The Promise of Forgiveness

Psalm 32:1-5

August 30, 2014 | Brian Bill

I love what Pauline Jacoby said, “Jesus is in this car and He goes with me everywhere I go!”  That ties into the promise we looked at last week: God is there, He is here, He is everywhere.  When she told the man that if he killed her she’d go to heaven but he’d go to hell, he started crying.  Why the tears?  Because he knew he needed forgiveness when she told him to ask for it.

Our focus today is the promise of forgiveness from Psalm 32.  In order to be reminded of his sinfulness and God’s promise of forgiveness, Augustine had this psalm engraved on his bedroom wall as he lay dying in his bed.  He read it all the time and when he was too weak to read it, he instructed others to recite it for him.

[Let’s stand and recite Psalm 32:1-5 together.]

“Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.  Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.  When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long.  For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was turned into the drought of summer. [Selah]  I acknowledged my sin to you, and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” [Selah]

Let’s establish some background information about Psalm 32 that will help us understand it better.

  • 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 wrote this psalm to help us know that we can be fully restored and completely forgiven no matter what we’ve done.  Whether you’ve committed robberies, cheated on a test or on your spouse, or had an abortion you can be forgiven.  BTW, the Walk for Life for Pregnancy Resources is coming up on Saturday, September 20th.  Our family will be participating and I hope you will too.  Sponsor sheets are in the lobby.
  • This is one of the seven psalms of forgiveness, which include Psalm 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143.
  • This has been referred to as one of “Paul’s Psalms” because it is quoted extensively in Romans 4:6-8 to establish that we are declared righteous not because of what we’ve done, but because of what Christ has done on the Cross.
  • If you look at the very beginning, you’ll see the phrase, “A Contemplation” or “A Maskil.”  This was a literary or musical term to indicate that the words to follow are extremely important.  It’s like he’s saying, “Lean in and listen up!”  David wants us to pay particular attention to this inspired instruction so that we’ll understand and embrace the promise of forgiveness.  

We’re going to learn that God won’t hold our sins against us if we confess them.  Here’s our outline:

  1. The happiness of forgiveness (1-2)
  2. The heaviness of sin (3-4)
  3. The help of God (5)

The Happiness of Forgiveness

Look at verse 1: “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.”  “Blessed” has a very rich meaning that cannot be defined with just one word.  We could say, “How happy!” or “Congratulations to,” or “Oh, the bliss of!” It also means, “to hallow” or consecrate.  In addition, this word is in the plural so we could say, “Oh, the multiple happinessess, the boatload of blessings to the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.”

Let me clarify something.  While the word “blessing” does refer to happiness, let me be clear that our goal is God’s glory by pursuing holiness, not happiness.  I was greatly troubled this past week when I watched a video from the “co-pastor” of Lakewood Church, Victoria Osteen, wife of Joel Osteen, who stood next to her nodding as she said these words: “I just want to encourage every one of us to realize when we obey God, we’re not doing it for God…we’re doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we’re happy.  That’s the thing that gives Him the greatest joy…So, I want you to know this morning: Just do good for your own self.  Do good because God wants you to be happy.  When you come to church, when you worship Him, you’re not doing it for God really. You’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy. Amen?”

A-Not.  We obey God for His glory.  God takes pleasure in our holiness.  His greatest joy is His glory and is found in us when we delight in Him above all else.  Amen?

David provides a threefold description of sin in these first two verses.  Charles Spurgeon called it the three-headed dog barking at the gates of hell.  “Transgression” depicts a defiant disobedience toward God, a revolt or rebellion against the Almighty.  “Sin” means to miss the mark of God’s perfection either through acts of commission or omission.  In verse 2 we see the word “iniquity,” which represents a crookedness, deformity, or deliberate perversion.  The image is of a tree that is gnarled and twisted.  

The point of using these three different words reminds us that all types of sin and wrongdoing can be forgiven.  We defiantly disobey, we miss the mark, and we’re inherently crooked.  Our “little” sins are an affront to the Almighty and those “big” acts of rebellion offend our Holy God.  When we contemplate our true condition, a tear should run down our cheeks as well.

David also uses a triad of words to express the fullness of our forgiveness.  The word “forgiven” means, “to lift a heavy burden and carry it away.”  Our transgressions are taken away and lifted from us by the Lord.  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 covered that they will never appear again.  

The third phrase, “does not impute iniquity” is rich in meaning.  We get the word “reckon” from this term.  This is the same word used in Genesis 15:6,where God “imputed” righteousness to Abraham.  God does not count our sins against us and in their place he has imputed the righteousness of another.  God erases our sin-debt from the books as if it never happened.  Romans 4 establishes that Christ’s right standing before God is ours and our sin is taken away by Him.

