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The Off Color series provides valuable insight to help us master our emotions and not allow emotions to master us. Pastor Philip calls believers to engage their emotions properly and to enjoy God’s goodness in all circumstances of life.
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Take your Bible and turn to Psalm 32. Stand for the reading of God’s words, Psalm 32. We’re in a series called Off Color: Dealing with Unwelcome Emotions. We’ve kind of color-coded negative, unwelcome emotions, such as fear and depression and anger and guilt. We are white with fear. We can be blue with depression. We can be red with anger, and we can be black with guilt.
Psalm 32 is a celebration of the joy of forgiveness when God removes the debt of our sin and the burden of our guilt. It’s a message I’ve called “What a Relief.” What a relief to know God’s forgiveness. Listen to David as he writes Psalm 32. I’m reading from the New King James translation of Scripture.
“Blessed [happy, exhilarated, thrilled] 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.”
Selah’s a poetic punctuation in the Hebrews. It kind of carries the idea of pause, take that in, think about it, run it over a few times in your mind.
Verse 5: “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 inequity of my sin. Selah.
“For this cause everyone who is godly shall pray to You in a time when You may be found; surely in a flood of great waters, they shall not come near him. You are my hiding place; You shall preserve me from trouble; You shall surround me with songs of deliverance. Selah.
“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye. Do not be like the horse or like the mule, which have no understanding, which must be harnessed with bit and bridle, else they will not come near you. Many sorrows shall be to the wicked; but he who trusts in the Lord, mercy shall surround him. Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you righteous; And shout for joy, all you upright in heart!”
So reads God’s Word. You may be seated. What a relief, Psalm 32.
In one of T. S. Eliot’s works, The Cocktail Party, that great writer and author describes a woman named Celia. She goes to see her psychiatrist called Harcourt-Reilly, and while she’s there, she unburdens her burden, which is the burden of something she had done in the past. And she can’t seem to shake the shame and the guilt of that event.
While the psychiatrist is talking to her, he probes her background, and he asks what her parents taught her about sin. And Celia says to Harcourt-Reilly, “You know what? My parents discarded the word ‘sin.’ In fact, they thought that people who were guilt-ridden were ignorant and unlearned, that guilt was unnecessary because sin didn’t exist.”
After a pause, Celia says this: “But I have not been able to dispose of the feeling of personal failure so easily. I continue to be bothered by feelings of uncleanness, a feeling of emptiness, of failure toward someone or something outside myself. And I feel I must . . . atone, is that the word?”
Ban, banish words like “sin” and “guilt” and “atonement,” if you wish. And our culture is doing it. But like the woman in T. S. Eliot’s story, feelings of uncleanness, emptiness, and shame continue to lacerate the human heart and play with the human head. Abandoning the language of sin, as our therapeutic culture does, does not make sin go away. Neither does it get rid of its consequences nor its attending guilt nor shame nor the burden of that moral accountability. Relabeling the problem of sin and its attending shame as a phobia or a complex or a neurosis doesn’t bring relief.
As one writer says, “No amount of psychobabble of New Age wishful thinking can wash away reality. No amount of relativizing morality can wipe slates clean, as if good and evil were simply human constructs. That’s far too simplistic. More than that, it’s cruel: it fails to take injustice and victimhood seriously.” And it brings no relief to those who are burdened by it.
Whatever the attempt to excuse or expunge guilt, the reality of guilt is ever-present with us. The reason you and I feel guilty is because we are guilty. We have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. We have all violated our conscience to a point where it gives us no rest. The reason you and I feel guilty is because we are guilty. We are morally accountable beings who know better.
We are made in the image of a righteous and a holy God who has written His character and law on our hearts. We know right from wrong, and God has made it so that when we do wrong, we don’t feel right. And no therapist couch has an answer for that. The answer for that is the blood of Jesus and the gospel of our savior. If you have an ounce of self-awareness, you will recognize your guilt, your moral accountability for your actions.
Guilt is a universal human experience. That’s why Adam and Eve hid when their sin uncovered their nakedness and their conscience smote them. That’s why Isaiah in the presence of God’s holiness sees himself as undone. That’s why Peter, in Luke 5:8, said to Jesus, “You need to leave me because I’m an unclean and a sinful man.”
