Unsinning Sin

Robert Browning wrote, “The proper process of unsinning sin is to begin well doing.”  Perhaps this is lyrically beautiful, but it is theologically rotten.  It is, however, the natural man’s response to guilt within.  We cannot handle guilt or internalize it very long.  Therefore we seek to erase the past by building over the decay of our sins without ever really doing anything about them.

Psalm 32 has been categorized as a penitential psalm of Israel’s King David.  It is penitential because of its content not format.  The telltale sign is found in a deep sense of guilt on the part of David.  So the enemy is not external but internal.  But the internal struggle finds evidence in outward results as well, namely sickness.  So as we relate with God through prayer and Bible intake, we must keep in mind that access to the throne of God hinges upon acknowledging our need to be forgiven.

Using the pauses built into the psalm by the word Selah, we see the testimony and progress of the power of forgiveness:

  1. “My [David’s] vitality was turned into the drought of summer” (4).
  2. “You forgave the iniquity of my sin” (5).
  3. “You shall surround me with songs of deliverance” (7).

Then finally, let all God’s people rejoice and shout for joy (11).

The Psalm divides neatly into two parts.  The first division is where we learn the process of forgiveness (verses 1-5).  Once we learn, we cannot contain ourselves.  We teach the process of forgiveness to others (verses 6-11).

The Process of Learning Forgiveness

It all begins with confession mentioned in verse 5:  “I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and You forgave the iniquity of my sin.”  Blessed is such a man.  His transgression is forgiven; his sin is covered (1).  The LORD does not impute iniquity upon this man.  He’s come clean as witnessed by the phrase, “In whose spirit there is no deceit” (2).  Our happiness rests in the fact that our sins are forgiven.  Only misery awaits those who cover or hide their sin.  We can speak in terms of salvation and the misery of Hell or in terms of sanctification and the misery of chastisement.

The Apostle Paul quotes these verses in Romans 4:  “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin.’” (Romans 4:5–8)

Thus combining these passages, you have the fact that God will not impute sin to our account and the fact that He will impute righteousness apart from works.  You might want to reread that sentence!  Imagine if you could have complete control over this world and all its resources.  That’s pretty attractive …until you die.  What good will temporal possessions and power do at that point?  A man’s life certainly does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses!  There is a great reversal once we die and come face to face with our Creator.  Many lacking health, wealth, and prosperity will be carried by the angels into the presence of God because they trusted in Christ.  Those who had much of what the world offers are driven to distraction right up to their death bed.  Some will awake in torment (cf. Luke 16).

God will impute His righteousness.  Can anything be more of a blessing than that?  To be forgiven is wonderful; I’m not going to be punished!  But to have the Lord’s righteousness credited to my account – that tells me that I will have a great reward waiting for me in eternity and for all eternity.

The word transgression means willful and deliberate sin.  It is crossing the boundary God set.  The word sin means missing the mark.  Finally, the word iniquity means distortion or crookedness of character.  All three words for sin are used in verses 1-2 in order to indicate that a thorough cleansing of all sin takes place.  Hence, this man is blessed or happy.  But if we won’t come clean, we won’t be forgiven.  Is there deceit in your spirit?  We must see the tendency in each of us to harden ourselves to sin.  Only then will we learn how to have peace even after committing the greatest of transgressions.

Perhaps we can see from verses 3-5 that our struggles come from remaining silent about our sin.  We keep attempting to cover it, when only God can do this.  If we attempt to bury sin, then God’s hand will be heavy upon us (4a).  The physical ramifications are found in bones growing old and vitality turning to drought (4b).  Not all physical illness results from personal sin, but such illness should get us thinking!

All of us must come to verse 5 before we are able to release inner guilt:  “I acknowledge 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” (5).  This is the key.  God covers our sin, iniquity, and transgression or we attempt to cover it.  Proverbs 28.13 states, “He who covers his sin will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.”  Once we personally learn this process, we are able to teach it to others.