Our missionaries certainly know this truth as they take the message of forgiveness to foreign lands.  Our Burkina Faso team returned a week ago and we’ll hear more about what God did next weekend and again on Sunday night, September 21st.   Today it’s our privilege to have Isaac and Stephanie Torrez with us.  They are part of our global team serving in a large country in Asia. 

  1.  Can you tell us about your ministry?
  2.  What are you seeing God do?
  3.  How does the promise of God’s forgiveness provide freedom for the people you are working with?

In the last part of Psalm 32:2, David says that God does all this for the one in “whose spirit is no deceit.”  That doesn’t mean someone who has no faults but rather 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.  Listen carefully.  The key to the Christian life is not our personal perfection, but our regular repentance.  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. 

In his book called, “Not the Way We’re Supposed to Be,” Cornelius Plantinga writes, “The awareness of sin used to be our shadow.  Christians hated sin; feared it, fled from it, grieved over it.  Some of our grandparents agonized over their sins.  A man who lost his temper might wonder whether he could still go to Communion…where sin is concerned, people just mumble now.”  Are you mumbling about your meanderings, excusing your infractions, and being deceived by your disobedience?  It’s time to get beyond our moral myopia that distorts the true view of ourselves.  If we’re not real with God, David describes what will happen in verses 3-4.

The Heaviness of Sin

Many years ago, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of the Sherlock Holmes novels, played a prank on five of the most prominent men in England.  He sent an anonymous note to each one that simply said this, “All is found out, flee at once.”  Within 24 hours all five men had left the country.  That’s exactly the picture described in Proverbs 28:1: “The wicked man flees though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.”

Are you hiding anything today?  Instead of owning your sin, is it owning you?  Does lack of forgiveness make you want to flee?  Verse 3 says that keeping silent about sin can also make us feel sick: “When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long.” 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 heavy heartache.  When we keep our mouths shut, our conscience screams.  When we bottle up evil our bones grow old.  Proverbs 28:13: “He who conceals his sins does not prosper.” 

I read a brand new study this week called “The Quadrennium Project: that focused on the people who live in Rock Island.  A surprising 44% want help getting over their past and dealing with guilt.  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.

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 rarely fall down on our knees in real repentance before Him.  

God’s hand can bring blessings but can also bear down on us

Verse 4 continues, “For day and night your hand was heavy upon me.  My vitality was turned into the drought of summer.”  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.  As Max Lucado says, He loves us just the way we are but loves us too much to let us keep living the way we are. 

Two elderly Southern women were sitting together in the front pew of church listening to a fiery preacher.  He was banging the pulpit and the ladies were cheering him on.  When he condemned the sin of stealing, the two church ladies cried out loudly, “AMEN, BROTHER!”  When he condemned the sin of lust, they yelled again, “PREACH IT, REVEREND!”  And, when he spoke out against lying, they jumped to their feet and screamed, “RIGHT ON, BROTHER!  TELL IT LIKE IT IS…AMEN!”  

But when preacher-man condemned the sin of gossip, the two got very quiet.  One lady turned to the other and said, “Well, he’s done quit preachin’.  Now he’s just meddlin’.”  Friend, what sin shuts you up?  It’s easy for us to get upset with those who sin differently than we do but it’s much tougher when the Holy Spirit starts meddlin’ in our lives, isn’t it?

After describing his spiritual drought and the burning in his bones, David writes the word, “Selah” immediately following verse 4.  This word is used over 70 times in the Psalms.  Commentators are mixed about the exact meaning but it may have been a musical notation or more likely it meant to pause and think about what has just been said.  David doesn’t want us to miss the point.  How is the Holy Spirit meddling in your life right now? [Let’s pause and ponder]

The Help of God

After talking about the blessed happiness of forgiveness and the heaviness of sin, in verse 5, David draws our attention to the help of God: “I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden.  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.  He first acknowledged his sin by stating the obvious.  Then he stopped trying to cover it up. 

In a sense, he’s like the prodigal son who had grown tired of living with the pigs.  He owns his wrong and doesn’t make any excuses.  To “confess” literally means, “to say the same” thing that God says about your sin.  Until we can say, “God, you’re right, it’s wrong,” we haven’t really confessed.   If you’re not ready to confess, maybe you need a little more distress in your life.  David finally surrendered.  Are you ready to do the same?

