1 Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. 2 Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. 3 When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. 5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin. 6 Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to you while you may be found; surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach him. 7 You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance. 8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you. 9 Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you. 10 Many are the woes of the wicked, but the LORD’s unfailing love surrounds the man who trusts in Him. 11 Rejoice in the LORD and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart!
As I mentioned in the bulletin this morning, one of the first steps in grasping the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to understand our greatest need.
If we don’t recognise that we have offended a Holy God by our sin, we will see no need for a Saviour. During the last couple of weeks, we’ve been looking at the depravity of the human heart, and just how far we have fallen from the original plan that God had for our lives. John Newton, in his most famous hymn, understood that the amazing grace of God saved a “wretch like me.” The Holy Spirit of God needs to penetrate our very hearts, convicting us of the enormity of our sin, and how desperately we need to be saved from the eternal damnation we deserve.
In order to repent of our sin, we need to first understand that we have sin that needs to be repented of! It is the first step of living a new life in Christ: seeing the futility of the old life and where it is leading us to.
One of the great stumbling blocks for so many Christians though, is that they are so filled with remorse at their sin, that they find it very hard, if not impossible, to move on from that point. Even though Jesus’ death on the cross frees us from the condemnation of our sin, many continue to bear the awful burden of the guilt and condemnation of their past sins. In John 10:10 Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
That is a wonderful promise, and we’d all want to live such a life, but it’s very hard to live the full, abundant life God offers us when we are wracked with guilt and regrets about the lives we lived before coming to Christ.
One of the best Biblical examples of a life transformed by the absolute assurance of forgiveness is King David.
2 Samuel 11 goes into detail about David’s terrible sin. He abused his power as king by taking Bathsheba, a married woman, as his mistress. When she fell pregnant he devised a plan to try and cover it up by recalling her husband Uriah, who happened to be one of his soldiers, home from the front. He made a big fuss of Uriah, gave him a gift and granted him special leave, encouraging him to go home and spend time with his wife, hoping that Uriah would be fooled into thinking that he was the father of Bathsheba’s child. But Uriah was a far more honourable man than David. He stayed at the palace with David’s servants that night. When David asked him the next morning why he didn’t go home, Uriah replied that his comrades in arms were fighting a war, so how could he with a clear conscience, enjoy special leave at home while his fellow soldiers were risking their lives. This left David with a problem, so that night he got Uriah drunk and tried the same trick, but again Uriah stayed away from home.
So what does David do? He sent him back to the battle and ordered Uriah’s superior officer to make sure he was sent right to the front line in the most dangerous position, and then to withdraw, leaving Uriah alone and exposed with no support. Of course, Uriah was killed in battle, so for David, his problem was solved.
2 Samuel 11:26-27 says, “When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. After the time of mourning was over, David had her brought to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son.” Sorted. Uriah was out of the way, and David got what he wanted.
That’s not the whole of verse 27 though. It continues, “But the thing David had done displeased the LORD.”
Chapter 12 records for us how God used the prophet Nathan to confront David with his sin. David was cut to the heart as he realised the depth of his sin. He was filled with remorse, and his prayer of confession is found in Psalm 51.
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place. Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” (Psalm 51:1-7)
There is a lot of remorse and regret in that psalm as David pours his heart out before the Lord, seeking and begging for his forgiveness. We can learn so much from David’s example here. As we are confronted with the enormity of our sin and we come to terms with how our evil hearts have offended a Holy God, we need to turn to Him with our brokenness and our regrets, seeking the forgiveness He offers us through Christ.
The problem is though, that many Christians remain there. They cannot move on from the guilt and remorse of who they have become and how their sin has destroyed them.
Don’t be confused by the numbering of the psalms. Psalm 32 was written after Psalm 51. We need to learn that it is possible, with God’s help, to move from the remorse of Psalm 51 to the joy of Psalm 32.
We can live with joy, knowing that our sins have been forgiven. As David wrote in the opening 2 verses, “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.”
