Scripture Reference: Psalms 32, Psalms 51
When We Are ForgivenDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | August 21, 2005
Selected highlights from this sermon
When we look at David’s sin and its aftermath, we should be prompted to confess our own sins. David bore the weight of unforgiven sin. His body and mind were both affected. When David finally confessed, though it was not comfortable, the freedom and blessing he found was immense.
God is interested in our repentance and confession. He will use guilt. He will even sacrifice His own reputation in order to restore His children. In a world filled with unforgiven people, will we expose our soul before our forgiving Savior?
The voice of conscience has brought many people to an early grave. Whether you are brought up in a strict home or whether you are brought up in a rather lenient home, we all have a conscience. Something like those metal detectors at O’Hare Field, sometimes they are set more sensitively than others, but whether it is set sensitively or perhaps more leniently, the metal detector still works, and so does your conscience.
And there’s nothing that you can do about the stain of sin that is upon your conscience. Time doesn’t take it away. Have you men ever spilled some ketchup on your tie? And you say, “Well, yeah, I did, but that was a long time ago, and it’s been in the closet now for three years.” The ketchup is still there. Time will never obliterate your sin. Time will deaden your conscience but it will never cleanse it, and so what we need is for God to do that for us.
The story of David is well known because he was, of course, a very famous king, but David also committed adultery with Bathsheba. And after that relationship she became pregnant, he tried to cover his sin by bringing Uriah, who was Bathsheba’s husband, back from the battlefield, hoping that he would go home and make love to his wife, and therefore cover the identity of the child. In fact, he even got Uriah drunk and the scheme didn’t work. So David went to plan B. Plan B was to have Uriah killed, and so that’s exactly what happened. You all know the story. And David thought for a while that his sin was covered, that he had done what he needed to do to get out of this mess, and to salvage his reputation. Finally, when Nathan the prophet came to him, David was ready to repent.
By the way, how well did his cover-up work? Well, even after he married Bathsheba certainly she knew the truth. David knew the truth. The people knew the truth when the baby was born. Nathan knew the truth, and above all, God knew the truth. The cover-up didn’t work very well, and it never does.
Psalm 51 is David’s prayer of confession before God as he spills out his heart, and Psalm 32 is the Psalm that David also prayed most probably in this connection as he thanked God for His forgiveness, and made a wonderful contrast between the burden of guilt and the blessing of forgiveness.
So would you turn with me today to Psalm 32? We’re going to study David’s experience in three stages. The first stage is we’re going to consider the burden of unforgiven sin, the burden under which David lived when he tried to cover his sin, refused to acknowledge it, and never even confessed it before God. What was that like? Some scholars think that David was in this state of cover-up for nearly a year until he came clean with God.
You’ll notice that the Psalm begins by saying, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.”
And now comes the description of life with unforgiven sin. “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.” David said, “As long as I was not honest, and as long as I was part of the cover-up, it affected my body,” because the text says his bones wasted away and there was inward groaning.
Many doctors believe that they could dismiss their patients if they could simply look them in the eye and say with authority, “You are forgiven.” Eighty percent of our psychic energy is usually spent trying to cope with self-condemnation and that dull sense of guilt that many of us have experienced. As a matter of fact, guilt tends to break down the immune system so you are more susceptible to disease. You are more susceptible to physical challenges because of guilt.
David said, “It affected my body.” He also says in Psalm 51, “It affected my mind. Day and night my sin was before me. Every time someone made an appointment to see me in the palace I thought in the back of my mind, ‘I wonder if he knows.’” In contemporary terms, “Every time the phone rings I wonder if it’s someone who is going to blow my cover, and somebody who knows the truth.”
“It affected my body, it affected my mind,” David says.
It also affects behavior. Unresolved guilt affects behavior. A chaplain said to a young man in the hospital who was there because of heroine, “Why do you take heroine?” The young man said, “Well, Chaplain, you ought to know the answer to that question.” He said, “I feel so bad because of some things that I have done, and I don’t have enough nerve to blow my brains out, so I simply do it the slow way with drugs.” If you don’t overcome guilt you are going to have a tendency to addictions. You’ll have a tendency to repeated compulsive destructive behavior, because within you are trying to somehow resolve the tension of who you know you should be, and who you know you are.
So David is in this state. And when you think of hell, by the way, hell is the raw emotion of guilt in the presence of a holy and just God without alcoholism, without the possibility of pleasure, without any possibility of deadening the pain. Have you been there?