Now, there’s two sides to the one coin of guilt. There’s objective guilt and there’s subjective guilt. What is objective guilt? Objective guilt is the fact of our nonconformity to moral standards and God’s character. And subjective guilt is the feeling of shame that we encounter through objective guilt. When we break God’s commandments, we feel it, we know it—unless we have deadened our conscience, unless we have allowed the lies of this therapeutic humanistic culture to silence that conscience.
So the Bible’s very clear about the reality of sin, and the beautiful thing about the Bible is that it goes on to address a remedy for sin. While the Bible acknowledges the reality of guilt, it also points to us the remedy for guilt. You and I can be released and relieved through God’s mercy and forgiveness of our guilt and the penalty of our sin in Jesus Christ.
What a beautiful thing to know today that as far as the east is from the west, so far will God remove our sin from us. Isaiah 1:18: “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” Beautiful. Black with guilt can become white as snow through God’s forgiveness and grace.
First John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins . . .” Only the church engages in the confession of sin, because only the church has the remedy for sin in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
So, let’s turn to Psalm 32. This is a breathtaking testimony by David to the grace of God, regarding the joy of forgiveness to the guilt-ridden soul.
Now, we’re not sure about its context or its background. We know that king David wrote it. There are no markers—neither in the superscription nor the verses themselves—that let us know when this happened and to what David is addressing himself.
Although, many commentators—and I tend to be with them—see Psalm 32 as a twin to Psalm 51, where we have David’s confession of sin regarding his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband as a cover-up. David hid from God, covered up his sin, for almost a year until Nathan was sent as the prophet of God to remind David that he’s a sinner, that he’s the man.
We believe that Psalm 51 was the immediate confession of his adultery and his murder and the forgiveness he received, and we think that Psalm 32 is some time later. David has enjoyed God’s forgiveness. He’s reveling in God’s grace. And he looks back on the events of that time—the awfulness of his sin, the mistake he made in not confessing it, the physical and psychological torment he went through until he confessed that sin and received God’s forgiveness. Then he goes on to talk about the joy of that, and he writes so that we might know that.
So, if you’re taking notes, we’ve got four things: his celebration, his crisis, his confession, his counsel.
Let’s jump right in. His celebration. This would be verses 1 and 2 and verse 11. This psalm is bracketed with a note of joy. “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven. . . . Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity . . .” Scroll down to verse 11: “Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you righteous; and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!”
This is the writing of a man relieved of the burden of his guilt and the penalty of sin. David revels in the fact that after confessing his sin, the burden of his guilt and the weight of his sin and its penalty was lifted from off his shoulders. And his point is this. When he uses that idea of blessedness, happiness, joy—it’s a thrill to know this. If the greatest need of the human heart is forgiveness, then the greatest joy is the celebration of having received it.
As I was studying these verses, a little chorus jumped back into my mind. I don’t know if you sang it here in the United States, but when I was growing up as a boy in a little Baptist Church in Belfast, they taught us a little chorus that went, “Rolled away, rolled away. And the burden of my heart rolled away. Every sin, it had to go ‘neath the crimson flow. Hallelujah. Rolled away, rolled away. And the burden of my sin rolled way.” It’s a beautiful little chorus. It’s based on The Pilgrim’s Progress, where Pilgrim leaves the City of Destruction. He gets to the cross. He’s got a satchel or a backpack on him. The straps break, and that rolls down the hill into the open grave, the open sepulcher. It’s all a picture. It’s all a dramatization of the fact that rolled away, rolled away, and the burden of our sin rolled away. Hallelujah.
When you and I come to Jesus Christ, there is forgiveness. That’s something to celebrate, and the psalmist does it here. The joy of sin forgiven is so great and ought to be an expression of our hearts continually, a feast—because the misery and the consequence of our sin unforgiven is so defeating and the sacrifice God made in Jesus Christ so costly. David is celebrating the joy of sins forgiven. And God wants that for you, and God wants that for me.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). There are people today who are tormented by the guilt of their sin and the burden of their wrongdoing. In fact, John Stott shared a statement once, one that he had heard the head of one of the largest mental hospitals in England make: “I could dismiss half my patients tomorrow if they could be assured of forgiveness.”
David wants us to know—he wants us to celebrate—the fact that we can be assured of forgiveness. And he uses a wide range of words. There’s a vocabulary here that he uses to describe that forgiveness, and I want you to notice some. He talks about being forgiven, he talks about being covered, and he talks about not having your sin imputed to you.
