The Fruit of Forgiveness
July 25, 2015 | Brian Bill
In the film called “The Mission,” Robert DeNiro plays a mercenary who has taken asylum in the local church after killing his brother in a fit of jealous rage. Because of what he has done, and how bad he feels, he ties himself to a several-hundred pound net of items that represents his sinful life and drags this sack of sin around as a way to do penance. He eventually heads to a mission post located above the waterfalls in a South American jungle.
He ends up slipping under the burden of his past, with the rope choking the very life out of him. He feels miserable and yet doesn’t know what to do with his sin and the shame that comes with it.
Have you ever felt like that? I suspect that some of you are tethered to some transgressions right now. Others of you are gasping under the guilt of things you did several years ago. What do you do when you realize your sins are strangling you? How do you stabilize your life when you experience more ups and downs than the stock market? Where do you go when you’ve failed? Where do you turn when you’ve hurt those closest to you? Do you grab some chain and hitch it up to your sin pile and start dragging? Or, is there something better?
Pastor Jeff Seaman describes three ways that guilt messes with us.
1. Guilt destroys our confidence.
Guilt can make us feel insecure because we’re always worried that someone is going to find out what we’re really like, or what we’ve really done.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of the Sherlock Holmes novels, once played a prank on five of the most prominent men in England by sending an anonymous note to each one that simply said this, “All is found out, flee at once.” Within 24 hours all five men had fled the country.
Something more current is taking place for 37 million people who are members of a website that unashamedly caters to married people who want to commit adultery. Hackers are threatening to expose intimate details to the whole world. I’m sure these people are very nervous right now.
That’s exactly the picture described in Proverbs 28:1: “The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion.” Is guilt destroying your confidence today?
2. Guilt damages our relationships.
When we live with unconfessed sin we can often respond to people in wrong ways. Are you impatient with others? Do you find yourself reacting in anger? Are you pulling back from those you love? If so, there may be some guilt in your gut somewhere.
3. Guilt keeps us stuck in the past.
Do you continuously replay your sins over and over and over in your mind? Garrison Keillor says that “Guilt is the gift that keeps on giving.” Someone else has said, “Guilt cannot change the past just like worry cannot change the future. But it can make you miserable today.” Have you ever noticed how your stomach keeps score when you swallow your sins?
Please turn in your Bibles to Psalm 32. In order to be reminded of his depraved sinfulness and God’s gracious forgiveness, Augustine had this psalm engraved on the walls of his bedroom as he was dying in his bed.
Zach Johnson, who is from Cedar Rapids, and just played in the John Deere Classic, won the British Open on Monday. I love what he said immediately after winning: “I’m grateful, I’m humbled, I’m thankful…It hasn’t set in yet … I felt great, I was patient, I had some Scripture going in my head and I thank the Lord, I thank my friends, I thank my family. I’m just in awe right now.” It’s pretty cool that the Scripture he referenced was from the Book of Psalms – maybe he’s been listening to our “Praying Through the Psalms” series!
Before we jump into the text, here are a few background truths.
- David is the author. While he was a great king and walked with God for much of his life, we also know that he committed adultery and murder. He had taken another man’s wife and then that man’s life. He wrote this psalm to help us know that we can be fully restored and completely forgiven no matter what we’ve done.
- This psalm is one of the seven psalms of forgiveness, which include Psalm 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143.
- Psalm 32 has also been referred to as one of “Paul’s Psalms” because it is quoted extensively in Romans 4:6-8 to help establish that we are declared righteous not because of what we’ve done, but because of what Christ has done on the Cross.
- As we see in the introduction, this is a “maskil.” This was a literary or musical term to indicate that the words to follow are extremely important. In other words, this is a “preaching psalm” given to us so that we can learn from the experiences of another.
Let’s see what we can learn about the fruit of forgiveness as we follow this simple outline:
- The happiness of forgiveness (1-2)
- The heaviness of sin (3-5)
- The help of God (6-11)
The Happiness of Forgiveness
The very first word of Psalm 32 is “blessed.” This has a very rich meaning that cannot be defined with just one word. We could say, “How happy!” or “Congratulations to,” or, “Good for the one who,” or “Oh, the bliss of!” In addition, this word is in the plural so we could say, “Oh, the multiple happinessess, the bundles of blessings and genuine joy to the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.”
