Editors note: This is a brand new series on the Gospel designed to help our readers think through what the Gospel is and what it demands.
Psalm 32 is often classified by scholars as a thanksgiving hymn, one in which worshipers give thanks to God for the joy of having their sins forgiven. Due to the phrase “when I kept silent” found in verse 3, it has been common to connect this Psalm to Psalm 51, but as there is no clear indication of this from either the title of the Psalm or its content, it is better to take this psalm as speaking generally to the experience of confession and forgiveness. Thus, Psalm 32 can be also classified as a “penitential psalm” in the same vein as Psalms 6, 38, 51, 130, and 143.
Confession, Repentance, and Forgiveness
The opening two verses of Psalm 32 provide the overall theme, answering the question “Who is truly happy (or blessed)?” Verses 3-5 recount a personal experience of the Psalmist that supports the underlying theme. The terms “transgressions,” “forgive,” “sin,” and “iniquity” all echo Exodus 34:6-7, notably the fundamental expression of God’s kindness and mercy toward those who receive His covenant. No one needs to compel God to show mercy; rather, the faithful confess their sins because they believe He is merciful. Several words occur in a mirror pattern, which bind these first five verses together, specifically the words forgiven, covered, cover, and forgave. There is a contrast in the kind of cover, most notably the fact that when God covers sin, He graciously blots it out (Psalm 85:2). Conversely, when man covers his sin, he is sinfully hiding it (Proverbs 28:13).
Furthermore, transgression, sin, and iniquity as revealed in Psalm 32:1-2 are three key words for sin found in the Old Testament. These terms are viewed respectively as rebellion, failure and perversion. Psalm 32:3-5 supports the underlying theme that only the forgiven are truly happy. The Psalmist declares a time of silence about his sin, stating he refused to confess his sin to God in order to receive forgiveness. The lost vitality outlined in vv.3-4 is really a point of God showing mercy, the hand of God moving upon His faithful to help them come to the point of confessing. Having come to that point, the Psalmist wisely acknowledges his sin and God forgives his the iniquity. This brings the psalm back to v.1 with the implication that the Psalmist has now fully learned the blessedness of being forgiven. The Psalmist references in v.5 the key terms used to describe sin in vs.1-2, using them at this point in the Psalm in the context of personal confession. In verse 6, the concluding part of this section of Psalm 32, the Psalmist instructs the reader on the reality that every person who knows the grace of God should not presume upon that grace by putting off confession of their sin.
The opening words of Psalm 32:6-11, reveal a lesson for everyone who is godly, namely, to offer prayer of confession at a time when God may be found, thus noting the need to reject foolishness delays when it comes to confession of sin (Psalm 32:9). The godly are not expected to be sinless; rather, they are to believe God’s promises and confess their sins (v.11). Verses 6-7 are addressed to God, whom the faithful find to be a hiding place with verses 8-11 being addressed to fellow worshipers, urging them to accept this instruction about ready confession and to be glad in the Lord who shows such goodness to His people.
At the heart of Psalm 32 is the act of confession of sin. Not only does the psalmist confess his sins to God (Psalm 32:5), he also makes a public confession within the hearing of the worshiping congregation. It is the opening of his heart to God that ultimately works forgiveness and restoration (Psalm 32:5, 7). What must also be noted is an important dynamic at work in his constant movement from God to the worshiping community. For the Psalmist to make a public confession in this manner is both instructive to the community and supportive of him as an individual, something revealed in how the community surrounds him in song.
Public confession remains an uncomfortable and therefore infrequent experience, especially for modern Protestant Christians. Particularly in North America two elements collide to inhibit our willingness to admit our faults among fellow Christians. First, the fierce independent streak that characterizes much of our society leads to many being consumed with a concern for personal privacy.
This desire and even overt demand for personal privacy is closely linked to the sense of radical tolerance that permeates the current societal milieu. What is good for you is okay with me as long as you demonstrate the same tolerance for what I consider good for myself. Such a dynamic of misplaced privacy makes us increasingly unwilling to divulge our most private issues and concern to others. This makes it uncomfortable to intrude into the inner privacy of others. The result is often rather superficial relationships with others in which only the most obvious elements of our lives are shared.
