In the first two verses of Psalm 51, David's situation is immediately apparent: he is asking for mercy and forgiveness.
David is counting on God's mercy. It is mentioned three times in the first verse as mercy, steadfast love, and abundant mercy. The NIV renders abundant mercy as great compassion. He needs mercy because he has sinned. Three terms are used to describes Davd's sin: transgression, iniquity, and sin. He also asks for forgiveness in three ways: blot out my transgression (v.1), wash me, (v.2), and cleanse me from my sin (v.2).
That's a lot of stuff packed into the first two verses. David will unfold these matters further as the psalm progresses. What is clear to the reader immediately, even without knowing that the occasion of the psalm is David's sin with Bathsheba, is that David is in trouble. How often do we find ourselves in need of mercy?
Before David goes into more detail in his petitions to God (v.7-12), he makes it clear that he is taking ownership of his sin:
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
David says, "I know my transgsressions." He knows what his sin is. He knows that it is his sin. Even before he makes this statement, in v.2, he calls it "my sin." Before David can ask for cleansing and restoration, he confesses that it is his sin.
It is the same for us. We cannot experience God's healing and restoration without recognizing that we sin. That little piece of information, that like David I was brought forth in iniquity (Ps. 51:5), was something that kept me from God as a young person. Oh yes, I wanted to know God, and to be called his child, but it wasn't until I realized that I was a sinner that forgiveness was possible. And now as a Christian, I must contnue to own my sin and ask for forgiveness.
David goes to God for forgiveness on the basis of God's mercy, not on his own merit. That is the only way forgiveness is possible, because we are not worthy on our own. We don't go to God with an attitude of, "Well, I'm humbling myself here, Lord, so you have to accept me." No. We go before him, because through Christ, he has shown us mercy.
These principles can be taken into situations with people, too. When people come to us for forgiveness, we must show them mercy. We offer them mercy because mercy has been shown to us. Likewise, when we go before others to seek forgiveness, we must take owenership of the sin we have committed.
How often do we blame others for our own sin? We speak harsh words because someone irritated or offended us. We are rude to others because we just can't let go of that offense that happened ten years ago. We have family strife because of matters that happened years ago in our childhood; things we can't forget. And I'm not talking about serious situations like domestic abuse. I'm talking about the grudge we hold against siblings or parents for things that didn't really matter in the long run. Do we always see ourselves as the wronged one? There are any number of ways to avoid admitting our sin, whether it's blaming others or blaming society. Blaming others for our sin is a never ending cycle. Until we admit that the problem starts in our own hearts, we will have no peace.
I used to think that as I got older, I would mature and have less struggle with sin. Isn't happening. The same sins simply get recycled and put into different packages. I am quicker to see them and forsake them, and for that I can only give glory to God. But it's still an issue. Praise God, though, that as David shows in the rest of Psalm 51, we can count on the mercy of God. Cleansing is ours. He will not turn us away. Our fellowship is restored, and we can rejoice.