The Process of Teaching Forgiveness

The operative words here are, “For this cause” in verse 6.  David is saying, “Look, I’ve gone down the road of trying to cover my sin.  Don’t go there.”  Instead, everyone who is godly prays to the LORD.  They too find the blessedness of forgiveness.  In a flood of great waters, there is only turbulence.  But God is our hiding place!  He keeps us from turbulent trouble and causes us to sing songs of deliverance (7).

The LORD teaches us to not be like a horse that needs a whip to move him or a mule that needs a bridle to pull him.  Both of these animals can be stubborn and have a need to be harnessed.  If you don’t harness them and make them go, they will not move (9).

The wicked are stubborn and hard-headed; the upright are teachable and tender.  Those who trust in the LORD are surrounded by His loyal, faithful love.  You can continue to resist the LORD or yield to Him.  Your life is shaped by whether or not you choose to cover your sin or fly to God so that He might cover it (10).  Once you make the right choice, gladness and rejoicing are yours (11)!

It is important to note that three elements work together in order to have a liberating sense of freedom from guilt:  1) acknowledgement of sin; 2) forsaking sin; and 3) choosing to obey the will of God.  This is important for individuals, families, and especially for our nation.  God cannot and will not bring healing without this taking place on all three levels.

Second, the confession stage has worked best for me verbally.  There is just something about putting a voice to guilt.  I usually try to make sure I’m in a very private place.  However, when I try to confess my sin with my inner voice, there is a sense in which I feel like I’m still hiding something.  Verbally expressing it to God helps me get the shock of it all out there.  Also, I think that accountability to a person that is close helps as well.  The sum is that when we confess our sins, “God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1.9).

Finally, allow me to offer a word of caution.  It is a mistake to associate all sickness with personal sin.  There are other causes when it comes to illness.  Also specific sin does not result in specific illness, and healing will not necessarily come once you identify sin in your life.

Psalm 32 is wonderful because it offers liberation from guilt and sin.  And since that is true we rejoice in the LORD always.  Borrowing Browning’s phraseology:  “The proper process of unsinning sin is to begin confessing.”

The Pursuit of Purity in Christ

If we keep the biblical teaching of separation in the classroom, few within Fundamentalism would question its importance.  As it relates to the fundamentals, all would be in agreement.  However, what many seem to fail to understand is that separation must be applied to practice.  Applying separation in practice to people, churches, colleges, etc. takes biblical discernment.  Especially when separating from a disobedient brother or sister in Christ.

Disobedient Christians are believers who practice willful disobedience; however, they also tend to be self-deceived or purposefully deceptive.  We should truly sharpen one another.  A Christian should not have fellowship with anyone called a brother who enjoys and persists in the unfruitful works of darkness (Ephesians 5.11).  A church should have the authority to discipline members who refuse to forsake some form of false teaching or unscriptural practice (Matthew 18.15-17; 1 Corinthians 5.1-13).

Restoration is always the aim of biblical separation in local churches.  But leaven must be purged from the church.  Whatever happened to church discipline and the purification of the church?  Should we seek to cleanse our local assemblies from sin?  It is important to separate from willfully disobedient believers in order to preserve our testimony as a people of God (1 Peter 2.12), prevent the disobedient from influencing others to do wrong (Galatians 5.9), exemplify obedience and encourage others toward that direction (1 Timothy 5.20), and to bring about repentance in the disobedient (2 Timothy 2.25).

We should be firm but loving.  Separation is not the answer to every disagreement we have, but there comes a time when it is necessary.  I think most conservative Christians would readily absorb these words and take them to heart.

But what do you with the controversial areas of practice.  Still further, what do you do when the Bible offers no explicit instruction regarding what we should do in a particular area of life?  I’ve been taught that you look for principles in order to apply them to that specific area.  After all, a Christian that has to have a handbook rule in order to make decisions about how to live is not much of a Christian.  He is a legalist of sorts.  He must have it explicitly written down as a rule in order to make decisions regarding particulars.  Is that not truly legalism?

Issues like should we drink alcohol, what music should we listen to, and what movies should we watch behave like this.  There are no explicit instructions, but there are principles mature believers are able to use from the Word of God.  We must leave the milk for the meat.  Obedience to basic teaching of right and wrong along with obeying that which is explicitly stated are good things, but the Bible is sufficient to answer questions regarding alcohol, music, and movies too.