Let’s just unpack that so that we get a flavor of the joy of sins forgiven. If forgiveness were a diamond, we’re holding it up right now, and we’re seeing its different facets, the different sides and facets to God’s kindness to us in Jesus Christ. The first word’s “forgiven,” right?
“Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven.” It literally means to be lifted up. It carries the idea of carried away. It’s to relieve one of a burden. Hey, let me take that. We remove it, and we move it to another place. This is kind of the language of Leviticus 16:21, the Day of Atonement, when the high priest symbolically would lay the sins of Israel on the head of the scapegoat. And then it would be pushed out into the wilderness in a kind of dramatic symbolic manner of their sins being carried away.
All the offerings of the priesthood and the sacrifices of the Old Testament is getting us ready for John 1:29, when the Lord Jesus appears, and one of his disciples points to him and says, “Hey, that’s the Lamb of God that carries away, takes away. He’s the scapegoat. He’s the Lamb that carries away our sin,” anticipating the cross.
What a beautiful thought, my friend. When you and I ask for God’s forgiveness, He carries away the sin that burdens us, the sin that plagues us, the sin that hurts us, others, and God especially. He removes it. First Peter 2:24 talks about Him bearing or carrying our sin, the just for the unjust.
Imagine this. I want you to imagine writing a list of all your sins, the sins that lash at your heart, the sins that trouble your conscience. Having written that list, I want you now to imagine taking a match and setting the piece of paper on fire and watching it being consumed. At that moment, you’ve got to remind yourself that Jesus Christ died for your sin, that the wrath of God was extinguished in Him. And then watch as the breeze blows the ashes of the consumed paper away. That’s what David is saying God does for us. We don’t need to carry them. We shouldn’t be carrying them, because God’s willing to forgive us.
Number two: God’s willing to cover our sin. “Blessed is he . . . whose sin is covered” (vs. 1). Well, that’s self-explanatory. It means to conceal from sight. It means the hiding of a record. If the first idea is the relief of a burden, this one is the hiding of a record. God does not see one’s sin; He sees us in Christ. And Christ covers our sin with His death and resurrection and the gift of His righteousness.
I love Micah 7:18–19. Write them down; learn them. Who is a pardoning God like You? And it talks about God taking our sin and casting them into the depths of the sea. Again, it’s a metaphor. It’s a picture. The ocean is vast, isn’t it? And whatever you would dump in it, it would conceal. You could throw a bottle in there, and it’ll be concealed and covered by the water. You could throw a tractor in there. My goodness, ships have sunk in the ocean to the bottom and been covered and been concealed. And God does that with our sin. He throws it into the sea of His forgetfulness.
Corrie ten Boom: that wonderful Dutch woman who paid a price for her love of the Jewish people. She hid them, was discovered when snitched on by neighbor, ended up in Ravensbrück concentration camp, and lost her sister, but she emerged an evangelist, an evangel.
In her book Tramp for the Lord, she talks about how in 1947 she went back to Germany to bring the gospel to the German people. She wanted them to hear the truth of God’s love and His forgiveness in Jesus Christ, because they were bitter, their land was bombed out. And one of her favorite mental pictures was the picture from Micah 7:18–19. She says that, as a Hollander, the ocean always was near to her, was an image she could identify with. And she loved that idea of God tossing her sin to the ocean.
She says this: “When we confess our sins, God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever. Then he places a sign out there that says ‘No Fishing Allowed.’” Don’t let the devil have you fish over your past that’s been forgiven in the blood of Jesus Christ. Because Jesus Christ and His death on your behalf allows God to lift up our sin away from us, carry it far from us, and conceal it out of sight.
The other word is “impute,” right? “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute . . .” This is an accounting term. It sees our sin as a debt, and that debt is imputed to us. So, we’ve got to pay that debt. But the marvel of the gospel is that God paid that debt for us, that Jesus Christ carried our sin.
Listen to these words in Colossians 2:14, as Paul explains to the Colossians the work of the cross, the heartbeat of the gospel. He takes an image I think is beautiful and plays into what we’ve got going on here in Psalm 32. We’ll back up into verse 13. “And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all your trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col. 2:13–14). That’s beautiful, isn’t it?