David provides a threefold description of sin in these first two verses. Charles Spurgeon refers to this as the three-headed dog barking at the gates of hell. “Transgression” depicts a defiant disobedience toward God, a rebellious revolt against the Almighty. “Sin” means to miss the mark of God’s perfection either through acts of commission or omission. The picture is of an archer missing the target. The word “iniquity” in verse 2 represents a crookedness, deformity, or perversion. The image is of a tree that is gnarled and twisted.
David also uses a triad of phrases to express the fullness of our forgiveness.
- The word “forgiven” means, “to lift a heavy burden and carry it away.” Instead of trying to tug them along with us, our transgressions are lifted up and taken away. This is what the scapegoat symbolized in the Old Testament – the guilt of sins was placed on the goat and he was then sent out into the wilderness. Psalm 103:12: “As far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us.”
- The word “covered” refers to that which is concealed. What is offensive to God is put out of sight. The idea is that our sins are so completley covered that they will never appear before God again. Isaiah 1:18: “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”
- The third phrase, “against whom the Lord counts no iniquity” is rich in meaning. We get the words “reckon” or “impute” from the word “count.” This is the same word used in Genesis 15:6,where God “reckoned” righteousness to Abraham. God does not count our sins against us and in their place he has imputed the righteousness of Jesus Christ. God erases our sin-debt from the books as if it never happened. According to Isaiah 43:25, when God forgives, He no longer remembers our sins: “I, I, am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will remember your sins no more.”
No wonder David refers to the blessingnesses of forgiven transgressions, the covering of sins, and the erasing of our iniquities.
If we’re not real with God, we’ll experience the heaviness of sin
In the last part of Psalm 32:2, David delcares that God does all this for the one in “whose spirit there is no deceit.” This refers to those who readily admit their sins. It’s the idea of authenticity. It means that we are not deceitful in acknowledging our sin. It’s not a matter of trying to be perfect but recognizing that we’re not. We need to fully admit that we are twisted transgressors and selfish sinners. Far too many of us are dishonest about our disobedience. If we’re not real with God, we’ll experience the heaviness of sin in verses 3-5.
The Heaviness of Sin
Look at verse 3: “For when I kept silent [mute], my bones [my substance] wasted away through my groaning all day long.” David is reflecting upon those times when he chose to keep quiet about his sins. In fact, he covered up his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah for about a year, before God exposed it through the prophet Nathan.
When he tried to ignore his iniquities his bones felt like they were decaying. The word “groaning” was used to describe the roar of a wounded animal, or the growl of a bear in Isaiah 59:11. David tells us that his groaning went on all day long, or continuously, without intermission. When we don’t own our sins, our bodies revolt. Instead of happiness, we experience heartache. When we keep our mouths shut, our conscience screams. When we bottle up evil our bones waste away.
We could put it this way: we are only as sick as our secrets. The secret you want most to conceal is the one you most need to reveal. Friend, what have you been concealing? What is it that you’ve been hiding? It’s time to come clean.
I want to pause here and addess a huge problem that is often shrouded in secrecy. This issue is knocking both men and women off the walk of faith. In fact, its probably the number one sin among Christians today and is often not even mentioned in church. Do you know what it is? It’s the problem of porn. Beth and I recently watched a sermon by Josh McDowell that he preached at Founder’s Week earlier this year. He spoke candidly and clearly and with conviction about the importance of walking in purity. Here are a few stats he shared…
- 25% of all web searches are for porn
- The average age of first exposure is 11
- Porn use increases the rate of marital infidelity more than 300%
Verse 4 continues, “For day and night your hand was heavy upon me.” Even at night David could not rest from the cries of his conscience and the conviction of the Holy Spirit. The word “heavy” means, “to grievously afflict.” God’s hand can bring blessings but can also bear down on us. It’s because He cares so much for us. He loves us just the way we are but loves us too much to let us keep living the way we are. As Hebrews 12:10 says, “God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.”
