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:
- “My [David’s] vitality was turned into the drought of summer” (4).
- “You forgave the iniquity of my sin” (5).
- “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.”