What’s the image? Well, as you remember the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ, they put something above His head. And it said what? “He said he was the King of the Jews.” Pilate was messing with the Jewish leaders, kind of mocking them because they brought Jesus to Pilate and created a problem for him, and they said, “This guy says he’s the King of the Jews.” But that’s what they did. When someone was crucified, the charge—the rap sheet—was nailed to the cross.
Here’s what Paul is saying. I want you to imagine Jesus Christ nailed to the cross, the innocent Son of God, the just one dying for us, the unjust. I want you to see above His head all the handwriting against you, your “I owe you”—what you owe God for every evil thought, for every unsaid word, for every act of unlove. I want you to see it nailed to the cross. It was imputed to Him, right?
That’s 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” This is what the Reformers and the great Protestant theologians called the great exchange: where Jesus takes our sin, marvel of marvels, and then we are given His righteousness, wonder of wonders.
Horatio Spafford was thinking about that when he wrote the words which you sing often: “My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!—My sin, not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more. Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!”
I hope you’re praising the Lord this morning. I hope you’re saying, “Rolled away, rolled away. The burden of my heart was rolled away. Every sin had to go ‘neath the crimson flow. Hallelujah! Rolled away, rolled away. The burden of my heart rolled away.” This glorious thought. My sin, not in part but the whole, nailed to its cross. I don’t bear it. He does. He did. And I get the gift of His righteousness. This is the ground of rejoicing. This is the reason for the celebration.
Let’s move on. We’ve now only looked at the celebration. I want you to see the crisis. That’s the crisis that David went through—if we’re right in terms of the background—during the year he spent hiding from God trying to cover his sin. This is verses 3 and 4, right? Go back to Psalm 32. “When I kept silent . . .”
So, he’s taken us before his forgiveness. He says, “It was a period in my time where I kept silent.” You know what? I went to bed with that woman. I made her pregnant. I panicked. I then tried to cover my tracks and sent her husband to the front line. He gets killed in the front line of the battle. No one’s the wiser. I take Bathsheba as my wife, and off we go.
But you don’t go off into the future. Your conscience follows you. The hand of God taps you on the shoulder, and the providence of God makes your life a misery. And that’s what David’s talking about here: a year of silence, lack of confession, running from his conscience, hiding from God. It produced wariness, weightiness, weakness. It was a horrible, horrible, unhappy year.
“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.”
Sam Storms says a wonderful little phrase in his exposition of Psalm 32. He says, “All the cupboards of his [David’s] soul are emptied.” All right. He wasn’t happy in his marriage with Bathsheba. They lost the child. God’s hand was upon him. There were physical and psychological repercussions to his sin. I’m not saying that sin is always attached to sickness. Certainly, that’s not what the Bible teaches. That’s not true all the time, but it is true some of the time. And David’s very clear about it here. There were physical, psychosomatic consequences to his unresolved guilt and his unconfessed sin.
Because remember, God doesn’t let us sin with impunity. We know better. We are made in the image of a moral and holy God. There’s no rest until we find rest in Him. There’s no peace until we have made peace with Him whom we have offended because of our sin. Proverbs 28:13, right? Write that verse down. I’ll read it for you. Think about it. It’s a great verse. Proverbs 28:13: “He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will find mercy.”
I think it was Adrian Rogers who said in a sermon on that text, “What you cover, God will uncover.” And it will be painful, and the in between until that happens is even worse. God will uncover what you cover, and God will cover what you uncover. And David is living this. He’s covering his sins.
He’s covered his tracks with the death of Uriah; no one’s the wiser. Now he has Bathsheba as a wife, but he’s not prospering. In fact, he says, “I feel like an old man. My bones have grown old. I’m groaning all the day. My vitality has turned into the drought of summer.” He’s talking about the desert heats of Israel that at their heights can be 120° and that just sap the energy from you, where you’re just like a wet rag. You’re limp. And that’s what David’s going through.
When he gets up in the morning, he is shuffling through the day—not physically but emotionally, psychologically. He’s trying to get through another day, because his mind is not at rest and his heart is lacerated by conscience and guilt and the burden of his sin. David was sick because of unconfessed sin.
David was sad because of unconfessed sin—because of the sin of commission, adultery and murder, and because of the sin of omission, failing to repent. He’s at a miserable place.