Hopefully we would not conclude that the Bible is silent in these areas because we are afraid to admit that we are living lives contrary to its teaching.  That’s where deception comes into play.  Hopefully we realize that all of us our inconsistent to one degree or another in the progress of our sanctification.  But that inconsistency should not deter us from pressing on or being challenged to make changes for the glory of Christ.

As believers we are saved from a world system at enmity with God.  It is energized by the prince and power of the air.  We need to figure out what this means.  We must be distinct and holy or we have no firm footing from which we lift the next generation up to greater heights.

How Great is the LORD’s Goodness!

“Oh, how great is Your goodness, which You have laid up for those who fear You, which You have prepared for those who trust in You in the presence of the sons of men! You shall hide them in the secret place of Your presence from the plots of man; You shall keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues.” (Psalm 31:19–20)  

Godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come (1 Timothy 4.8). God saved us for the life to come but also for life which now is.  We often forget that. We forget especially when our sin drives us into the dirt.

Psalm 31 teaches us that we ought to plead for mercy when in trouble. We ought to tell the LORD when we are overwhelmed by grief  …when our lives have seemed to succumb to it.  But our strength fails due to our iniquity.  Grief over sin takes a terrible toll.  It’s good for us to remember that God’s strength never fails due to His compassion and mercy toward us (see 31.10).

There is no denying the fact that David’s struggles drove him to the LORD over and over again. He lived in the presence of God.  David didn’t read his Bible in the morning to forget about God the rest of the day.  He expressed himself plainly yet reverently to the LORD.  He learned the hard way so that we might follow in his steps — avoiding his negative example and emulating his positive example.

Our text begins with a glorious pronouncement concerning David’s attitude toward God:  How great is the goodness of the LORD to those who fear and believe!  There are three aspects which define God’s goodness in our text:

Preserved Goodness

Preserved in the sense that it is laid up for those who fear God.  It is held in store when needed.  Isaiah wrote, “Since the beginning of the world men have not heard nor perceived by the ear, nor has the eye seen any God besides You, who acts for the one who waits for Him” (Isa 64.4). Paul quotes this passage and adds, “But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit” (1 Cor 2.10a).

The goodness of God has always been present for those who fear and believe.  This goodness has been unveiled in the Person and work of Christ in a way that would have been difficult for OT believers to comprehend. But even we cannot comprehend the goodness of God laid up or preserved for us.  We are staggered by it every day if we live close to Him. We take it for granted if we strike out on our own path. But His incomprehensible goodness is there.  We dig and unearth the treasure of His goodness daily as we fear and trust.

These treasures are the unsearchable riches of Christ (Eph 3.8). We pray that we may be able to comprehend together what is the width, length, depth, and height of these riches. We pray that we might know the love of Christ which surpasses mere knowledge …that we might be filled with all the fullness of God stored up for us in His goodness (Eph 3.18-19).

The goodness of God cannot be exhausted. The more we meditate on His goodness, the more content we are. We cannot but marvel and cry out with David: “Oh, how great is Your goodness, which You have laid up for those who fear you …for those who trust in You!”

So, the first aspect of God’s goodness is that it is preserved for us.

Prepared Goodness

The goodness of God is prepared for those who trust in the LORD.  God has prepared His goodness for us in the presence of the sons of men – in the sight of all men.  God’s desire is that all men see His goodness working in and through us as His children.  This is replete throughout the Bible.

The Angel sent from God kept Israel in the way to bring them to the Promised Land God prepared (Ex 23.20).  David prepared for the building of the Temple for God, but God prepared David to fight for the land and the holy city.  He prepared Solomon to build the Temple (see 1 Kings; 2 Chronicles).  God prepared a gallows for Haman even though Haman prepared it for Mordecai (Esther 7.9).