The second element that stands in the way of public confession is the sense of perfectionism that pervades much of Western Protestantism. Our desire to be completely independent leads us to assume that we ought to be perfectly able to accomplish our goals, fulfill our needs, and reach our dreams with no assistance. We should have the self-discipline to overcome our shortcomings and lead full and satisfying lives. All too often, however, our lives are marked by failure, dissatisfaction, lack of self-control, and an erosion of confidence in our abilities to meet our own needs or those of the ones we love.
Our obvious, at least to ourselves failure to live up to the “should” and “oughts” of life, instead of leading most of us to confess our weakness and needs, instead cause many of us to hide our failings behind a façade of apparent success, happiness, and control. Twelve-step groups are full of people who follow their sense of powerlessness and fear of being discovered in a variety of destructive behaviors ranging from alcoholism, drug addiction, sexual compulsion, eating disorders, to gambling addiction, just to name a few.
Those of us who make our home within the church have fared little better. The allure of independence and perfection have prevented many a struggling Christian from admitting their fears, failures, and helplessness until the crisis blossoms to the point that it can no longer be denied resulting in the utmost devastation for all those concerned.
Those who have passed through this dark and painful tunnel and emerged on the other side forgiven and restored to their faith in God, almost unanimously speak of having learned the value of confession and accountability within a supportive community of loving, caring fellow strugglers in life. Having a community of faith willing to hear your wrongs as a fellow sinner rather than acting as judges, willing to share from their own less than perfect struggles the experience, strength, and hope they have gained from relying on God’s power, has helped many break through years of helplessness to a place of freedom from a lifetime of compulsive behaviors.
Psalm 32:5 declares, “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD, and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” God bore the guilt of the Psalmist’s sin himself. It was lifted up and born away by the hand of God, a very New Testament concept deeply rooted in the Old Testament consciousness of the Psalmist. John says it in similar words in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. “ Confession to God and another human being, freely given and freely received, is an important step from the bondage of sin, bondage that gains immeasurable strength from our fear and hiding.
The great Puritan author Thomas Watson once said there are six ingredients for true repentance. The first is sight of sin, whereby a person comes to himself (Luke 15:17) and clearly views his lifestyle as sinful. If we fail to see our own sin, we are rarely ever motivated to repent. The second ingredient for true repentance is sorrow for sin (Psalm 38:18). We need to feel the nails of the cross in our soul as we sin. Repentance includes both godly grief and holy agony (2 Corinthians 7:10). The fruit of repentance is revealed in genuine, anguishing sorrow over the offense itself, not just the consequences of it. Sorrow for sin is seen in the ongoing righteous actions it produces. True repentance lingers in the soul and not just on the lips.
The third ingredient is confession of sin. The humble sinner voluntarily passes judgment on himself as he sincerely admits to the specific sins of his heart. We must not relent of our confession until all of it is freely and fully admitted. We must pluck up any hidden root of sin within us. “Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit” (Deuteronomy 28:19).
At least seven benefits of confession are found in Scripture:
1) Confession of sin gives God glory.
2) Confession of sin is a means to humble the soul.
3) Confession of sin gives release to a trouble heart.
4) Confession of sin purges our sin. Augustine called it “the expeller of vice.”
5) Confession of sin endears Christ to the soul that needs atoning.
6) Confession of sin makes way for forgiveness.
7) Confession of sin makes way for mercy.
The fourth ingredient for true repentance is shame for sin. The color of repentance is blushing red. Repentance causes a holy bashfulness. Ezra 9:6 says, “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens”. The repenting prodigal was so ashamed of his sin that he did not feel he deserved to be a son anymore (Luke 15:21). Sin makes us shamefully naked and deformed in God’s eyes and puts Christ to shame, the One who took the scorn of the cross on Himself.
The fifth ingredient in repentance is hatred of sin. We must hate our sin to the core. We hate sin more deeply when we love Jesus more fully. Repentance begins in the love of God and ends in the hatred of sin. True repentance loathes sin.
Finally, the sixth ingredient of repentance is the turning away from sin and returning to the Lord with all your heart (Joel 2:12). This turning from sin implies a notable change, “performing deeds in keeping with their repentance” (Acts 26:20). “Thus says the Lord God: Repent and turn away from your idols and turn away your faces from all your abominations” (Ezekiel 14:6). We are called to turn away from all our abominations, not just the obvious ones or the ones that create friction in others. The goal of repentance is not to manufacture peace among others with perfunctory repentance, but rather to turn to God wholly and completely. This repentance most importantly is not just a turning away from sin. It also necessarily involves a turning in “repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). Here is the joy that is found in repentance. “It is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance” (Romans 2:4). We rejoice that Christ has done so much for us and continues to do for us.