Listen to these words by James Merritt:
“Guilt can be so overwhelming that it causes tears in the middle of a laugh, indigestion in the middle of a meal, and even suicide in the middle of a sprouting life. It becomes an emotional ball and chain that we drag with us everywhere we go—guilt over that failed marriage, the DUI, the one-night stand, the neglected child, the broken friendship. Guilt is a ghost that will haunt you, hinder you, and hurt you . . . unless you take it to the cross . . .”
And let God and His mercy snip the straps and allow the burden of your guilt to roll away right into the empty tomb of Jesus Christ—who died, the just for the unjust, who was made sin for us, and who knew no sin.
Let me say this, too, before I leave for the third point. David’s describing a horrible year in his life, when he kept silent. He kept silent; God didn’t keep still. His conscience was active. There was providential discipline in the loss of a child. There was a lack of peace that was groaning all the day. God’s hand was heavy on him.
But David seems to infer that the misery was a ministry. The misery was a mercy. The heavy hand of God brought him low to a point of confession. God made him so miserable that he bows the knee. God was seriously at work in his sorrow. Because whom the Lord loves, he chastens, he spanks, he disciplines, he makes miserable. And that’s not a happy experience when you go through it, anymore than when your parent disciplines you. It’s not a happy experience, but the fruit of it is righteousness.
David says this broke him. And I think by inference he’s telling us the misery of sin is a gift from God. He’s showing us here, too, that God will not allow us to sin with impunity. Sometimes God will use extreme measures: the death of a child, physical and psychological sickness and emptiness, a gnawing away of one’s peace and sense of wellbeing. And God uses that to awaken us when we are silent, when we are still.
I’ll be back in Northern Ireland next week, and I was thinking about a story. It’s an unusual story attached to an Irish evangelist called William Nicholson, whose methods were unusual. God used him in a marvelous, marvelous way. There was an awakening in the early part of the 20th century under this man’s preaching. In fact, I think on several occasions he visited Biola University.
He was in Scotland doing a week of meetings. It was a sleepy covenanting village that seemed unconcerned about their souls’ condition. So, Nicholson had upon this idea. He’d watched the town crier kind of do his work with the bell—“Hear ye, hear ye”—and the people would gather and hear what they needed to hear.
So, he gave the guy some money for a loan of his bell, and around about midnight one night, he went running through the village ringing the bell and shouting, “Fire! Fire! Fire!” Lights went on, pajamas were worn out into the public, dressing gowns were draped over shoulders, and people came running out of their houses in a panic, asking, “Where’s the fire? Where’s the fire?” To which W. P. Nicholson replied, “The fire’s in hell, and if you don’t come to my meeting, you’re going there.”
Now, that’s extreme, but God sometimes does the extreme, the heavy hand, to bring us to a place of submission, confession, humility, brokenness. Is that where you’re at this morning? Is that what God’s doing? Your arms are too short to box with God. You better surrender, my friend. Find peace and pardon and forgiveness.
This brings us to the confession. David’s healing begins in contrition and confession. Beginning in verse 5: “I acknowledged my sin to You . . .” Well, that’s a change, because he had told us he kept silent in verse 3. But now, because of God’s heavy hand, the crisis, we go to the confession.
Notice the language David uses in verses 2 and 5. “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit” (vs. 2). There has to come a point where there’s no more deceit, no more ducking and diving, bobbing and weaving. You own your sin. You take accountability for the mess you have created. You understand you’re a morally accountable being created in the image of God. You confess that.
Look at verse 5: “I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.’” No deceit; acknowledgement. No hiding; confession. And this is the beginning of his healing. This brokenness and confession brings wholeness. He enjoys God’s mercy. Verse 7: “You are my hiding place; You shall preserve me from trouble; You shall surround me with songs of deliverance.”
Verse 10: “Many sorrow shall be to the wicked; but he who trust in the Lord, mercy shall surround him.” Look, confession is not the cause of your forgiveness. That’s the covenant, merciful, sovereign mercy of God. But confession is the condition of your forgiveness. You need to own it. Then you need to disown it. Forgiveness can only come from the one offended.
And in Psalm 51:4, David says, “Against You, You only, have I sinned . . .” David had offended God, broken His law, broken His commandments. He had coveted. He had murdered. He had committed adultery. And now he confesses all of that.
