Dear Radio Friends,
The passage of God’s Word that we will be considering today is Psalm 32:5: “I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah.”
Most scholars agree that this is a Psalm that David wrote shortly after he found forgiveness for the sin that he committed with Bathsheba. This Psalm, therefore, together with Psalm 51, gives us a personal glimpse into the heart of this godly man. He speaks of the utter misery he experienced when he had kept silence about his sin and not confessed it before God. We read in verses 3 and 4, “When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer.”
In this connection, David also reveals how good it was for him to make confession, that is, to admit his sin to God. He reveals the blessedness that belongs to the child of God every time confession of sin is made. From this viewpoint, it is good to examine this particular song of David here in Psalm 32. We are given deep insight into this sin and what it is. And we are given an understanding as well of the forgiveness of sin we receive in Christ. We ought to take note, too, that this passage before us is very personal. David is not speaking of sin in generalities, but he is speaking in this Psalm of his sin. David speaks in the first person singular: “I acknowledged my sin,” he says. “I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord,” and so on. So we have a personal confession in this Psalm. What makes this so appropriate is that by focusing on what David saw as sin, we will be forced to focus on our own sins. The Bible here puts its finger on this personal aspect of our lives and exposes sin for what it is.
To make confession of sin requires of you and me that we, first of all, acknowledge our sins. That is what David says here in verse 5. To acknowledge our sins means that we must own up to them. We know that we are sinners—not that we made a mistake or simply committed an error, but that we sinned!
And that, in turn, implies two things. First, it implies that we know what sin is. And secondly, it means that we must recognize what our own individual sins are. Both of these are necessary if proper confession of sin is to be made.
There are three different terms in verse 5 of Psalm 32 that address themselves to what sin is. These are first of all the word “sin” itself, and then also the words “transgressions” and “iniquities.” These three give a vivid description of what all sin is.
The word “sin” literally means “a missing of the mark.” When I was in my former congregation, I went to see one of the members of the congregation one day, and found that he had made himself a large target. He was practicing for bow hunting. And he wanted me to take a shot at that target. I bent the bow back, shot, and missed the target altogether. I tried that a couple of times, and although I hit the cardboard on which the target was drawn, I never hit the target. Well, sin is like that. When we miss the target, we sin against God.
The target, of course, is a large one. And it is very plain for all of us to see. It is the target of God’s commandments. God places before us His law and He commands us to conform our lives to that law. We must love Him and we must love our neighbor. And each time we sin, we miss that law of God. We utterly fail to love God and the neighbor.
In this connection, we must recognize as well that we miss this mark of God’s commandments consistently. Not just once in a while, but we miss it time and again. This means that we are not only sinners, but, really, when we look into our hearts and souls, we are miserably poor sinners. We surely are not worthy of holding our heads up in pride as the Pharisees felt that they could do, and boast of our ability to hit the mark of God’s commandments every time.
There is an added element in this picture when we consider the second term for sin in this passage: transgressions. Now this word pictures one who steps outside of a certain bound that has been placed about him. A farmer puts an electric fence around a pasture in order to keep his cows inside that pasture, that they wander not outside of it. Well, that is what sin is too. God places around us the bound of His law. And He commands us, “Do not step outside of the bounds of that law. This is where you must live: inside of the bounds of My commandments.” When we sin, we deliberately step outside of those bounds and do what we want to do rather than what God commands us to do.
This term speaks of deliberate rebellion against God’s will and precepts. And if we were to apply it to that target that we miss each time we sin, there is this added element: we take our bow and we deliberately aim it away from the target so that we will not hit it. We do not want to hit it. God tells us to aim all of our lives to hit exactly His law, and we say, “No.” We aim our lives in another direction, that direction being our own desire and will. Sin, therefore, is a deliberate rebellion against God and against His law.
This whole idea is defined even further by that third term used in this passage: iniquity. This word means literally, “to flow out.” It draws our attention to the actual deeds of sin that we commit in our lives. “Iniquity” is the iniquity of sin, David points out at the very end of this passage. It is the evil words and the actions that give concrete manifestation in our lives to our refusal to love God and the neighbor.
That is sin. It is that which finds its corrupt source in the heart and soul of man. Out of that heart procedes rebellion against God. In rebellion, we refuse to keep God’s commandments, we violate His sacred will for us. And all that becomes manifest in our outward actions and our words, our iniquities. This we must recognize with respect to every one of our sins. That is how serious they are. That is how horrible they are. Maybe we can, in a small way, begin to understand why God is so highly offended with us when we commit these sins against Him.
But there is more involved, if I am to recognize my sin. We must also be highly sensitive to what sin is, what it is that violates the law and the commandments of God. That takes a work of God’s grace in our hearts. One who does not have the Holy Spirit in him may be told of his sin and what it is, but sin does not really bother him. It does not affect him as it did David in this Psalm. And, as a result, there may be a rather general, vague confession of a sin, but it really has no meaning to it. The sin is not confessed in such a way that the person really means it. He gives mouth to the words, but there is no true sorrow in his heart. There must be a certain spiritual knowledge of sin, not only its horror, but that it offends God, that is, it is displeasing to the Most High, Most Holy God.
You know, I think oftentimes we can become so insensitive to what sin is that we fail to recognize what it is in our lives. And, as time goes on, we tend to make this gray area of our lives larger and larger. Pretty soon we have somehow convinced ourselves that what rightfully should have been called sin now fits into this whole area of liberty. I can do these things because, after all, they are not all that bad. Somehow we can become fully persuaded that we are a good Christian and that our life fully conforms to God’s commandments when, in reality, we are attempting to fulfill our own desires and our own ways. And then, because we no longer view these things in our lives as sin, we no longer acknowledge them before God as sin, either.