Editors note: This is a brand new series on the Gospel designed to help our readers think through what the Gospel is and what it demands.
The result of God’s just wrath being satisfied is reconciliation (katallaso, katallage). We do not reconcile ourselves to God; God reconciles Himself to us and us to Him. Paul especially emphasizes this point in Romans 5. Romans 5:7-11 says, “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” Central to the gospel’s announcement, then, is the truth Paul emphasizes in 2 Corinthians 5:19, 21, “that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The Old Testament background here is the transition from a state of war to a state of peace (salom), a kingdom where only righteousness dwells. It is not only the lifting of the covenant’s curses but the positive harmony between foes (Romans 5:10-11; Col. 1:19-20; Eph 2:11-12).
Reconciliation and the Cross
Reconciliation with God is not about feelings but about the truth of what Christ has accomplished. Through Christ God can and does now legally forgive and justify the ungodly, and can simultaneously reconcile the world to Himself (Romans 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:19-20). Because the cross is a work of redemption and propitiation, it accomplishes reconciliation between God and sinners. Because of sin, the original friendship between God and man that was established at creation was changed for enmity. God thus regards sinners as His enemies. For reconciliation to occur, the cause for that enmity, sin must be removed. Christ accomplished this in His death. Paul writes that it was “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Romans 5:10).What Jesus did on the cross removed the cause of the breach in the relationship between God and sinners. His death expiated our sins.
John Calvin’s comments on the announcement of John the Baptist upon seeing Jesus for the first time (John 1:29) underscore this truth. Calvin writes:
The principle office of Christ is briefly but clearly stated; that he takes away the sins of the world by the sacrifice of his death, and reconciled men to God. There are other favors, indeed, which Christ bestows upon us, but this is the chief favor, and the rest depend on it; that, by appeasing the wrath of God, he makes us to be reckoned holy and righteous. For from the source flow all the streams of blessings, that, by not imputing our sins, he receives us into favor. Accordingly, John, in order to conduct us to Christ, commences with the gratuitous forgiveness of sins which we obtain through him.”[i]
In the old covenant expiation of sins was portrayed by means of animal sacrifices. All of the ceremony surrounding the sacrificial offerings was designed to point to the work of Christ upon the Cross. Calvin explains:
“The sacrifice was offered in such a manner as to expiate sin by enduring its punishment and curse. This was expressed by the priests by means of the laying on of hands, as if they threw on the sacrifice the sins of the whole nation (Exodus 29:15). And if a private individual offered a sacrifice, he also laid his hand upon it, as if he threw upon it his own sin. Our sins were thrown upon Christ in such a manner that he along born the curse. This describes the benefit of Christ’s death, that by his sacrifice sins were expiated, and God was reconciled toward men.”[ii]
Without the right starting point, it is impossible to come to a right conclusion about what Jesus accomplished by His death on the cross. God’s holy love that issues forth in wrath against all that is unrighteous (both sin and sinners), along with mankind’s universal and all-pervasive sinfulness, assure us that there can be no salvation without atonement. God must be appeased, sin must be removed, and peace must be reestablished in the relationship between the two. Jesus secured all of this through His sacrificial death. Those who, by faith, entrust themselves to Him receive all of these benefits of His work on the cross.
It is in the Cross that we discover the depth of God’s wrath against us and His love for us. Because of our sin, He is hostile toward us. Because of His grace, He loves us. His wrath we deserve. His love comes to us freely. By delivering up His Son on the cross, God satisfied them both. This lead Calvin to call the cross of Christ a magnificent theater for the glory of God:
“In it, the inestimable goodness of God is displayed before the whole world. In all the creatures, indeed, both high and low, the glory of God shines, but nowhere has it shone more brightly than in the cross, I which there has been an astonishing change of things, the condemnation of all men has been manifested, sin has been blotted out, salvation has been restored to men; and, in sort, the whole world has been renewed, and everything restored to good order.”[iii]
Reconciliation between a father and a son
On a cold rain day in Monroe, Washington in April 1998 my father and I took a walk down the street in front of my house. The night before I was reading in Colossians about how if you don’t forgive you won’t be forgiven and the Lord convicted me that I had held a grudge against my father and now was the time to repent of that and forgive him. While I was immediately pierced to the heart for this and repented, the next day my father came over and we went on a walk. On that walk I told my dad about what the Lord had done the night before, and I forgave him. This event opened the flood gates between my father and I. The Lord had sovereignly reconciled us to each other through Christ.
