also others in a myriad of harmful ways. The ripples of sin spread and grow.

Dabbling soon becomes outright indulgence. Invariably, if a Christian has seemed to take a sudden fall into sin, a closer inspection will show that the person had for some time been flirting with sin before openly courting it.

If you want to keep your sins from multiplying like cancer cells and growing like monsters in a nightmare, you need to act soon and act decisively. The earlier in the process of sin growth you act, the easier spiritual healing will be. However well developed the sin in your life has become, whether your sins are “small” or “large,” it is best to act today rather than tomorrow. Never forget the way that sins have of getting worse and more numerous.

Since we never get past the danger of temptation, we never get past the need for vigilance and prevention of those sins to which we are prone.

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33082 Your Sin Diagnosis: Becoming a Recovering Sinner

Becoming a Recovering Sinner

Trying to live a holy life is a complex proposition. It is not as simple as deciding to obey a few rules and then doing it.

While temptation may change its aspect or approach us from a different angle, it never goes away. It is like driving a car. Whenever you drive a car, you are continually subjecting yourself to the risk of an accident. In the same way, just by going through life, you are continually subject to temptation.

Every day, we are an invitation for temptation. The temptations we give in to reveal our peculiar weaknesses. Then they produce the sin symptoms that comprise our particular diagnosis at a particular time.

It would be easier to resist temptation if sin were not so attractive. With most sins, we are not talking about something that seems awful; we are talking about something that could potentially feel wonderful. Many times, to do the wrong thing is more agreeable than to do the right thing. So even though we know that the right thing is best for us in the long run, we choose the fleeting pleasures of sin anyway. It is only when we realize the true destructiveness of sin that we are willing to seek change.

A complete cure for sin will come only at our glorification after death. In this life we will never stop struggling with sin—we will never entirely settle the matter.

Yet there is cause for hope. Salvation opens the doors to God’s resources, and so the Spirit can substantially defeat sin for us in this life as we obey God’s commands.

Remember this: we can get to a point where we never again repeat a sin that was once a regular habit for us. It really is possible to win over a sin. We may never be free from the temptation again, and we likely will fail God again in another way later on. But as we deal with our sins one after another, we can experience victories over each of them in turn and over time raise our level of holiness. You can get past your sin, even if the possibility of slipping back into it never quite goes away.

It is a mystery why some people struggle with certain sins. Equally, it is a mystery why some people have an easier time than others in leaving sins behind. Sometimes God immediately takes a sinful desire away, while at other times He lets us struggle against the desire. In every case we can be confident that it is His will for us to resist temptation and that He is present with us to help us in remaining pure.

Be not proud of yourself. Neither be hopeless, since God is at hand. Prayerfully, develop a list of your sin symptoms in your mind through prayer and self-reflection, then plan to treat them all through the power of the Spirit. Perhaps you will add to your list later as you learn more about yourself, but for now the list gives you places to start.

To help you in your struggle against sin, we would like to give you a way of mentally organizing the universe of sins.

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33083 Your Sin Diagnosis: Introducing the Sin Families

Introducing the Sin Families

Sins tend to gather in what we call “families”—groups of related sins. If you have a problem with drinking, for example, it is a part of the overindulgence family, which includes such sins as gluttony, drunkenness, drug abuse, shopaholism, and the overuse of media. All such sins relate to indulging too much in some kind of substance or experience.

But overindulgence is just one example. We have come up with ten sin families, each with its own parent sin. The “parents” include such foundational sins as pride, anger, and sexual immorality. In the families headed by these parent sins there may be found several other related sins.

Of course, describing sins in families this way is somewhat artificial. It would be possible to come up with a different list of sins and to arrange them in a different way. Furthermore, there is overlap among the families. Violence, for example, might be considered to partake of both anger and divisiveness (two different “parents” in our scheme). Real life is not as cut and dried as our list of sins may appear. Nevertheless, we believe our sin families represent a helpful way of looking at the universe of sins and figuring out where our particular sins fit in.

The sin families are listed in the column to the right. Think about all the sins that are troubling you now. These make up your own hit list of tenacious sins. Plan to deal with them all, if not at the same time, then one right after the other Regardless of the areas that concern you, your success in finding freedom from sin habits depends on how honest you are prepared to be with God and yourself. It is true that in this life you will never cease struggling with temptation. Nevertheless, as you deal with the sin in your life, tell yourself, I will face my problems head-on. With all my strength, I will seek out God and His will for my life. I will settle for nothing less than ever-advancing progress toward becoming more like Christ. God will honor your authentic attempts to draw near to Him, and as you do, you will find that He is already there.

