16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. – Psalm 51:16-17
What we see in these verses is that God does not delight in sacrifices in and of themselves. The psalmist says in verse 16, You will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it, and then, in poetic parallelism, You will not be pleased with a burnt offering. This might sound odd at first glance, because it was the Lord who commanded sacrifices in the Old Covenant. But we see the explanation in the following verse.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. The sacrifices of God are here contrasted with the empty sacrifices that unrepentant men offer in vain. True sacrifice is a broken spirit. In other words, a physical sacrifice made in the temple, in the Old Covenant, was supposed to come from the inside. In parallelism, the psalmist defines a broken spirit: a broken and contrite heart. The Lord is not interested in outward acts of repentance if they are not flowing from a heart of true repentance. But a true sacrifice, true repentance, He will never despise.
Do you ever find yourself going through the motions of repentance? You ask the Lord for forgiveness, even though in your heart, you have not turned away from your sin? Or you fully intend to continue in it? God is not fooled by empty acts of repentance. He wants a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart.
What will give us this heart? It’s only possible for those who have been been given a new heart already. So, for those with a new heart, it starts with considering God’s grace and mercy to you through the cross of Christ. When we examine and meditate on God’s love, it should convict us of our sinfulness. When we’re reminded afresh of the wrath we utterly deserve, it causes us to fall to the feet of Christ, whose very feet and hands and crown were pierced for us.