When my wife and I were in England this past summer we went to Bunyan’s grave. Do you remember John Bunyan? His tomb is just across the street from the Wesley Chapel. In fact, you can see it from Wesley’s window. And Bunyan was the man who wrote the Pilgrim’s Progress, and talked about Pilgrim walking with this heavy weight on his back. And on his tombstone there is a carving of a man walking with a weight on his back that was too heavy for him to carry on. David says, “That’s the way it was when I was in the mode of cover-up, minimizing my sin and refusing to ask God’s intervention and forgiveness.” That’s stage 1.
Stage 2? I’ve entitled it The Agony of Confession. Confession is not easy. He says in verse 5, “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.” David says, “I acknowledged my sin,” in the first part of verse 5. “I stopped lying. I stopped living a lie. I also stopped hiding. You’ll notice I did not cover my iniquity. I took the tarp and I opened it. I took the covers off and I exposed my soul with its sin to God.” And David says here that now he has come clean.
It took Nathan the prophet, by the way, and that’s a very interesting insight into human nature. When Nathan told him the story about the man who had a stolen sheep David became angry. He was angrier over a stolen sheep than he was over a stolen wife that he had taken from another man. It’s another indication of the blindness of sin. The Bible says, “Whoso covers his sin shall not prosper, but whoso confesses and forsakes it shall find mercy.” It is impossible to even imagine the consequences of unconfessed, hidden sin.
Now why is it that confession is so difficult? It’s because there are alternatives to confession. Years ago I heard the title of a book. I’ve never seen it, and I don’t know who the author is, and I don’t know who published it, but I have a pretty good idea of what its contents must be because it’s entitled How to Dodge Repentance.
How do we dodge repentance? Well, we do it through rationalization. “Everybody does it,” we tell ourselves. We minimize our sin. We magnify the sins of others and we say, “Well, I’m not as bad as So-and-So.” Or what we do is we think that we are going to pay for our sins – self-inflicted problems, self-inflicted addictions – and we continue because we say, “This is the payment because it’s not fair that God should simply speak me clean, and I must pay for sin.” And that becomes an endless nightmare, a cycle that we don’t ever get out of.
So we have all these alternatives. But the one thing that is most difficult is to simply be honest with God and say, “Okay, God, all the closets of my life are now open to you. Everything is exposed. Nothing is hidden from your sight. You know it’s there and now I am acknowledging it is there too.” The agony of confession!
Think of the shame when David finally had to admit what he did. Yeah, it was one thing to take another man’s wife. It’s another thing even to take his wife and all that is connected along with that, and the death of the baby that God gave to Bathsheba, and all of that. David says, “Okay, the time has come. I’ve acknowledged my iniquity to You. The cover-up is over.”
So the first stage of his experience is the burden of guilt and unforgiven sin. The second is the agony of confession. And the third is the blessing of forgiveness. It’s that burden that John Bunyan had on his back rolled away and finally being able to get up and to walk in freedom. How did Charles Wesley put it? He said, “My chains fell off, my heart was free. I rose, went forth and followed Thee.”
Notice how David describes it. Well now we’re back to verses 1 and 2, aren’t we? It says, “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” God took the ugly mess and He sent a snowfall to cover the ugly trails and all of the ruts in the road of my life. “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven. His sin is covered.” God no longer imputes it. He no longer holds us guilty as a result of it. Oh yes, consequences may continue as David experienced, but that sense of guilt is gone. There is now freedom.
You’ll notice in verse 1 he says, “God, You forgave me.” Isn’t that blessed? Notice verse 7 says, “You are my hiding place.” Now that my sin is forgiven we are back in fellowship. You forgave me. You hide me. Indeed You preserve me from trouble and You surround me with shouts of deliverance.
You forgive me. You hide me. Verse 8 says, “You guide me.” This now may be God speaking. “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go. I will counsel you with My eye upon you.” The whole is that when I was out of fellowship I had no sense of God’s guidance.
Have you ever prayed for God’s will? You say, “I want God’s will. God, show me Your will, and even when you are praying you are walking in disobedience and out of fellowship with God, with sin in your life that you are not willing to expose to the all-seeing eye of God. Just try that. Well, don’t try it! But if you do you’ll find that there is no sense of God’s guidance because you know what God is saying, don’t you? God is saying, “Look, you are asking for guidance over here, but look at what’s over here. You deal with this and then we can talk guidance.”
God, You forgive me, You hide me, You guide me, You inspire me. Notice it says in verse 11, “Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, oh righteous, and shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart!” Finally you qualify to sing in the choir because now it is not merely words that you are singing but from the heart you are giving praise to God because of the freedom and because of the conscience that has been cleansed. And that’s done by God.