33072 Step 5. Preventing Setbacks: Expecting Victory

Expecting Victory

Athletes know that if you go into a game believing you are going to win, you will play much differently than if you think you are going to lose. It is the same with sin habits. We must expect victory over the sins that beset us and expect victory in establishing new habits of holiness.

Of course, the contest with sin is no game—it is deadly serious. And our confidence about replacing sin with godliness is no mere exercise in positive thinking. Rather, it has a solid basis, because our confidence is not in our own powers of self-control but in the power of God to change us as we cooperate with Him.

This is what I (Bill) have long called “supernatural thinking.” By that term, I refer to hope that may seem like bold ambition but that is actually a reasonable and faithful response to what God has revealed in His Word. Thinking that we are capable of defeating a serious sin problem on our own is foolish—down deep we know how weak we are. But if the Scriptures are correct in saying that God is all-powerful (He is), and if they are correct that He has promised to help us if we will ask (He will), then we have every reason for a bold faith that sees victory where others would expect defeat.

When the teenage David went down to the field of battle to face the giant Goliath, David said that his victory would come from the Lord. “It is His battle, not ours,” shouted David to the enemy. “The Lord will give you to us!” (1 Samuel 17:47). Moments later Goliath was lying dead in the dust, no doubt looking much smaller than before. One plus God is a majority against any foe.

Tired of fighting against sin? Remember, the battle is the Lord’s. With His help, you will prevail. He will help you eliminate the troublesome sin from your life. And as you continue to pray and surrender your will to Him, He will fill the empty place in your life (the one formerly occupied by the sin habit) with a new virtue habit. This kind of complete victory can be yours.

“Overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us”
(Romans 8:37).

Applying the Five Steps

Healing from sin is the goal we are after, and the five-step process we have outlined is how to get there. To review:

  1. Adopt a correct view of God. Make sure you have biblical convictions about God’s character and how He acts toward you.
  2. Revise your false beliefs. Use the Bible to identify your mistaken convictions about yourself, other people, and how life works.
  3. Repent of your sin. Pray the five prayers of repentance: (1) “I am wrong.” (2) “I am sorry.” (3) “Forgive me.” (4) “Cleanse me.” (5) “Empower me.”
  4. Defend against spiritual attacks. Depending on the Holy Spirit, choose to overcome the world’s values, consider the flesh’s desires to be dead, and resist the Devil’s schemes.
  5. Flee temptation. Escape from sin by focusing on your relationship with God, latching on to God’s promises, establishing safeguards, and expecting victory.

This is a process that enables us to achieve greater holiness, no matter how much we have struggled with a particular sin in the past. But theory is always one thing and application another, isn’t it? For all of this to really matter to you, you need to apply it to your own sins.

Next we will consider how each of us needs to diagnose our own sin sickness and apply the soul prescription to it.

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33071 Step 5. Preventing Setbacks: Latching On to God’s Promises

Latching On to God’s Promises

Shortly before His death, Jesus pleaded with His Father on behalf of His followers, “Make them pure and holy by teaching them your words of truth” (John 17:17). Our loving God has given us a tool for our spiritual well-being: His written Word, which is “full of living power” (Hebrews 4:12).

This was a tool used by Jesus Himself when He was tempted in the wilderness. For forty days Jesus fasted, and during this time Satan tempted Him to turn stones into bread, to jump off a high point of the temple, and to receive the whole world in exchange for bowing to Satan. Each time, Jesus countered the Devil’s temptation with a scriptural quotation. The Devil was silenced at the last (see Matthew 4:1-11).

The Bible is a multipurpose tool. It “is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right. It is God’s way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing God wants us to do” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

The Word of God, or the Bible, is called a “sword” in Ephesians 6:17. We would be foolish not to take up this weapon in our battle against sin. We can use the truths of Scripture against sin when we read them or recall them from memory to remind ourselves that, through Christ, we can have victory over sin.

These are just a few of the Bible’s powerful messages about freedom from sin:

  • “The power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you through Christ Jesus from the power of sin that leads to death” (Romans 8:2).
  • “Your sins have been washed away, and you have been set apart for God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).
  • “You are a new person, created in God’s likeness—righteous, holy, and true” (Ephesians 4:24).