Just for a moment or two, I want you to notice the depth of his confession. It’s to be found in the vocabulary of sin. He used a variety of words to describe the beauty of God’s forgiveness. Now he uses a variety of words to describe the dastardliness of his deed. See, it’s the kind of thing our culture wants to whitewash, the kind of thing our culture wants to deny as a neurosis or some religious hangover. See, nobody is at fault anymore. Have you ever noticed that? They keep hitting the ball in someone else’s direction. Not David.
Look at the words he uses: transgression. Verse 1: “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven . . .” That’s a word that means to cross a boundary. That’s you and me physically—which we’ve all done, or at least I’ve done, at some point. You’re somewhere, and it says no trespassing, and you trespass. That’s crossing the boundary. That’s transgression. That’s not being subject to rightful authority. Frankly, it’s rebellion.
In fact, this phrase is used in 2 Kings 1:1 of a political revolt. In fact, Jesus gets at this in the parable in Luke 19:14, describing how the master sends his son and the crowd rejects the son. And what’s the phrase the crowd uses: “We will not have this man to reign over us.” And Jesus is using as a parable of how He has come unto His own, but His owners received Him not (John 1:12).
“We won’t have him to rule over us.” And that’s what we say to God on a daily basis. We’re not going to have You rule over how we define ourselves, our sexuality, our gender, how we behave, what we want, what we’re going to do, and the price we will pay to get it—and the price others will pay if they stand in our way in getting it. That’s transgression, and we’re guilty of it.
“Sin.” That’s used 600 times in the Old Testament. It carries the idea of failure, missing the mark. It’s to come up short. All right? Morally, it’s equivalent to an air ball. I’m not much of a basketball player, but imagine this afternoon you’re in a pickup game. You know what? You’re channeling LeBron, and you rise to the occasion and throw the ball. Then you wake up from your dream because you missed the hoop completely. Air ball! That’s our word: missing the mark of God’s holiness completely. Falling so far short it’s embarrassing.
Then there’s the final word: iniquity. Now, this is an interesting word. It’s a Hebrew term that means crooked or bent. Crooked or bent. It actually speaks of something that’s being perverted or distorted from its original use.
Let’s take sexuality, for instance. What a gift, the intimacy and the joy of physical union between a husband and wife in a covenant where love is its basis. But you take that, and you twist it, and you pervert it outside of marriage for your own end. That’s iniquity. It’s taking something and distorting it and twisting it and bending it.
And here’s the point to get to our last point. But here’s this idea of confession. Now remember, confession is not the cause of your forgiveness. That’s penance. That’s Roman Catholic theology. That’s not Protestant theology. My friend, Jesus did at all. All to Him we owe. But, while confession is not the cause of your forgiveness, it is the condition. If you’re going to enjoy the preciousness of God’s forgiveness, you need to own the sin that caused it.
The only thing you contribute to your salvation is the very thing that made it necessary, and God wants see you own it and disown it. And the culture’s going to fight you on that. In our culture, the word “sin” is forbidden—to go back to T. S. Eliot and The Cocktail Party and Celia with her psychiatrist, Reilly.
But we need to hear Psalm 32. We need to see what David’s doing in Psalm 32. We need to fight this idea that nobody’s at fault anymore. Nobody does wrong. We don’t do wrong anymore. We don’t sin anymore. We just have problems.
This is a culture where, if it uses the word “sin” at all or talks about transgression or iniquity, the greatest sin of all is you falling short of your human potential—of not being filled, of society failing you, of parents failing you, of bosses failing you. Because, you see, the real sinners in society today are the people who stop you from being who you are. That’s the real sin. It’s terrible. It’s antibiblical. Increasingly, our politically corrupt culture demands that we not say or do anything that might threaten an individual’s fragile self-worth.
What’s self-worth? Well, we have worth in that we’re created in the image of God. But you know what? We’ve all fallen short of His glory. We are down and dirty sinners who deserve His wrath, and when you try to attempt to please him, your righteousness is a dirty rag. You see, the Bible wants us to understand our debt and our lawlessness and see the worth of Jesus Christ in what he did for us.
But our therapeutic society wants us to see ourselves as victims, more sinned against than sinning. I don’t want to take you back there, but we’ll go back to the moment that Bill Clinton had the affair with Monica Lewinsky. And here’s what his wife, Hillary, said of those actions. She wants you to know that Bill had a troubled childhood. “Yes, he has weaknesses. Yes, he needs to be more disciplined, but it is remarkable given his background that he turned out to be the kind of person he is, capable of such leadership.”
