The Significance and Application of Psalm 51

Psalm 51 is one of my favorite psalms. It reveals some of David’s inner thoughts, fears, and concerns after his terrible sin (2 Samuel 11). Below is a brief survey of this psalm.

The Significance and Application of Psalm 51

Photo Credit: Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing


A. Purpose

The purpose of Psalm 51 is to ask for God’s removal of sin, for God’s Holy Spirit to remain with David, and to be made right in God’s sight.

B. Argument

In Psalm 51 David expressed that he wanted God’s mercy (v. 1). That mercy was requested by David asking for the cleansing from guilt and sin (vv. 2, 7-9, 14). David also asked God not to banish him from God’s presence (v. 11). Furthermore, David asked God not to remove the Holy Spirit from David (v. 11).

In this Psalm David recognized that he was born a sinner (v. 5) and that he had rebelled against God (vv. 3-4). But, in spite of that rebellion David wanted joy (v. 8, 12) and a clean heart (vv. 10, 15). Because David wanted joy and a clean heart he promised specific responses to God. He said he would praise God (v. 15), offer a broken spirit (v. 17), offer a broken and repentant heart (v. 17), and that he would offer sacrifices in the right spirit (v. 19).


Psalm 51 connects to the overall message of the Bible by its mention of the Holy Spirit (v. 11). In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit had a different function than he now has in the New Testament. In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit would temporarily come upon believers such as Gideon (Judg 6:34), Saul (1 Sam 11:6), and Isaiah (Isa 61:1). The Holy Spirit has a new role in the New Testament he regenerates the Christian (John 3:5-7), baptizes (1 Cor 12:13), indwells (Rom 8:13-17), and seals (Eph 4:30). In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit is directly mentioned three times (Pss 51:11; Isa 63:10, 11).

The New Testament provides much fuller revelation of the Holy Spirit. Examples of the New Testament revelation are that “you lied to the Holy Spirit” (Acts 5:3) and “you weren’t lying to us but to God” (Acts 5:4). In Acts 13:3 the Holy Spirit “spoke” about who was to be dedicated for God’s work. Another way Pss 51 relates to the rest of the Bible is related to the topic of the removal of sin. The Bible says that all believers sin (Gen 3:6-7; Rom 3:23); therefore sin needs to be removed. Thankfully, that removal of sin does not require us to work for it because believers’ disobedience is forgiven and sins are put out of sight of the Lord (Rom 4:7). What a joy believers have when the record of their sin is cleared before God (Pss 51:12).



1. Don’t Worry About God’s Holy Spirit Leaving Believers

The New Testament makes it clear that once a believer is baptized by the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5; 11:16; 1 Cor 12:13) and indwelled by the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5; 8:9, 11; 1 Cor 2:12; 6:19-20; 12:13; Gal 4:6; 1 John 3:24; 4:13), there is no reversal of that act. Believers have been “sealed” by the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 1:22; Eph 11:13; 4:30). This seal guarantees their salvation and attests that the Holy Spirit’s baptizing work and current indwelling in believers is permanent.

2. God’s Love Is Unfailing

Pss 51 shows believers that God’s love for them is unfailing. David wrote, “Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins” (Pss 51:1, emphasis mine).  The Hebrew word used here is חֶסֶד which can mean “love, loyal love, faithful love, unfailing kindness.” This word is used elsewhere in the Old Testament to express, “For your unfailing love is as high as the heavens. Your faithfulness reaches the clouds.” (Pss 57:10, emphasis mine).  In another Psalm, “He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies” (Pss 103:4, emphasis mine). All the way back into Exodus God said, “I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations” (Exod 20:6, emphasis mine). Later in Lamentations, “The faithful love of the LORD never ends” (Lam 3:22, emphasis mine). Other instances of this word occur in Josh 2:12; Ruth 1:8; 2 Sam 9:1; 1 Kings 3:6; Pss 25:6; Prov 3:3; Zeck 7:9.

3. Obedience to God is What God Wants (and We Should too)

God’s ways are contrary to the ways of rebels (v. 13). God does not want a sacrifice or burnt offering; he wants a broken spirit, a broken heart, and a repentant heart (v. 17). God therefore wants sacrifices offered in the right spirit (v. 19). God wants believers to be obedient to him. He does not want believers sinning. He wants loyal and loving followers of him.

4. God Has Power to Forgive and Restore

Pss 51:12 starts out with the powerful word, “restore.” David asked God to restore him [David] back to the joy of salvation (v. 12). Having his sin with Bathesha discovered by Nathan (2 Sam 12:7-10) threatened all that David had worked so hard to obtain (2 Sam 8). Because of his rebellion (Pss 51:3-4) David was likely to lose everything. As a result of David’s sin bad things did happen in his house such as the rape of Tamar (2 Sam 13), Absalom’s rebellion (2 Sam 15), and many others. Yet, God forgave David and restored David back to his throne.

B. 2 Sunday School Activities

1. When Did the Holy Spirit Indwell You?

In a Sunday School class you can ask the students when they believe the Holy Spirit indwelt them. Is there a specific date and time they can remember? Do they remember where they were and what they said to ask the Holy Spirit to indwell them? Everyone has different faith backgrounds and different journeys of faith, therefore this exercise will help the students remember their past and reflect on how the Holy Spirit permanently indwells believers.

2. What Have You Done that Caused You to Feel that God Might Leave?

In a Sunday School class you can ask students if there has ever been a time that they felt they did something that might cause God to leave. Just as David asked God not to leave and not to abandon him, you can ask if the students have had similar experiences. We all have done wrong. So it is good to think of one wrong thing we have done, and then remind ourselves that God will never leave. Finally, ask the group how it makes them feel knowing that God will never leave them.

C. My Personal Appllication of Psalm 51

Many times in my life I have felt like David. I have known that I have done something wrong (v. 3) having sinned and done evil in God’s sight (v. 4). Those wrong deeds have caused me to ask for God’s forgiveness (v. 14). As a result, doing wrong things always reminds me and motivates me to do right and be right in God’s sight. As a Christian, I want to be right with God because that is what God desires (v. 6), because he provides the ability for that to happen (v. 7), and most of all I want a clean heart. I know that my heart and sins will never be perfect before God, but Psalm 51 reminds me that I want to be as obedient and loyal to God as I possibly can.

By Christopher L. Scott

Christopher L. Scott serves as senior pastor at Lakeview Missionary Church in Moses Lake, Washington. Through his writing ministry more than 250,000 copies of his articles, devotions, and tracts are distributed each month through Christian publishers. Learn more at