Does one of these verses give you courage for your struggle against sin? Or can you think of an encouraging verse related to your particular sin problem.¹ Commit one or more verses to memory and then recall them when you need a reminder that you need not give in to temptation. Let them permeate your thought life and your prayer life.

Bible promises are not mantras. They are not magic spells. But they are powerful, Holy Spirit–inspired truths that God can use to change us inside as we allow their meaning to permeate our being. He has promised to make us holy—and He fulfills His promises!

Establishing Safeguards

Solomon urged, “Do not … follow the path of evildoers. Avoid their haunts. Turn away and go somewhere else” (Proverbs 4:14-15). He was saying we need to take steps to keep away from temptation to do wrong, just like I (Bill) have refused to be alone with any woman besides Vonette.

Why not make avoiding sin as easy as possible? If you sometimes overindulge in alcohol, get rid of the liquor bottles in your house. If you are tempted to click your way to immoral websites, install filtering software on your computer. If you keep thinking about embezzling from the accounting department where you work, request a job transfer. If another person seems to always get you started gossiping, tell that person you will have to stop talking to him or her. If you dabble in the occult, throw out your tarot cards.

It is a matter of being practical. Whatever the temptation is for you, be aggressive in cutting yourself off from its influence as much as possible. Be bold! Act now!

One way that all of us can safeguard ourselves from sin, regardless of our moral weak spots, is by seeking help from our fellow believers. The Christian life is not something we were meant to do on our own. Let other trusted Christians into your life through participating in a small group or finding an accountability partner who will check up on your progress toward holiness. Bring the power of other people’s prayers and wisdom to bear on your sin problem.

Of course, even if you establish every possible safeguard, you will still sometimes be tempted. That’s because temptation is essentially a crisis of the spirit, and you can never entirely hedge your spirit from wicked influences. But having temptation tap you on the shoulder and try to get you to turn around is a lot different from what happens when you are already facing in the direction of the sin that most tempts you. Prayerfully consider how to establish every safeguard against temptation that you can.

1 See sections in the series menu for verses related to specific sins.

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33061 Step 4. Defending Your Ground: Considering the Flesh to Be Dead

Considering the Flesh to Be Dead

When we speak of “flesh,” it is important to understand that we are not talking about the human body.¹ Rather, the “flesh” is the part of us that is opposed to the Spirit of God—our ungodly desires and selfish motives. Thus, while the “world” is an outward spiritual enemy, the “flesh” is the spiritual enemy inside us. Our sinful nature, though dead, has a residual effect upon us in our Christian life.

We can adopt a correct view of God, revise our false beliefs, and repent of our sinful habit, but a part of us inside is going to want to commit that sin again. We all have been disappointed in ourselves when we have thought we had left a sin behind, only to sense that deep inside we really, really want to go back to that sin. That’s our flesh calling to us.

The apostle Paul assured us, “Dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation whatsoever to do what your sinful nature [flesh] urges you to do” (Romans 8:12). That’s good news indeed. But how do we avoid the effects of our flesh? Paul continued, “If through the power of the Holy Spirit you turn from it and its evil deeds, you will live” (verse 13). The phrase “turn from it,” in the Greek, more literally means “put it to death.” Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can consider the flesh, or our sinful desires, to be dead.²

In another place, Paul described it this way: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to His cross and crucified them there” (Galatians 5:24). We can crucify our flesh (sinful desires) spiritually because Christ’s flesh (His body) was crucified physically for our sake. We no longer need to obey our flesh as it seeks to govern our words, thoughts, and actions.

Of course, just because we have the power to refuse temptation, that does not mean we will necessarily use the power. We might choose to do what is comfortable and familiar. That is, we might follow the preferences of our old sin nature, even though it is dead.

Remember, the Spirit is opposed to the flesh. As we pray and follow the Holy Spirit in refusing to sin, gradually the sinful desires lose their power over us.

Resisting the Devil’s Schemes

Along with the world and the flesh, another spiritual enemy is the Devil. This is the being known as Satan, or the Adversary. We do not know everything about him, but we know clearly from the Bible that he is God’s enemy and ours. Along with his fellow evil spirits, he seeks to orchestrate events so as to harm us, spiritually and otherwise. “Watch out for attacks from the Devil, your great enemy,” warned the apostle James. “He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for some victim to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). “He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God” (Ephesians 2:2).