Notice that he takes personal responsibility by using personal pronouns – my sin (2x), 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.  Notice that he doesn’t deny, minimize, or blame someone else.  He simply calls his sin, “sin.”  It’s not an error, a mistake, or a lapse in judgment.  He doesn’t argue about what the meaning of “is” is.  I’ve heard someone put it like this: The greatest holdout to the healing of my hang-ups is me.

We would be much better off if we would stop using other words and phrases to excuse our behavior and instead begin using biblical terms.  Do you know what a euphemism is?  A euphemism is a polite expression used in place of words or phrases that otherwise might be considered harsh or unpleasant to hear. 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 sinned against you with my words.  Please forgive me.”
  • Instead of saying, “I just want to share a prayer request with you,” it may be more truthful to say, “I want to pass along some gossip in order to defame someone.”
  • Instead of saying, “I had an affair,” it’s more biblical to say, “I committed adultery.”
Until we acknowledge that what we’ve done is sinful, we won’t experience freedom and restoration

John Piper puts it this way: “Until we fear sin and its consequences more keenly, we will not prize our pardon very highly.”  This may sound blunt but actually its much better to call sin what it is.  Why is that?  Because there’s a solution for sin – it’s called forgiveness.  Until we acknowledge that what we’ve done is sinful, we won’t experience freedom and restoration.  

Confession is more than merely informing God that we’ve sinned.  It also involves a turning away. Instead of just confessing our sins wholesale, it’s time to own up for the specifics.  Here’s a helpful phrase to keep in mind: when you make a mess of it, confess it!  When you recognize your sin and reject it, God will remove it: “And you forgave the iniquity of my sin.”  God won’t hold our sins against us if we confess them.  

We don’t have to beg God to forgive because He wants to forgive more than we want to be forgiven.  We don’t have to bargain with Him or try to bribe Him by promising to do a bunch of good things.  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 claim the promise of forgiveness for the sins that you’ve confessed.

Forgiven in Fallows 

Beth and I drove up to Madison this past week to spend some time with three friends from my college days.  Here’s a picture of the four of us.  It was very moving because the four of us experiened the forgiveness of our sins through faith in Jesus Christ while students at the University of Wisconsin.  Bruce led me to Christ and Mark led Jim to Jesus.  During dinner I thanked Bruce for loving me when I was a jerk to him.  I also thanked him for his boldness in confronting me about not being a Christian.  

One of the wives asked each of us how we’ve stayed on track spiritually for 35 years and counting.  I told them that I’ve never gotten over God’s grace.  I can’t believe that I’ve been forgiven for all my sins!  We also agreed that for each of us it was never a matter of just “adding Jesus” to our lives.  Instead, when He saved us, we were all in for Him.  

And here’s a picture of the room where I got saved on October 3, 1979.  It was dark when we gathered below it but Room 205 is where I was introduced to the light of the world.  Interestingly, Mark and Jim ended up living in this same room two years later.  Here’s the door to Fallows Hall, where I opened the door to Jesus Christ.  As I stood out in the courtyard and prayed for the two students who will be in Room 205 this year, I started weeping.  My tears were happy because the Lord helped me by taking away the heaviness of my sins.

My friend Jim is now the assistant dean at the UW School of Business and has been moved to pray for students.  At least one night a week he goes out to pray on campus.  One week this summer he prayed four times.  Jim invited Bruce and me to join him on Sunday night.  We found a place to sit that overlooked three dorms and prayed for about 45 minutes.  Warm tears ran down my face as we prayed that students would find forgiveness for their sins.  One very moving moment was after I prayed for all the international students on campus I looked up and three students from China walked right in front of us.

Jim has now been mentoring some student leaders in the ministry of intercession.  He texted me Thursday night about 9:30 with an update – “Just finished walking by and praying for every dorm in Lakeshore with 7 sold-out Christ followers from Cru.  Wow!  Students moved in yesterday and today.  Here we go!”

Some of you need forgiveness today.  If you want to experience the happiness of forgiveness you must first know the heaviness of sin.  Confess that you are a sinner right now and cry out to Jesus for help.  Are you ready right now to have your sins forgiven and your life changed forever?  If so, will you cry out to Christ right now?  I wrote out what I can remember about the prayer I prayed almost 35 years ago.  If it reflects where you’re at, please pray it with me.

“Lord Jesus, I’m not a Christian.  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.  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 free gift of forgiveness and eternal life.  I believe your words are true.  I accept you into my heart.  I believe in you and now I receive you by faith.  Be my Savior and Lord.  I surrender to your leadership in my life.  Make me into the person you want me to be.  I’m all in.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.”

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?