God has prepared His throne for judgment (Ps 9.7), but His goodness for those who trust in Him (31.19).  Our God visits the earth and waters it.  He greatly enriches it.  This is prepared goodness from Him (Ps 65.8-9).  He prepares the light and the sun for us (74.15).  When God prepared the heavens, wisdom was there (Prov 8.27).  But judgment is prepared for those who scoff at His Word (19.29).  God prepared a great fish and a plant as unexpected ensigns of His goodness for Jonah (Jonah 2.17; 4.6).  Jonah was not too grateful for the fish; although, he should have been.  Jonah was very grateful for the plant until God prepared a worm to damage it and a vehement east wind to blow it away.  This simply means God defines His goodness; we don’t.  The goodness of the LORD may seem strange to us at times.  But God always prepares what is good for us.

Future positions of honor on the right and left hands of the Lord Jesus Christ are prepared by the Father (Mt 20.23).  The kingdom of God is prepared for us; it has been from the foundation of the world (Mt 25.34).  But He has also prepared everlasting fire for the devil and his angels (Mt. 25.41).  The salvation of God through His Messiah is prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of His people Israel (Luke 2.30-32).

Indeed we cannot comprehend the things which God has prepared for those who love Him (1 Cor 2.10).  God has prepared us for immortality (2 Cor 5.5).  We are the workmanship of God, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God also prepared beforehand that we should walk in them (Eph 2.10).  As vessels of honor, we are sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work (1 Tim 2.21).

God prepared an ark of salvation for Noah (Heb 11.7) and a continuing city in a heavenly country for those of us who are strangers and pilgrims among the sons of men (Heb 11.16).  Revelation tells the story of judgment prepared for the world which rejected God.  But ends with New Jerusalem prepared as a bride adorned for her husband (Rev 21.2).

God’s unfolds His goodness in the sight of the sons of men.  Indeed, He is our rock of refuge and fortress of defense to save us (Ps 31.2) for His name’s sake.  The character and work of God always prevails.  God is always good.  He demonstrates this by preparing us to be lights in a dark world, salt in a decaying society, and His own epistles of Christ, known and read by all men.

The goodness of God is both preserved and prepared for those who fear and trust.

 Protective Goodness

The hymn writer penned these magnificent words:

O worship the King

All glorious above;

O gratefully sing

His power and his love:

Our Shield and Defender,

The Ancient of days,

Pavilioned in splendour,

And girded with praise.

God shall keep us secretly in a pavilion of splendor and free from the strife of tongues.  The protective goodness of God is specific here.  We are kept specifically from the strife of ungodly attacks through the tongue.  Some of the most painful things we endure come from the lips of those who try to bury us with their words.

Human nature finds it highly gratifying to circulate gossip about others.  It really is evidence of our sin-sickened souls.  Proud words promoting strife or division lead to all kinds of pain.  The tongue kindles a great sweeping fire.  It is a world of iniquity that never seems to be extinguished.  It sets on fire the course of nature (a difficult phrase that seems to mean human existence from beginning to end and in all circumstances) and finds the source for its flame in Hell.

The snares people lay for us are varied and God delivers us from them all.  Sometimes it’s a well-honed comment from a fiery tongue to get people to think a certain way about you.  Sometimes it is a purposeful plodding with the tongue to ruin your reputation – one deceptive comment at a time.  The net encircles you and you didn’t even know it was being drawn.  The LORD pulls us out; He is our strength (4).  He protects and pavilions us.

The wounds caused by words are some of the most grievous things we experience from friend and foe alike.  We also tend to dish it out as well.  We need to be kept secretly in the pavilion of God’s presence – not only to protect us but to deter us from being instruments of destruction ourselves.

Fear God and trust Him.  Fear His very near judgment.  Rely upon His always present mercy.  Experience how great His goodness truly is.  Don’t turn to useless idols.  Those who regard useless idols forsake their own allotment of mercy (Jonah 2.8).  David hated those who did so.  He trusted in the LORD (6).  David did not forsake the LORD’s mercy but was glad and rejoiced in the mercy of the LORD (7).  He did so because the LORD considered his trouble.  It overwhelmed him and pointed out just how weak He was and just how wonderful God always is.