David recalls feeling like his strength was sapped, his energy evaporated as in the heat of the summer (that’s how I felt running the Bix this weekend).
Pschologist Roy Baumeister of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland studied guilt in 1991 and found that the average person spends approximately two hours a day feeling guilty. I know some who would say that they never stop feeling guilty.
Only confession will bring restoration
These verses remind us that when we don’t fully confess we will experience emotional and physical distress. Anger and bitterness can come as a result of unconfessed sin and will eat your insides out. David is saying that you could be dry spiritually because of some specific disobedience in your life. After describing his spiritual drought and distress, he then writes the word, “Selah” immediately following this verse. This is a word that beckons us to pause and think about what has just been said. It’s like he’s saying, “Hey look at this! When you’re in a mess, confess!” David doesn’t want us to miss the point. Only confession will bring restoration.
It’s not easy for us to admit our sins, is it? It’s like the guy who went into the Hallmark store and asked the clerk, “Do you have a card that stops short of saying ‘I’m sorry’ yet vaguely hints of some wrongdoing?” Many of us do this with God when we’re not specific about our sins. We might tip our hat to our frailty but resist falling down on our knees in real repentance.
Verse 5 gives us the right approach. When David could find relief in no other way, he said, “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover up my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” Instead of concealing, David is now confessing. And he says it outloud – “I said…” We can’t expect God to cover what we’re not willing to uncover.
Did you hear what one of the presidential candidates said this week in response to the question: “Have you ever asked God for forgiveness?” He answered by saying, “That’s a hard question.” And then he rambled for about a minute. The interviewer persisted: “But have you ever asked God for forgiveness?” I couldn’t believe his answer: “I’m not sure I have…I don’t think so. If I do something wrong I just try to make it right. I don’t bring God into the picture.”
David not only brought God into the picture; he confessed his sins to Him. Proverbs 28:13: “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” The word “confess” in the Old Testament means to “throw down or to cast down.” In the New Testament it carries the idea of agreement. To confess a sin means to throw it down before the Lord and to say the same thing God says about it.
When we don’t confess our sins, God’s hand is so heavy upon us that we feel crushed and weighted down [Put net of sins on my shoulder]. When we confess we’re saying, “I agree with you God and now I’m going to throw my sins down.” [Throw net to ground] When God hears that, He picks them up and carries them away [Put behind organ]. If you’re not ready to confess, then you should get ready for some more distress in your life.
Notice that he takes personal responsibility by the use of personal pronouns – my sin, my iniquity, my transgressions. David repeats the three words for sins mentioned in verse 1: he acknowledges his sin, he does not cover up his iniquity, and he confesses his transgressions to the Lord. He doesn’t deny, minimize, or blame someone else. He simply calls his sin, “sin.” He doesn’t argue about what the meaning of “is” is. I heard somebody say, “The greatest holdout to the healing of my hang-ups is me.”
We need to stop using words like blunder, flaw, faux pas, misstep, mistake and miscalculation to excuse our behavior and begin using biblical terms like iniquity, transgression, disobedience and sin. Sin loves to hide behind euphemisms. Here are some that come to mind.
- Instead of saying, “I stretched the truth,” it’s better to say, “I just sinned by lying to you.”
- Instead of saying, “I just have a bad temper,” it’s more accurate to say, “I just transgressed against you with my words. Please forgive me.”
- Instead of saying, “I had an affair,” it’s more biblical to say, “I committed the sin of adultery.”
The smug soul that comes before God and says that sin is no big deal can never know the fruit of forgiveness. One pastor put it this way: “Until we fear sin and its consequences more keenly, we will not prize our pardon very highly.” When you recognize your sin and reject it, God will remove it: “And you forgave the iniquity of my sin.”
We don’t have to beg God to forgive us because He wants to forgive more than we want to be forgiven. We don’t have to bargain with Him and we don’t have to bribe Him by promising to do a bunch of good things, and we certainly don’t have to do penance for the bad things we’ve done.