Psalm 51 records David’s repentance and his promise to teach sinners the way of the Lord. In Psalm 32 David is keeping his promise. He writes of the joy of being back in fellowship with God.
A young boy and his mother had been out shopping, and throughout the day the little boy misbehaved terribly. He made a scene when he didn’t get what he wanted, and was just being a little brat. As they were driving home, he could sense his mother’s anger. He asked her, “When we ask God to forgive us when we are bad, He does, doesn’t He?” His mother replied, “Yes, He does.” The boy continued, “And when He forgives us, He buries our sins in the deepest sea, doesn’t He?” His mom replied, “Yes, that’s what the Bible says.” The boy was silent for a while and then said, “I've asked God to forgive me, but I bet when we get home, you’re going to go fishing for those sins, aren’t you?”
Too often, we go fishing for our sins and the sins of others that God has already buried.
John Newton was right when he called God’s grace amazing, because he realised how great his offence was against God, but he also learned that the grace of God is far greater than the depth of the depravity of our sin.
David begins the psalm with a declaration of blessedness on those who have been forgiven. When we are absolved of our guilt, we experience the favour and grace of God instead. This is the blessing of being in a right relationship with God through Christ. David speaks of his sin as being “covered.” Covering is one image often used in Scripture for salvation. God’s first act of grace after the fall, for example, was to provide clothes to cover the shame of Adam and Eve.
You’ll remember from a couple of weeks ago we considered the Biblical concept of imputation. To impute means to declare, or to count, something to someone’s account. On the old covenant Day of Atonement, the high priest would lay his hands on the scapegoat as a way to impute, or place the sin of the people on the animal so that it would no longer be on them. We are justified by Jesus in that, by faith alone, our sins are imputed to Him for judgment at Calvary. His righteousness is then imputed to us. This is what Psalm 32:2 means. “Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him.”
We are in a right relationship with God only if the perfect obedience of Christ is put on our record, or imputed to us. As this happens, God no longer counts our sin against us. A foundational truth of the Gospel is that we are blessed if we have turned from our sin and have sought forgiveness in Jesus. If you have repented, you have been set free by the Spirit, and that is good news. You truly can experience the joy of knowing the forgiveness of God.
In verses 3 and 4 of Psalm 32, David recalls the conviction he once felt under the sheer weight of his sin. “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.”
Just before Jesus went to the cross, He spoke to His disciples about the promise of His Spirit, whom He would send to be with them after He returned to Heaven. That same promise applies to each of us too, and He tells them in John 16:8-11, “When He comes, He will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.” The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin. In other words, He reveals to us the things in our lives which no longer bother us because we’ve been desensitised to our sin. Have you ever found yourself caught up in a sin which at one time in your life was no big deal to you, but now it bothers you and cuts to your heart?
That is the conviction of the Spirit at work in your life. It is the process of sanctification which will continue for the rest of your life.
There is an important distinction we need to make at this point. We have to understand the clear difference between conviction of sin and condemnation of sin. The Spirit convicts us of our sin, prompting us to confession and repentance. Conviction of sin is a healthy thing, and it is a sign of spiritual growth. Condemnation for our sin is an entirely different matter. Condemnation is the burden that so many Christians struggle with. In John’s vision in Revelation he says, “I heard a loud voice in heaven say: ‘Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of His Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.’” (Revelation 12:10) The accuser, the one who brings condemnation, is satan. It is satan who condemns, not God. Jesus took the condemnation on the cross in your place. Romans 8:1 tells us that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Yes of course, we must learn from our sin and our past mistakes. Like you, I have made some dreadful decisions in my life, which I would change in a heartbeat if it were possible. We all have regrets, but when we allow ourselves to be haunted by those bad choices and still feel the condemnation of them, we have bought into the lies of satan. “God can never forgive me for that.” That is a lie straight from the depths of hell itself, because it directly opposes the Truth of the Word of God. If you think that God could never forgive you for “that sin”, in essence what you’re saying is that the blood of Christ is not enough and is powerless to save you. If you believe that lie, you will find it extremely hard to move from Psalm 51 to Psalm 32.