While too much human wrongdoing has been attributed to the influence of Satan (the Devil does not always make us do it), certainly evil spirits will do what they can to put us in a place where it is easy to do wrong. They do not have ultimate control over our experiences—God does. But they may seek God’s permission to tempt us. In the early chapters of the book of Job, we are given a glimpse into how this worked for one Old Testament believer.

Is it a coincidence that a person who has a problem with stealing is presented with an opportunity to make off with someone’s wallet? Perhaps not. Is it chance that someone who is trying to quit gossiping hears a juicy tidbit about an enemy? Possibly not. In such situations, Satan may be setting out bait for us.

The Devil whispers temptations, suggests evil courses of action, and tries to implant doubt. And then we allow ourselves to become aware of a temptation if we are susceptible in that area. Sometimes our susceptibilities may surprise us.

Satan sets out the bait, but it is up to us to decide whether we will nibble at it. For His part, God always leaves us an escape route from temptation.

Remember that the temptations that come into your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will keep the temptation from becoming so strong that you can’t stand up against it. When you are tempted, He will show you a way out so that you will not give in to it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

1 That misunderstanding has led to the unfortunate belief by many that the body is bad in itself.
2 In Romans 8, Paul was circling back to the same point he had made in Romans 6. We have died to sin.

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33062 Step 4. Defending Your Ground: The Armor of God

God wants us to succeed in resisting temptation, and He gives us help to do what is right. “The Lord is faithful; He will make you strong and guard you from the evil one” (2 Thessalonians 3:3). So the Devil, while ferocious, is not a foe we are incapable of defeating in the Lord’s power. “Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you,” we are assured (James 4:7).

Furthermore, God equips us for our contest with the Devil in specific ways. Paul wrote,

Use every piece of God’s armor to resist the enemy in the time of evil, so that after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the sturdy belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News, so that you will be fully prepared. In every battle you will need faith as your shield to stop the fiery arrows aimed at you by Satan. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray at all times and on every occasion in the power of the Holy Spirit. (Ephesians 6:13-18)

With such armor, we “will be able to stand firm against all strategies and tricks of the Devil” (verse 11).

Let’s look at how the pieces of the armor help us in our struggle against the Devil.

  • The belt of truth: The Devil likes to interfere in our perceptions of reality. God’s truth shows us the way things really are.
  • The body armor of God’s righteousness: Satan accuses us about our shortcomings. But God’s righteousness, given to us through faith in Christ, protects our spiritual self-image.
  • The shoes of peace: Satan tries to interrupt harmonious relationships with God and unity among believers. Peace protects the well-being and effectiveness of the body of Christ.
  • The shield of faith: The tempter suggests that we will experience greater satisfaction, fulfillment, and happiness if we do something forbidden by God. Faith in God and His ways protects us against these flaming arrows of temptation.
  • The helmet of salvation: Satan tries to darken our minds with godless thoughts and human-centered illusions. The helmet of salvation protects us against Satan’s efforts to fill our minds with poisonous thoughts.
  • The sword of the Spirit: This is the only offensive weapon Paul listed as part of our spiritual armor. If we know and understand the Bible, the Holy Spirit can guide us to use specific passages against Satan in each tempting situation that arises.
  • Prayer: As we humbly kneel before the Lord and pour out our concerns and struggles to Him, we submit our will to our glorious Savior

The Devil will try to attack you through a chink in your armor. Make sure that you are wearing all the protection God gives for spiritual safety. And never fear. “The Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world” (1 John 4:4).

Select the right arrow (below) to continue reading Chapter 6. Step Four: Defending Your Ground.

33063 Step 4. Defending Your Ground: God on the Throne

God on the Throne

It is important that we see the world, the flesh, and the Devil as acting together in opposition to us. Sometime ago I (Bill) tried to explain how it all works to a young woman who came to see me.

This young woman was unattractive and overweight and her face was covered with acne. Suffering from low self-esteem because of her appearance, she was miserable and wished she had never been born. As we talked together, I explained that God loved her as much as He loved the most beautiful woman in Hollywood. It did not seem to comfort her much.

Suddenly I had an inspiration. As we continued to talk, I drew a diagram that helped her understand why she was suffering from such low self-esteem. On a piece of paper, I drew a large circle representing the Christian life. Within the large circle, I drew two smaller circles, one representing the flesh, the other representing the Holy Spirit. “The flesh is influenced by Satan, and the Spirit is directed by God,” I told the young woman.