So he says, “Lord, thank You for freeing me.” In fact, David says, “You know, during that time when I was part of the cover-up, I was like a horse or a mule.” Verse 9 says, “Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridal, or it will not stay near you.” I know something about horses. I know nothing about mules but I can imagine how stubborn they are. It’s like that old story about a man who hit a mule with a two by four, and a person said, “Why don’t you just speak to him?” and he said, “I have to get his attention first.” David says, “That’s the way I was. I was stubborn and unwilling to be led by God, like a horse that is unbroken or a mule that is determined to go nowhere,” and David is saying, “Now don’t be like I was. Don’t hide your sin. Don’t rationalize it. Don’t tell yourself that you are not as bad as somebody else because of it. And don’t ever think that somehow it’ll go away if you simply ignore it,” because, as I mentioned, time will deaden the conscience, but time never cleanses the conscience. The stain is still there.
So I have to ask you what it takes in your life and mine for us to really genuinely confess our sins before God with all honesty and allow God to go into the crevices of our life?
I’d like to bring you some lessons that we learn from this that I hope will be transforming. I hope the Holy Spirit of God will use these lessons for as long as you live, and for some of you that could be an awful long time.
First of all, we repent not when we see the light but when we feel the heat. We repent not when we see the light. People say, “Oh, I hope he sees the light.” Well, you know, how much more light does he need? I mean, he’s got all the light. He has listened to all the sermons. He was brought up in a Christian home. He knows the light. He’s seen the light but he’s never really felt the heat.
Notice this in the text. David didn’t just say, “It was my conscience that was bothering me.” He said, “Day and night Your hand (verse 4) was heavy upon me.” This is God bringing about misery in David’s life so that his misery in the cover-up is so great that he says, “No matter how costly the idea of exposure is, I’m willing to do it because I can’t live with myself anymore. The misery is that great.”
When I was a student in seminary, which seems to be getting further and further away in terms of time, we had to study Greek. We had to learn Greek. And one day the Prof, whom I greatly respected, sent us all to the chalk board, and we had to parse various Greek verbs. I think that’s what you do. You parse them. You decline nouns, don’t you, and parse verbs? At least that’s I think what we were supposed to do. Well, I wasn’t that good at Greek. You know my mind is more philosophical. I like grand ideas more than all of these details to memorize, and so I was there and I was a little embarrassed. And so I stepped back from the chalkboard and out of the corner of my eye I saw what my friend was writing, and I knew that he was good in Greek. (laughter) So I wrote down his stuff. Like that comedian said, “You know I could have done a lot better in school if only the guy sitting next to me had been smarter.” (laughter)
So I thought, “Okay, I know that that was wrong, but I’ll live with it. I’ll manage.” Do you ever try to manage sin that you are not willing to face? I forget how much further it was in the school year. Maybe it was just a couple of days as I recall. We had a communion service at the seminary and my conscience troubled me so much and I was in so much misery, that when that service was over I spoke to no students. I went directly to the Prof’s office. He wasn’t there and I waited till he came. I didn’t have an appointment but I sat down and said, “There’s something on my mind I need to tell you. I cheated in that Greek class,” and I told him. Now he was very gracious to me, but you know what? At that moment I wouldn’t have cared too greatly if he had said, “Hey, you flunk the whole semester.” It would have hurt but I would have been willing to flunk the semester because the hand of God’s misery was so much upon me I couldn’t function with the hand of God on my life because of sin that I had committed.
And you know that’s the only thing that brings us to repentance. It’s when our misery and our sin are greater than our desire for self-protection. See, that’s why it sometimes has been said that there are psychiatrists who are trying to put people to sleep whom God is trying to wake up. “I can’t sleep.” Well, there are many reasons and taking medication for sleep is perfectly fine. I’ve done it once in a while, especially to overcome jetlag. But there are times when the hand of God is on you and you’d better listen to what God is saying, and you’d better give God time to show you what the problem is within your soul. That’s the first lesson.
Let me give you a second. God would rather bring one of His children to repentance than maintain His reputation in the world. Let me tell you why I say that. In the case of David, when Nathan was speaking the Word of God to him, this is what God said. God said, “David, you’ve caused My enemies to blaspheme,” because you see, word spread from the palace all throughout the nations that David was an adulterer and a murderer. Everybody knew it. I mean if the king does it, it gets talked about it. It’s not in the Jerusalem Post. CNN couldn’t pick up the story at that time yet, of course, but certainly people talked. And God said, “You know what, David? Because of your sin you make Me look bad because all of the other nations are saying, ‘Oh, King David worships God, but just look at him. He’s just as bad as everybody else.’” And they couldn’t contain their glee over this king who pretended to know God but acted this way.