The next step in this process of attaining to Christlikeness in our lives is to acknowledge and confess our sin. David says in verse 5, “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and you forgave the guilt of my sin.”
God does forgive sin, and He forgives it completely. If you are stuck in Psalm 51 so to speak, and cannot bring yourself to move on to the joy that David speaks about in Psalm 32, then you need to know that God keeps His promises. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Take a highlighter pen and mark that verse in your Bible. And read it often. Write it in large print and stick it on your fridge and the dashboard of your car if necessary, but whatever you do, allow the truth of those words to penetrate your heart.
One of the greatest joys of living the new life in Christ is being absolutely crystal clear in our minds that we have the assurance of forgiveness.
Fanny Crosby, in one of the great hymns of the faith, wrote, “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine. O, what a foretaste of glory divine. Heir of salvation, purchase of God, born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.” There is the Gospel in just one verse. We are heirs of Christ because God has redeemed us by His blood. We have been purified from all unrighteousness, we have the promise of glory with God for all of eternity, and we are blessed to have that assurance. And we have that assurance because we belong to God through Christ. If you have confessed your sin and turned to Jesus in repentance, if you have confessed with your own mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord, then you can say with absolute certainty, “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!”
David continues in Psalm 32, “Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to you while you may be found; surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach him. You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.” (6-7)
“Everyone who is godly” means those who belong to God through Christ – Christians. You do have a hiding place in Him. He is your refuge against all of the evil in this world. He is the one who protects you in your daily struggle with your sinful nature.
Of course, as we all know, we often venture out from that protection. We do go astray, and we do it on a daily basis. That is in our nature as sinners, but then we must return to Him daily as well. Remember that God’s grace is sufficient for you. Each time you find yourself like the prodigal son, in a distant country, far away from the protection of your Heavenly Father, and you come to your senses and decide to return, you will find the Father running down the road to meet you and welcome you home. Our sin will always be an abomination to Him. God’s holiness demands a perfect hatred of sin, but remember that your sin is the reason that Jesus died. He paid the price so that you don’t have to.
The last 2 verses of Psalm 32 remind us of the joy we have in knowing the forgiveness of God. “The LORD’s unfailing love surrounds the man who trusts in Him. Rejoice in the LORD and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart!”
Who are the righteous? Who are the upright in heart? Christians. Those who are in Christ and have been redeemed, purchased by the blood of Jesus.
Sin does rob us of the joy of our salvation. As a child of God, satan stands opposed to you as your accuser, and he will continue to try and break you down, trying to convince you that you’re not good enough for God and that there are some things in your past that God cannot and will not forgive.
Living under that burden can and does bring a lot of heartache into the life of a Christian. Again, if that is where you are right now, remember the promises of 1 John 1:9. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
Repentance brings us back into right fellowship with God, and we can know that we have truly repented when by the power of His Spirit we have a changed mind, a changed heart and a changed life.
If you are a Bible-believing Christian, you are blessed with forgiveness, and this gives you great joy, all and only because of the finished work on the Cross of Calvary by Jesus Christ, the One who gave His life for you.
Homegroup Study Notes
Compare and discuss some of the differences between Psalm 51:1-12 and Psalm 32*
King David was filled with remorse when confronted by his sin with Bathsheba. Psalm 51 is his prayer of confession, while Psalm 32 records the joy he experienced when he was assured of God’s forgiveness.
Read 1 John 1:9
This verse leaves very little open to interpretation, yet there are many believers who find it hard to accept that when God forgives, He forgives completely.
Why do you think so many Christians struggle with guilt from their past sins?
What are some of your struggles in this area?
Discuss the Biblical differences between conviction of sin and condemnation of sin.
(See Revelation 12:10 and Romans 8:1)
Why is it so important for Christians to move from Psalm 51 to Psalm 32 (from remorse to joy)?
*Most Biblical scholars agree that Psalm 32 was written after Psalm 51.