Paul Tripp

President of Paul Tripp Ministries

Psalm 51: The Terrible Trinity

The Bible doesn't pull any punches as it describes the scary reality of sin. You have the powerful words of Genesis 6:5 "The Lord saw how great man's wickedness on earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time." Every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time! Could there be a more forceful way of characterizing the pervasive influence of sin on everything we do?

Or you have Paul building his case for the sinfulness of everyone, that reaches this crescendo, "All have turned away, they have together become worthless, there is no one who does good, not even one." (Romans 3:12).

Along with this, the Bible very clearly unpacks the underlying spiritual dynamics of sin as well. Passages like Luke 6:43-45 and Mark 7:20-23, teach us that sin is first a matter of the heart before it is ever a matter of behavior. Romans 1:25 alerts us to the fact that sin, in its essence, is idolatrous. It is when God is replaced as the ruler of my heart that I give myself to doing what pleases me rather than what pleases him.

Psalm 51 is one of the definitional passages when it comes to sin as well. David employs three words for sin that really define the nature of what our struggle with it is all about. The first definitional word he uses is the word, TRANSGRESSION. To transgress means to acknowledge the boundaries and willing step over them. I trangress when I knowingly park in a no parking zone. I know I'm not supposed to park there, but for the sake of person convenience, I do so anyway. Often our sin is just like this. We know that God had forbidden what we're about to do, but for personal success, comfort, or pleasure we step over God's prohibition and do exactly what we want to do. When we trangress, we not only rebel against God's authority, but we convince ourselves that we're a better authority, with a better system of law than the one God gave us. Propelled by the laws of personal wants, personal feelings, and personal need, we consciously step over God's boundaries and do what we want to do.

But not all of our sin is conscious, high-handed rebellion. So, David uses a second word, INIQUITY. Iniquity is best described as moral uncleanness. This word points to the comprehensive nature of the affect of sin on us. Sin is a moral infection that stains everything we desire, think, speak, and do. Sadly, no infant since the Fall of the world into sin, has been born morally clean. We all entered this world dirty and there's nothing we can do to clean ourselves up. Iniquity is like inadvertantly putting a pair of bright red socks into the wash with a load of whites. There'll be nothing that escapes the red stain and remain completely white. In the same way, sin is pervasive. It really does alter everything I do in some way.

But there's a third word that David uses that gets at another aspect of sin's damage. It's the word, SIN. Sin is best defined as falling short of a standard. In our moments of best intention and best effort, we still fall short. We're simply unable to reach the level of the standards that God has set for us. Sin has simple removed our ability to keep God's law. So, we fall short of his standard again and again and again. In your thoughts, you fall short. In your desires, you fall short. In your marriage or family, you fall short. In your communication, you fall short. At your job, you fall short. With your friends, you fall short. We simply are not able to meet God's requirements.

This "terrible trinity" of words for sin really does capture with power and clarity the nature of the war that rages inside each one of us. Sometimes I do exactly what God requires, but I don't care because I want what I want and so I step over his wise boundaries. Sometimes I look back on what I've done, thinking that I'd done pretty well, only to see ways in which my words and behavior were once more stained with sin. And over and over again, I'm confronted with my weakness and inability. I fall short of God's standard even in moments of good intention.

How can this terrible trinity do anything other than to drive us to seek the grace that can only be found in the divine Trinity? In our sin we need a Father who's not satisfied with leaving us in this sad state of affairs, but will exercise his sovereign power to set a plan in place that will rescue us from us. In our sin we need a Son, who is willing to take our punishment so that we can be forgiven. And in our sin, we need a Spirit who will dwell within in us, empowering us to do what we would not be otherwise able to do.

We haven't been left to the ravages of the terrible trinity, because we've been rescued by the love of a better Trinity. Thank you, Sovereign Father, for your gracious plan. Thank you, Sacrificial Son, for standing in our place. Thank you, Holy Spirit, for your empowering presence. In you Triune Lord, we really do find help and hope. 


About Paul Tripp

Paul Tripp is the president of Paul Tripp Ministries, a nonprofit organization whose mission statement is "Connecting the transforming power of Jesus Christ to everyday life." Tripp is also professor of pastoral life and care at Redeemer Seminary in Dallas, Texas, and executive director of the Center for Pastoral Life and Care in Fort Worth, Texas. Tripp has written many books on Christian living that are read and distributed internationally. He has been married for many years to Luella, and they have four grown children. For more information, visit

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