So why didn’t God participate in the cover-up? Why didn’t He have Uriah go home to cover up David’s sin? I mean God would have looked better. God says, “I am willing to have my reputation tainted in the eyes of the world to get through to one of My servants who is hiding sin and won’t come clean.” Wow! Either we will cover our sin or we’ll expose it and let God cover it.
Third, the world is really divided into two categories of people. It’s not a racial divide or an educational or geographical divide. There are two categories – the forgiven and the unforgiven.
And if you talk about the unforgiven there are two categories. First of all, there are those who are unconverted. They’ve never been forgiven, and many of you who are listening fit into that category, and you know probably who you are if you are dead honest. But then there are also those who are Christians. They have received Jesus Christ as Savior and they belong to Him, and legally and judicially their sins have been forgiven by God. He has imputed to them the righteousness of Jesus Christ, but they are out of fellowship. And they are out of fellowship because they don’t want to deal with issues that God brings to their attention.
It’s like that man who purports to be a Christian and fills out a form for worker’s compensation. He says on the form that the accident happened at work. It didn’t happen at work. It happened when he was hunting. But he fills it out and now every month receives a check that was obtained fraudulently. His pastor said to him, “Now, aren’t you willing to come clean on this? You have to confess it. You have to make it right.” And his response is, “Do you think that I am stupid? If I went to the labor relations board and told them that I had signed a document fraudulently they’d throw me in jail.” The pastor says, “There are some things that are even worse than jail. One is the hand of God on your life day and night reminding you that you have sin that you have not taken care of.” There is something worse than jail and that is displeasing God.
And then there are those who are unforgiven who have never been converted. For you, you don’t begin by confessing your sin. Did you know that? Martin Luther confessed his sin six hours at a time in the monastery in Erfurt and was not converted. First of all, you can’t remember all of your sins. Secondly, tomorrow’s another day with new sins, and so you are kind of in a cycle. No, what you need to do is you need to accept Jesus as your substitute. You need to receive Him as Savior so that He gathers up all of your sins in one bundle, through your faith and through His work, to give you the ability to believe. You are then converted. Your name is written in heaven, and you belong to God, thanks to Jesus.
You say, “Well how was David saved? He was in the Old Testament. Jesus hadn’t come yet.” Yeah, that’s right. It was more than a thousand years before Jesus would come, but already then the Bible teaches us very clearly that David was saved on credit. We all know what credit cards are. We enjoy it today. We pay for it today, but actually then we pay for it further down the line. God says, “David, you are going to be saved because Jesus is coming and your sin will eventually be imputed to Christ who is the only Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” And so even way back then God says, “I’m going to take your sin and I’m going to put it away, but not permanently because Jesus hasn’t come yet to make that perfect sacrifice.” And so David, too, was forgiven by Jesus. And what you need to do is to receive Him as your sin bearer, as your Savior. I urge you to believe on Him.
There was a man who was walking along the seashore and he looked back over the trail that he was creating along the beach. And he noticed it was helter-skelter because he had been walking absentmindedly. It wasn’t going anywhere in particular, and he looked back and he said, “You know, that’s the story of my life – not going anywhere in particular, just kind of waltzing through life aimlessly.” He spent some time in the home of a friend, and then he walked back the same way and expected to see his footprints, but they were gone because the tide had come, and God was giving him a new beginning.
“Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.”
So I ask myself the question as I ask you the question today. Are we willing to come honestly and openly and say, “Jesus, here I am, exposed in Your presence.” We begin there and then go to those whom we have possibly wronged and say, “At all costs, I want to be right before God and man.”
Our Father, we want to thank You today for this marvelous Psalm. We thank You that there was a time when David finally decided that Your hand was too heavy upon him, and that his iniquity was acknowledged. I don’t know what is represented here in this congregation. There may be those who are involved in adulterous relationships, sinful relationships among singles. Perhaps there has been stealing, dishonesty. Whatever it is, we ask in the name of Jesus that You would enable us to become clean.
How many of you say this morning, “Pastor Lutzer, God has spoken to me and I am willing to come clean?” Would you put your hands up? All throughout the audience I see people in all three sections putting their hands up. What about in the balcony? Do any of you say, “God has talked to me; I want to come clean?”
Father, grant grace we pray to each. And for the many who didn’t raise their hands, may Your hand be upon them for good. And we pray that the day may come when they say, “Yes, whatever, I’ll be obedient.” Do that we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.