The Fruit of Forgiveness

Psalm 32

 

In this award winning 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. He eventually leaves the church and heads to a mission post located above the waterfalls in a South American jungle. 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. He feels compelled to drag this sack of sin around with him as a way to do penance for what he has done.
As you watch this clip you’ll see him slip under the burden of his past, with the rope choking the very life out of him. He feels terrible 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 sin or transgressions in the past. Others of you are gasping under the guilt of things you did several years ago. What do you do when you realize that you’ve messed up? 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 rope and hitch it up to your sin pile and start dragging? Or, is there something better?
Before we look at Psalm 32 this morning, let me list a few things that guilt does to us (these insights are from a sermon by Jeff Seaman, as found on sermoncentral.com).
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. 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.” Is guilt destroying your confidence today?
2. Guilt damages our relationships. When we live with unconfessed sin we can 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? Someone 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?
While many of us wrestle with false guilt, too few of us take our real guilt seriously. Instead of confessing our sins, we often bury them or just try to ignore them. The Bible calls us back to the truth that we are sinners who have missed the mark of God’s perfection. Our own death warrants have been written into our birth certificates. In short, we struggle with guilt because we’re guilty. Ecc.7:20: “There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.”

Let’s look at Psalm 32. The great theologian Augustine said that the beginning of knowledge is to know oneself to be a sinner. In order to be reminded of his depraved sinfulness and God’s gracious forgiveness, he 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 sick, he instructed others to recite it for him.

Before we jump into the text, let’s focus on 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. When David speaks, he does so as a sinner who has been forgiven. The particular sin that David refers to is not important because there are plenty to choose from. 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.
If you look at the very beginning of Psalm 32, right before verse 1, you’ll see the phrase, “A maskil.” This was a literary or musical term to indicate that the words to follow are very important. In other words, this is a “preaching psalm” given to us so that we can learn from the experiences of another. David wants us to pay particular attention to this inspired instruction so that we’ll understand and embrace our need for forgiveness. This is likely one of the psalms that Paul had in mind in Colossians 3:16: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms…”
With that in mind, let’s see what we can learn about the fruit of forgiveness as we follow this simple outline:
1. The happiness of forgiveness (1-2)
2. The heaviness of sin (3-5)
3. 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 to the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.”
This is the second Psalm that begins with the word “blessed.” The first use is found in Psalm 1:1: “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.” We are to be congratulated when we avoid sin and refuse to follow those who are a bad influence in our life. We are blessed when we do right and yet when we do sin and mess up and have our sins forgiven, Psalm 32 says we are blessed as well. This is cool. It’s much better to avoid sin and experience the blessings that come from making right choices. But when we blow it, we can still be called blessed if we ask for forgiveness.
David provides a threefold description of sin in these first two verses. Charles Spurgeon calls this the three-headed dog barking at the gates of hell. “Transgression” depicts a defiant disobedience toward God, a revolt against the Almighty. “Sin” means to miss the mark of God’s perfection either through acts of commission or omission. The word translated “sin” in verse 2 is actually the word “iniquity,” which represents a crookedness, deformity, or perversion. The image is of a tree that is gnarled and twisted.
The point of using these three different words is to remind 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. But no matter what we’ve done, we can be restored.
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. Instead of trying to tug them along with us, we allow the Lord to lift them 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 covered that they will never appear again.
The third phrase, “not count against” is rich in meaning. We get the words “reckon” or “impute” from this term. 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 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 His.
No wonder David refers to the blessingnesses of forgiven transgressions, the covering of sins, and the erasing of our iniquities. Isaiah 1:18: “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” And, according to Isaiah 43:25, when God forgives, He no longer remembers our sins: “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.”
That reminds me of the man who was telling his friend about an argument he had with his wife. “Every time we have an argument she gets historical.” The friend corrected him and said, “You mean hysterical, don’t you?” “No, I mean historical. Every time we fight she drags up stuff from the past and holds it against me!” God will not get “historical” with you if you have confessed your sins to Him. Psalm 103:12: “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” I love Micah 7:19: “You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”
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 holiness, but our 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. Far too many of us are dishonest about our sins.
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 Holy 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 3-5.

The Heaviness of Sin
Look at verse 3: “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.” David is reflecting upon those times when he chose to keep quiet about his sins. 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. Job used this word in Job 3:24 to describe his agony: “For sighing comes to me instead of food; my groans pour out like water.” 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. Proverbs 28:13: “He who conceals his sins does not prosper.”
We could put it this way: we are only as sick as our secrets. When you hide your sins you will be unhealthy and when you share your secret with God and with someone else, you’ll stop feeling sick. 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.
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. Listen to how he described this time in his life from Psalm 38:2-8: “For your arrows have pierced me, and your hand has come down upon me…my bones have no soundness because of my sin. My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear. My wounds fester and are loathsome because of my sinful folly…I am feeble and utterly crushed; I groan in anguish of heart.” Guilt is really a divine implant graciously designed to bring the sinner back to God.
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. Ulcers, high blood pressure, migraine headaches, and lower back pain can come from concealing our sins. Karl Menninger, the famed psychiatrist, once said that if he could convince the patients in psychiatric hospitals that their sins were forgiven, 75% of them could walk out the next day!
David is suggesting here in verse 4 that you could be dry spiritually because of some specific disobedience in your life. After describing his spiritual drought and distress, David 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. David doesn’t want us to miss the point. Only confession will bring restoration. [Pause]
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.
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, BROHTER! 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’.” What sin shuts you up this morning? 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.
Verse 5 gives us the right approach. When David could find relief in no other way, he said, “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.” Instead of concealing, David is now confessing. He first acknowledged his sin by stating the obvious. Then he stopped trying to cover it up. By the way, we can’t expect God to cover what we’re not willing to uncover.
Finally, he confessed to the Lord. 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 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. 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. 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 begin using biblical terms. 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.”
The smug soul that comes before God and says that sin is no big deal can never know the living God. 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 to you 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. It’s only when we stop being quiet about our specific sins, when we refuse to hide our transgressions and admit to God what we can barely admit to ourselves, that we will experience the fruit of forgiveness. 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, confess! When you recognize your sin and reject it, God will remove it: “And you forgave the guilt 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 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.

The Help of God
After talking 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. That doesn’t mean those who are perfect but those who are “inclined” to be godly. It’s not someone who is holy, but refers to the person who belongs to a holy God. There’s a sense of urgency attached to this call to prayer. Pray now while you can. When we seek Him he will protect us from the deluge of mighty waters. Verse 7 says that He will keep us from trouble and surround us with songs of deliverance. 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. Whenever we confess our sins and find forgiveness, we will want to seek shelter under His wings.
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 and stupid when it comes to following God: “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.” By nature, most of us are wild and unwilling to obey. When David acted like a mule, God put the bridle of suffering on him and pulled him 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 will see our need and come back to 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: “Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart!” The word, “rejoice” means to “spin around with glee.” And the phrase “be glad” literally means, “to brighten up!” When we have our sins forgiven we can’t help but break out into spontaneous expressions of joy. David put it this way in Psalm 92:4: “You thrill me, Lord, with all you have done for me! I sing for joy because of what you have done.”
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 happy and stop living with so much distress, then learn to confess!
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’re free! Some of you have asked for forgiveness but you’re still pulling a suitcase 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 today? If you’ve confessed and repented, God has forgiven you. Can you forgive yourself? You see, the only way for God to glorify His name and make people happy is not just to overlook sins but also to change sinners. God not only covers our sins, He makes us into new people. 2
Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”

 

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