Another pause is needed here – Selah – so that we don’t rush past the beauty of having all of our sins forgiven. Take some time right now to specifically confess any sins that you’ve been concealing and claim His forgiveness and freedom.
The Help of God
After speaking about the happiness of forgiveness and the heaviness of sin, in verses 6-11, David draws our attention to the help of God. God’s help is seen in three ways.
1. His protection (6-7).
David urges those who are “godly” to pray. There’s a sense of urgency attached to this call to prayer. Verse 7 says that He will surround us with songs of deliverance because He is our hiding place. It’s interesting that in the beginning of this psalm, David is hiding his sins from God; now he is hiding himself in God.
2. His instruction (8-10).
God promises to instruct us and teach us in the way we should go. The blessing of protection is wonderful but it would be incomplete if it were not accompanied by His direction. What good would it be if He guarded us from destruction but didn’t tell us which way to go?
Verse 9 warns us about not being stubborn when it comes to following God: “Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you.” By nature, most of us are wild and unwilling to obey. A horse has to be constantly pulled back and a mule had to be pushed forward. When we get ahead of God, he pulls us back and when we act like mules, God puts the bridle of suffering on us to bring us to repentance. Is God humbling you right now? Is He trying to break you with the bit and bridle? He only does this so we stay near Him.
3. His joy (11).
When we stay close to the Lord by cultivating a spirit of surrender and submission, and when we practice regular confession, we can’t help but break out into joy: “Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” The phrase “be glad” literally means, “to brighten up!” The word, “rejoice” means to “spin around with glee.” Now that David has thrown his sins down He has his shout back! When we have our sins forgiven we can’t help but break out into spontaneous expressions of joy.
Jesus said that those who are forgiven much love much. Those who have their sins covered can leap for joy. Conversely, if you don’t have much joy in your life today it may be because you’ve been carrying around a burden of guilt. Sin may be sucking the life out of you. It may be strangling your joy. If you want to truly be satisfied and stop living with so much distress, then learn to confess!
Some of the most miserable people in the world are not non-Christians but complacent Christians who are living a compromised life. As Charles Spurgeon often said, “God does not allow his saints to sin successfully.” He loves you too much to let you sin in secret. That’s why sin often gets exposed. God cares too much to let you meander through life, pursuing only your own pleasure.
Some of you came today bearing a boatload of bitterness and a trunk of trespasses. If we could see the guilt that is tied around some necks in this room we wouldn’t believe it.
The only way to be rid of your regrets and to have your sins covered is to confess them to God. When you do, He will forgive you. And when He does, your sins are forgotten and you are set free! Unfortunately, some of you have asked for forgiveness but you’re still dragging around a sack of sin with you.
There’s another scene in “The Mission” where Robert DeNiro is struggling with his load of guilt and someone cuts the rope. His net of iniquity goes tumbling down the path and into the water. Instead of being thankful, DeNiro pushes the man out of the way and runs after his sins. When he gets down to the water he picks up the bundle again and tries to carry it back up the mountain on his back.
Are you doing the same thing? If you’ve confessed and repented, God has forgiven you. Can you forgive yourself? The way for God to glorify His name and to satisfy people with His blessings is not just to overlook sins but also to change sinners. God not only covers our sins, He makes us into new creations. 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”
If you’re not saved yet, you need to have your sins forgiven. Actually, it’s deeper than that. Your problem is not just that you sin, the problem is that you’re a sinner…and so am I.
Are you ready right now to have your sins forgiven and your life changed forever? If so, pray this prayer with me.
“Lord Jesus, for too long I’ve kept you out of my life. I admit that I am a sinner and that I cannot save myself. I repent of my sins by changing my mind about the way I’ve been living. I don’t want to drag my sins around anymore. I throw them down so you can take them away. Please forgive me, a sinner. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for coming to earth. With all my heart I believe you are the Son of God who died on the cross for my sins and rose from the dead on the third day. Thank you for bearing my sins and giving me the gift of eternal life. I believe your words are true and I now receive you into my life. I repent from the way I’ve been living. Be my Savior and Lord. I surrender to your leadership in my life. Make me into the person you want me to be. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.”