Well, now we’re sympathetic to Bill who abused his secretary, who used his authority to violate a woman, who lied to Congress. “I did not have sex with that woman.” That’s the culture we are in. If that’s where you live, and you can’t break free from that by God’s grace, you’re going to be damned—because you’ll never get to the cross, and you’ll never take responsibility for your sin.
Let’s move on to the counsel. Verse 6 and following. We’ll take a few minutes here and wrap this up. But from verse 6 through to verse 11, David is speaking.
Now, there’s a debate, by the way, among commentators in verse 8. Is God speaking? You’ll notice if you’ve got a New King James that the second to last word, the personal pronoun “my,” is capitalized— because there is a thought on the part of the translators that God is speaking. “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye.” If you’ve got an NIV, or another translation, you’ll see that it’s not capitalized.
I tend to run with the idea that in verse 8 David is speaking, not God, and David’s going to guide the people of God. He wants them to learn from his mistakes. He’s going to be a moral sherpa for them, helping them to understand why they feel guilty, helping them to understand the pain and grief they will bear if they remain unconfessed with regards to that sin. He’ll help them to see that God stands waiting to forgive, and there’s no reason to hide and no reason to run.
In fact, according to Luke 15, when we run toward God, God runs toward us. Right? So David, in verse 6 following, offers some counsel. It has been said that a fool learns from his own mistakes and wise men learn from others’ mistakes. Well, let’s learn from David’s mistakes. At half the price, we get a discount on the pain and the grief if we follow this.
And he says three things. Number one: be sensitive. “Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near” (Isaiah 55:6). And here it is in our text, Psalm 32:6: “For this cause everyone who is godly shall pray to You in a time when You may be found.”
What’s David saying? Literally, “at the time of finding.” I think the best way to understand that is the time of when you’re found out, the time in which God shows you your sin, and your conscience smites you. The law of God on your heart weighs you, and you understand the holiness of God and the wrath that abides upon you. And the Holy Spirit is opening your eyes to all of this at the time of finding out. Seek the Lord. It’s a window. It’s an opportunity. When God’s hand is heavy upon you, during that time of conviction, be humble and not proud. And the Lord will lift you up and lift you out of your guilt and the penalty of your sin, at the time of finding out.
There’s a story in John 5:1–14, the healing of the man by the Pool of Bethesda. In fact, we’ve been there on a tour, and you see the columns that are described in John’s Gospel. You know that story. There’s a pool, and an angel came down and stirred the water. And those who got into the water were healed. Jesus meets this man, and the man says, “You know what? Every time that opportunity is there, no one carries me down.”
My friend, when the waters of conviction are stirred in your heart by God the Holy Spirit in an act of mercy, showing your need of Christ and pointing you to Christ, that’s the time to move Godward in repentance and faith. Be sensitive. Be submissive.
Hammering the nail home in verses 8 to 9, he says to not be stubborn like the mule or impetuous like the horse that requires a bit and a bridle to manage them. I think, honestly, we can almost translate this as—when it comes to repentance, when it comes to seeking God’s forgiveness, don’t be horsing around. Don’t be stubborn like the mule. Come broken so that God doesn’t need to further break you in your stubbornness. My friend, seek the Lord while He may be found, and call upon Him while He’s near.
When God is working in your heart, submit to that. When your conscience is alive and smiting you, don’t turn the volume down. Don’t run. Don’t drown it in alcohol. Don’t numb it in activity. Take that moment, bow before the cross, embrace the Savior, and come to know the joy of forgiveness—your sin carried away, your transgression covered, and the debt of your sin nailed to the cross of Jesus.
I like the story of the farmer who was enormously proud of his mule. He bragged to his neighbors, “All you have to do is ask politely, and the animal will do whatever you want.” And his neighbors aren’t having it. They go, “That can’t be true. We’ve all got mules, and we haven’t seen one of those anytime lately.” The guy says, “It’s true. It’s so well behaved. If you ask it nicely, it’ll do whatever you want.”
So a neighbor says, “You got to show me.” So the guy takes him down to his barn, and there is the mule. The guy picks up a two by four, and he smacks the mule over the head. Stunned, the neighbor says, “What are you doing? I thought you said the mule was obedient and would do whatever you asked.” To which the farmer replied, “Yeah, but you’ve got to get its attention first.”