Fast forward now about seven years after this event and I’m now sitting in my father’s office. We’ve been having some issues and I’m determined to sit down with him. So, determined in fact I was waiting in the waiting room at his physical therapist office in downtown Bellevue, Washington for four hours until finally he’s done for the day, and I can meet with him. While we work out some of the issues that we have I find out the next week that he is moving to Eastern Washington. After that day, I don’t see him for another six and a half years until one day he shows up at a hospital in Seattle, Washington after having come back to pick up some of the things from his office he had put in storage from his physical therapy office many years ago. The Lord once again sovereignly and by His grace brought my dad back into my life.
I mention this story to highlight what we’ve talked about in this article. The Lord convicted me of my unforgiveness and I repented and turned from my sin by confessing it first to the Lord who cleansed me of my sin and then to my dad. This explains why reconciliation is important it reconciles us to God on the basis of the finished work of Christ and to one another through confession of our sin. This is why Paul says that we are ambassadors of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). Paul also tells us that we are to be agents of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18).
The Great Commission commands Christians to make disciples of the nations. Through being reconciled to God, Christians have a message that is desperately needed in our culture. We live in a day when many marriages are falling apart, where men and women are struggling with addictions to pornography, drugs, alcohol and many other issues. What sinners need is to be reconciled to God. Christians need to be truthful about how Jesus has reconciled to them to God not of their own merit or ability but all by the grace of God. Christians, need to be honest and authentic about how God has sovereignly reconciled and repaired relationships in their lives as they’ve applied the gospel to their lives. As Christians by the grace of God share not from a place of strength but rather from weakness boasting only in what Christ has done in and through them, which enables them to share openly of what God has done for them in Christ. This will in turn help Christians and the Church to produce disciples who not only know what the message of reconciliation is, but who lives as agents of reconciliation in our culture to the glory of God.
[i] Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion.
[ii] John Calvin, Commentary on the Prophet Isaiah, 4:124-125.
[iii] Calvin, Commentary on the Gospel According to John, 2:73.
This is our weekly roundup of posts for 4/14/2014-4/19/2014. If you have any feedback on how we can serve you our readers better, I would appreciate it. Thank you for reading and allowing us to minister to you throughout this past week through these posts.
Gospel Series: Right-Sizing Our Affections by Aron McKay http://servantsofgrace.org/gospel-series-right-sizing-our-affections/
Speak prayerfully, powerfully, gracefully and to the issues to the glory of God by Dave Jenkins http://servantsofgrace.org/speak-prayerfully-powerfully-gracefully-issues-glory-god/
Gospel Series: Imputation by Matthew Fretwell http://servantsofgrace.org/gospel-series-imputation/
Gospel Series: Jesus Expiate That by Joey Cochran http://servantsofgrace.org/gospel-series-jesus-expiate/
Gospel Series: Justification: The “Lost” Doctrine in the American Pulpit by Dr. Brian Cosby http://servantsofgrace.org/gospel-series-justification-the-lost-doctrine-in-the-american-pulpit/
Gospel Series: The Gospel as Reflected in Adoption by Mike Boling http://servantsofgrace.org/gospel-series-gospel-reflected-adoption/
Sermon: Our faithlessness to the faithful God from Malachi 2:10-16 by Dave Jenkins http://servantsofgrace.org/4-faithlessness-faithful-godsermon/
Remain Faithful to the End by C. Walter http://servantsofgrace.org/remain-faithful-end/
James 1:19-21, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” Today’s average person is confronted with a changing world. We live in a world where we are inundated by social media updates, blogs, 24/7 news and much more. Added to the complexity of new media is the fact that in generations past people have had to physically speak to one another. Now, we can speak to one another over social media, podcasts, television, radio, on our phones or even on video conference on our laptops. If there is an issue of quintessential importance to the Christian and the Church it is this, prayerfully, powerfully, and gracefully speaking to the issues to the glory of God.