That is frightening. Listen. The further I live from God, the more I become worldly-minded. The less time we spend in prayer and in consideration of God’s Word, the more we begin to wrap up our lives in this present world, and consume ourselves with fulfilling our own desires. We become worldly-minded. And then the more worldly-minded I become, the more things also I convince myself are not sin, so that I may do them in my life. The more deeds in life I convince myself are no longer sin but are perfectly acceptable, the less acknowledgment of sin I make. And pretty soon my life is shallow, my prayers are just as shallow, and there are a whole raft of sins that I commit in my life which I am no longer sensitive to, and, therefore, have never acknowledged before God.
Talk about straying from God! And the more this continues, the more one sees no need anymore to talk about sin, not even to bring it up, not even, mind you, to pray for the forgiveness of sins. To confess sin means that I must recognize concretely in my life those particular words and actions that are contrary to God’s law. And the closer I live to God and His Word, the more sensitive I am to what these sins are that I must acknowledge before Him. The more distant I live from God, the less I will acknowledge my sin.
This is why David, at the outset in this verse, emphasizes that he had been led to acknowledge his sin before God and that that, in turn, opened the way to his great confession of sin.
The opposite of confessing sins is, of course, keeping silence about our sins, not confessing those sins. David did that at well in his sin with Bathsheba. He tried to hide the sin from others. Not only from others, but from God. And, mind you, even from himself. He did not want to think about his sin. He tried to get by without admitting to himself that what he had done with Bathsheba, and subsequently to Uriah, her husband, was in fact a heinous sin.
We can do the same thing, you realize. We can attempt to make excuses for the things that we do wrong in God’s sight. We grow insensitive and callous to our sins. Our conscience becomes seared, so that it does not smite us quite so badly when we walk in the way of sin, especially when we walk repeatedly in that same sin.
At times, this seems to work well—not admitting sin to oneself or, therefore, to God either. And when this happens, we walk in the way of that sin openly. However, God will not allow His children to rest in peace while they walk openly in sin. An ungodly person—oh, that person will be satisfied to walk in his way of sin. His conscience will not continue to smite him. But that is not true of the child of God. God smites the heart and soul of His children. He pricks their heart. He makes them miserable with themselves. Life does not go on happily or smoothly when we walk contrary to the will of God. We are miserable! We are miserable until we finally, humbly, cast ourselves at the foot of the cross. And what we may have kept quiet for a time, our lips, long closed by sin and shame, now open to confess their sin before God.
That is what must be true of us in our lives, believers. We must confess our sins before God.
What is it to confess? First of all, it is admitting to the Lord with heart and soul the sin committed. It is not making excuses for that sin to God or to ourselves. It is agreeing with God in the assessment that He makes of our sin. It is saying, together with God, that sin is transgression, and that we therefore have offended the God who has saved us. It is admitting our guilt before God and admitting that we are wrong, even admitting that we are so wrong that it causes this misery in our lives. It is admitting that we deserve nothing of God except His anger and eternal punishment, as well as this temporal misery.
Confessing is unburdening our souls before God concerning the misery that this sin has caused us in alienating us from His presence and favor. It is coming before God with a broken and a contrite heart. David speaks of that broken and contrite heart after his sin with Bathsheba in Psalm 51:17: “The sacrifices of God,” he writes “are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” We cast our burdens upon God, knowing that He alone, for the sake of Jesus Christ, can remove our guilt and set us free from the misery that we have. We humbly pray that we might be forgiven. We sit in dust and ashes, so Job says.
And then God, for Christ’s sake, does forgive us. Oh, what a relief that is. I have swallowed my human pride and admitted to God that I did wrong in His sight. And then the relief. My sins are forgiven me! I know that! Not simply that God forgives all of His people’s sin; I know that He does that. But God forgives my sin! That is a relief. Christ died for me and has earned for me, a long time ago, righteousness on His cross. I know that already when God viewed me as free from sin in Christ, that I was free. Even though I was not yet born, all my sins were placed upon my Savior’s shoulders. And He bore them away at the cross. My acknowledging and confessing sin, therefore, is not the ground of my forgiveness. Christ’s shed blood is the sole ground for forgiveness. But I need the assurance of that forgiveness in my own personal life. That is why I confess.
And that blessed assurance is ours when we come confessing: I am prone to halt and stumble; grief and sorrow dwell within; shame and guilt my spirit humble; I am sorry for my sin. This is our prayer, and God assures us as well that our transgressions and our iniquities are cast far from Him. He forgives us for Christ’s sake. With the price that Christ paid on the cross, where He earned for us our righteousness, He forgives the iniquity of our sin. And there is no more punishment, just peace and joy.
Selah. That is a word that the psalmist uses quite often. By most it is believed that the word “Selah” is some kind of musical term that means “pause.” That is what we do when we consider this great truth that the Word of God gives to us here in Psalm 32:5. “I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah.” Stop. Think about that for a moment. Contemplate that blessed truth. Pause and ponder.
Then hear what God says to us: “Go thy way. Thy sins are forgiven thee.”
Let us pray together.
Father in heaven, we acknowledge our sins before Thee. Every day of our lives those sins rise up against us and prevail against us. We ask that Thou wilt graciously forgive us of those sins. And grant to us the joy that is found in the salvation that we receive in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ alone. We pray this for Jesus’ sake, Amen.