My friend, don’t be stubborn. David got a two by four over the head. God got his attention, and now he’s telling you, saving you the grief and the pain. Don’t have God take a two by four to you. Don’t be like a mule or a horse.
Be sensitive. Be submissive. And, finally, be secure. Because if you will confess your sin, He’s faithful and just to forgive you your sin, cover your transgression, and not impute your iniquity. You can have a restored relationship with God and know that you are now secure in His love. You don’t need to doubt that.
Look at verses 6 and 7 and verse 10 as we wrap up. “For this cause everyone who is godly shall pray to You in a time when You may be found; surely in a flood of great waters they shall not come near him” (vs. 6). Your children will find you a hiding place. You will preserve them from trouble. You will surround them with songs of deliverance (vs. 7). Verse 10: “But he who trusts in the Lord, mercy shall surround him.”
As we close, here’s the thought I think David’s getting at here. Be submissive. Be sensitive. Be secure. Why do we hide? Why do we spend time with unconfessed sin? Often, it’s because we love our sin, but it can also be that we are frightened about what God might do to us if we return. Yet the opposite is true. That kind of fear is unfounded. When you come to God, He’s going to surround you with mercy. Wow, I love that. He’s just going to completely smother you with mercy.
We have a little granddaughter who has my obedience every time I see her. One of the things we love to do—not so much now, but when she was really small—is to just smother her in a blanket and hold her close, with her little face showing. Surround her. That’s the image. Can you imagine? When we go to God in our brokenness, and with our conscience now sensitive, we know His holiness, and we know that He could justly punish us. Yet, to His everlasting praise, we are amazed that He just cuddles us and surrounds us with His mercy. And from that day on, we know nothing will separate us from His love.
We come to realize that we don’t need to run from God. We can run to God because Jesus Christ has assuaged His anger and answered the question of our sin. And God stands ready.
That’s the story His own Son tells of the prodigal who says, “Dad, I want my inheritance. I’m out of here.” He goes off into the far country. Whatever Las Vegas was back then, he went there, and he spent it all. Everybody had a good time at his expense. Then he woke up one morning in a stupor, on a bed, with nothing left in his pocket. His friends had dispersed. And it says that he came to himself. He said, “You idiot. I left a house where I had a loving father and a care and concern.”And he said, “I’m going to go. I’m going to get up and go back to my father.” And he said, “Given what I’ve done, maybe the best I can hope for is that I could be a servant in his house.”
So, he comes to himself, and then he comes to the father. When he comes to the father, he comes clean. “Father, I’ve sinned. I know I’m not worthy to be your son, but I’ll take being your servant.”
And what? “Oh, we’re going to throw a party. Get the fattened calf, invite the neighbors. My son who was lost is found!” In that story, you have this beautiful moment where the father’s on the porch with a longing heart for the prodigal to return. And it says, “He saw him a far off, and he ran towards him.” It doesn’t say the prodigal ran. I think he was walking, and in his mind he’s going, “I don’t know if he’s going to accept me. I don’t know if he’s going to forgive me. I don’t deserve it.” And yet the father runs to him.
Luke is telling us what David is telling us, what Jesus is telling us. Stop running from God. Run towards Him. You’ll find Him running towards you, and He is willing to forgive your sin and cover your transgressions.
How beautiful, how wonderful. That’s the gift of the gospel, and it’s yours. If your heart is black with guilt, it can be white as snow. Father, we thank you for Psalm 32—rich, enriching. Thank you for its message. Lord, as that woman in T. S. Eliot’s story said, “Is ‘atone’ the word?” We know we’ve sinned. We know better. We know we’re accountable. Our conscience tells us so. The role of God in our hearts tells us so.
And we know that sin needs to be atoned for. Lord, help us not to make the mistake where we try to atone for it. Help us to embrace the mercy of the gospel and the beauty of grace where you atoned for it, and you offer us forgiveness in Jesus Christ. What a thought this morning. We can leave feeling as white as snow because we’re in Christ, and His righteousness covers us.
And God doesn’t see us. He sees us in Him and sees Him. And that’s what makes us acceptable. Thank you, Lord. Rolled away, rolled away. The burden of my heart, it rolled away. Every sin had to go ‘neath the crimson flow. Hallelujah. Rolled away, rolled away. The burden of my heart rolled away. Lord, we thank you in Jesus’ name. Amen.