As quoted above, James 1:19 makes clear, “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger,” These words from James became real to me when I graduated high school. I had just received a letter from my father in which he told me I needed to learn the truth of these verses. At the time, I thought that I was quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger. Yet, as I’ve grown up and matured by the grace of God, I’ve come to see that I was deceived. Instead of being slow to speak I was quick to speak. Instead of being quick to hear I was quick to anger. Instead of caring for people, I cared about winning arguments and scoring points. Friends, this is not how we ought to be as Christians. As Christians we are to demonstrate we care about one another because of the Gospel—that is Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. His finished and sufficient work provides the basis for our confidence in Him and the reason we can put sin to death and enjoy Him in all of life. Yet, how often are you perhaps like me when I was younger, quick to speak, quick to anger and slow to listen?
I’ve been online writing articles and blog posts since 2000. In that time I’ve seen plenty of people come and go. People who had real talent writing but eventually fell off the map. I’ve seen trends come and go online and in the evangelical world. Yet one major issue never seems to go away and that is that people want to speak about what they think is important. Speaking is an important function of humans. Through speaking we communicate what we value, how we feel and much more. Yet, at its core communication has not only to do with what we communicate but also how we communicate. James 1:19-20 confronts us with the reality of the situation in that God’s Word is given to us for our correction and reproof Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:16. As God illuminates His Word to us we are confronted with the reality of where we are at in our walk with Him. The choice is then presented to us—will we by the grace of God heed the Word of God or will we rebel against the authority and truthfulness of the Word of God?
James 3:1 is a scary verse that should cause one to consider its seriousness, because it teaches that not many of us should be teachers. Yet, what do you think you are doing on facebook, twitter, google plus, on your blog, podcast or any other outlet that you have to communicate? Everyone to some degree whether they are engaging in teaching in the Church or sharing the gospel with a lost neighbor or friend is teaching. The content of what we preach ought to be the gospel. Yet, how we present the gospel ought to be true to the Bible. The harshest language in the Bible is directed at those who lead people away from God. Thus, what we speak and how we speak is of central importance.
At the core of speaking prayerfully, powerfully and gracefully to the issues of our day is knowing when to speak and when to be silent. James 1:19 is thus helpful to us. How do you know when to speak on the issues? For me, this usually happens as I’m thinking through a topic and the thoughts on a particular topic are coming at me faster than I can write them down.
As I conclude this article, I want to give you several steps I use that have guided my thinking on this area. First, I daily open my Bible, read it, reflect on it and seek by the grace of God to apply its truths to my life. As I do this, I’m often either encouraged or rebuked by the particular passage I’m reading, reflecting and meditating on. Second, find a group of godly Christians you can discuss doctrinal and theological issues with. Doing so, will help you to know whether you should speak to these issues and whether you have the right voice, tone and motivation for speaking to this particular issue. Often times when I sit down to write on a particular issue when I finish, I delete the whole document. I do this because either the tone is all wrong or my motivation is also wrong. In either case, I want to heed James 1:19 which is to be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.
Thirdly, to speak is to want to be heard and thus in turn to want others to respond to you. On the flipside of this, by speaking on blogs, podcasts, social media and whatever other media we may use—we must in turn listen to those who read or listen to our content. We must hear what they say and not just flippantly but rather take seriously their pushback, or encouragement.
Finally, whenever we write or speak to issues we may get pushback or even encouragement. When we get encouragement to our work, we should thank the person but deflect the glory to God. We can do this by saying thank you to the person and then saying something to the effect of, “Thank you for your encouragement, I’m thankful to God for your encouragement and give Him all the praise you were helped by my work.” By doing this we are not being vain but rather thanking the person that they offered encouragement. When pushback is offered don’t respond personally but rather prayerfully and thank the person that they offered pushback. Respond to the person by engaging the content of their post by quoting from portions you may agree with and engaging the parts you don’t agree with. By doing this, you will demonstrate you care about the person enough to engage them in a respectful and God glorifying manner.
Lastly, I don’t know about you, but speaking prayerfully, powerfully and gracefully is exhausting. It requires great care that comes from a desire to glorify God and exalt His name among the nations. At the end of the day though, as Christians, we write, speak and minister for an audience of One in God whose call in His Word is crystal clear—be faithful to Him and make much of Him and He will use you in powerful ways to speak to issues in a way that honors and glorifies Him. I pray today that you resolve by the grace of God to speak prayerfully, powerfully, and gracefully to the issues to the glory of God.