When I was a kid, I remember the first time I stole something. To the best of my remembrance, it was the only time I ever stole anything. My family had gone to the grocery store and there was a large bin of various kinds of candy. When no one was looking, I reached in and grabbed a five cent piece of caramel candy and tucked it into my pocket. When we got home, I snuck into my room, pulled it out of my pocket, unwrapped it, and tossed it into my mouth. After I swallowed it, I realized (or maybe finally admitted), "I just stole something. That's wrong." There was no big emotional experience, I just realized that I had done something wrong and it should never happen again. I never told anyone about it until now. At least, I don't think I did (it was nearly 30 years ago now). I never got caught. I just knew that I had done something wrong and I could never steal anything again.
In Psalm 51, a psalm later attributed to David after he had committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband killed to cover it up, the psalmist makes the statement, "Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight" (Psalm 51:4, NIV). In the context of adultery and murder, the immediate question arises, "Well, what about the man you murdered? Didn't you sin against him?" But David acknowledges the murder a few verses later when he pleads with God, "Save me from bloodguilt, O God," so David is not pretending that his sins were only spiritual or that it was one of those sins that "doesn't hurt anybody else." So how could David say that he had only sinned against God?
Well, in David's position as king, and in a day and age in which women were property and all people were subject to the whims of the king, there was no one to hold David accountable for what he had done. Technically, in the mindset of the ancient mid-east peoples, the king could do whatever he wanted simply because he was king. Yes, there were political consequences, but there was no way to hold a king accountable. So, in a technical sense, no one could hold David accountable except God. When the prophet Nathan finally confronted David about the adultery and murder, according to psalm 51, David immediately admitted his guilt and depravity and begged both for God's forgiveness and for God's transforming power in his life.
At times, we are all like David. I was like him as a kid, stealing that piece of candy. No one else knew about it. There was no one to hold me accountable. I got away with it. The store probably never missed that one piece of candy. Only God knew. And while there was no major emotional experience, the realization of what I had done was enough that it affected me for the rest of my life and I have kept that experience with me as a reminder never to steal again.
What is your secret sin? What is it that no one else knows about? What have you gotten away with? Have you faced it full on, acknowledging it? You may have only sinned against God but that is the most serious test of character we can face. When no one else knows, can we still own up to it and repent? Only after you've done so can you then say like David:
Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin…Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Psalm 51:1-2, 10 (NIV)