“Now, there is a control center or throne in every life,” I continued. “If self is on the throne, the flesh is in control, and Satan influences one’s life through the flesh. But if Christ is on the throne, God is directing our lives through His Spirit.

“Galatians 5:16-17 tells us that the flesh wars against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh. As long as we live, there will be this warfare. Whenever you allow your mind to think upon anything that is contrary to the Word and will of God, you know that it is all being orchestrated by Satan through the flesh, because self is in control. On the other hand, good thoughts about yourself, the things that are godly, and the things that draw you to Christ come from God through His Spirit.”

Then I asked her, “Who do you think is making you feel so negative about yourself and trying to destroy your self-esteem?”

Her face brightened as she exclaimed, “It would have to be Satan, wouldn’t it?”

I continued to explain this principle to her. “Now, let’s picture a tuner like that on a radio. If you don’t like a particular program, what do you do?”

She replied, “Well, I tune in to a different channel.”

I explained that she was getting a message from Satan telling her that she was unattractive and that nobody cared for her. Then I asked, “What do you want to do about it?”

She replied, “I want to tune in to God.” Immediately, I sensed that she was relieved. Her attitude had changed and her face was aglow with this new discovery.

Even though Satan comes against us through the world, the flesh and his demons, we can stand against His schemes. By faith we can reject the world’s value system, put our flesh to death, and resist demonic influence. In order to do these things, however, we must be consistent in praying, walking in the fullness of the Spirit, practicing spiritual breathing, and tuning out the enemy’s lies.

Defending against spiritual attacks successfully, we place ourselves in a position to at last say goodbye to our sinful habits.

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33051 Step 3. Turning Around: Prayer 3 and 4

Prayer 3: “God, forgive me.”

Once people feel the full weight of what they have done by their sin, they often move into fix-it mode. They want to do a greater amount of good than the harm they have done. Or they want to penalize themselves in some way, as if they could in that way pay for their wrongdoing. Some people would like the third prayer of repentance to be “God, watch me make up for what I have done.” But no, that will not do. All such efforts must be futile. We can only go to God in faith and plead, “Forgive me.”

God’s forgiveness is an extraordinary thing. Because of His unmatched love, it comes as a free gift to those who are prepared to humble themselves before Him. One person, indeed, did have to pay for sin (other people’s sin)—that was Christ dying on the cross. Now He has the power to forgive our sins when we turn to Him in repentance. Freely He grants this forgiveness.

The sacrificial system of the Old Testament era offered a set of rituals by which one could seek forgiveness. But as the book of Hebrews says, in Christ we have a better way. “He came once for all time, at the end of the age, to remove the power of sin forever by His sacrificial death for us” (Hebrews 9:26). The work has been done. All we have to do is ask for forgiveness, and it will be given to us. Our guilt is gone!

The prayer for forgiveness is so important that Jesus made it a part of the model prayer He gave us: “Forgive us our sins” (Matthew 6:12). As often as we need to pray this, we can pray it. And as often as we do pray it in sincerity, God will grant our request for the sake of Christ.

John expressed the free nature of Christ’s forgiveness of sin when he wrote, “If we confess our sins to Him, He is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong” (1 John 1:9).

Prayer 4: “God, cleanse me.”

We are all sinners and none of us can remove the spiritually staining effects of our sin. We need the supernatural operation of the Holy Spirit to wash us clean, spiritually, when we repent. “God, cleanse me,” we pray. And He says, “I will!” Yet some do not want to proceed to this stage of repentance.

Here is the Lord’s promise to all who sense themselves blemished by their sinful wrongs and desire to be cleansed: “No matter how deep the stain of your sins, I can remove it. I can make you as clean as freshly fallen snow. Even if you are stained as red as crimson, I can make you as white as wool” (Isaiah 1:18).

King David understood the need for cleansing from sin. After his sin of adultery with Bathsheba, he composed Psalm 51 as a hymn pleading for purification on the basis of his “broken and repentant heart” (verse 17). He invited God to purify him with hyssop and wash him “whiter than snow” (verse 7). He asked God to create in him “a clean heart” and renew in him “a right spirit” (verse 10). The opening of the psalm runs like this:

Have mercy on me, O God,
because of your unfailing love.
Because of your great compassion,
blot out the stain of my sins.
Wash me clean from my guilt.
Purify me from my sin. (Psalm 51:1-2)

There is no better feeling than to know you are purified and able to stand before a pure and holy God.

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