Seeking and Celebrating True Blessing

Chatswood Baptist Church

Psalm 32

Searching for Blessing

I think it’s fair to say most of us want to live a blessed life, don’t we? We want to experience and enjoy good things, and we want to celebrate them. Searching the hashtag #blessed in Instagram gives you over 112 million posts. That’s a lot of blessed moments out there people want to share! And what makes people feel so #blessed that they want to share it with the world?

All sorts of things. Right now, lots of Americans celebrating their freedom to dress up like American flags for the 4thof July… But more typically it might be beautiful sunsets at the beach. A gathering with family with good food and drink. Celebrating your Dad on Father’s Day. The birth of a baby. A new car! Some people even feel so blessed by their new frypan, they just need to share it with the world…

Quite understandably, we celebrate the things in life that bring us joy and excite us. And it’s a good instinct to see such things as a blessing. I’m sure lots of people are using the term without really thinking about it, without necessarily appreciating God as the good giver of such things… but it does imply that they at least recognise such things as a gift. Far better to go through life ‘counting our blessings’ as the old saying goes, than whinging and complaining and expecting luxuries served to you on a platter.

But if this stuff is all we ever give thanks for; if these kinds of things are all we really count as our blessings… we are missing out. There is a far greater blessing worth seeking and celebrating. Psalm 32 is a Psalm written by King David, and through it, he invites us to celebrate the incredible blessing of having our sin washed away – having our slate wiped clean before God and enjoying fellowship with him as a result. And this Psalm also reminds us that the only way to experience this blessing is by owning and confessing our sin before God, rather than trying to hide it and pretend everything’s ok. When we’re weighed down by our guilt, even the most beautiful sunsets can seem drab and the food that seemed so worthy of your praise can taste bitter. Psalm 32 is an opportunity to refocus on what’s truly precious and good – to seek and celebrate the true blessing of forgiveness and fellowship with God.

True Blessing is enjoying God’s forgiveness

In verses 1 and 2, David presents the key theme of the Psalm – the blessing of enjoying God’s gracious forgiveness.

“Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. 2Blessed is the one whose sin the LORD does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit.”

The core idea of this Psalm is to recognise and celebrate how good it is to have our sins forgiven and washed away. 

Complete failure and complete forgiveness

David uses three phrases to comprehensively convey the idea of God graciously overlooking and completely removing the significance of our failings as fallen human beings. Forgiveness of transgressions, sins covered, and iniquity (translated ‘sin’ here) not counted against us.

Transgression is the idea of breaking a command and the relational breakdown that results. You might transgress against a friend by sharing something private, something they shared in confidence with you, publicly. You’ve broken the code of acceptable behaviour and you’ve broken trust as a result – you’ve hurt your friend and the relationship. We break trust with God by rebelling against his commands and his authority and it alienates us from him. How good is it, says David, to have your transgressions forgiven?! 

Sin is the most general biblical term used to describe our ‘wrongdoings’ and the way we generally offend God by failing to live as he created us to live. A man might sin against his wife by being unkind and ungrateful and failing to love her as he should. You might sin against a friend by calling them on their birthday and asking them for a favour, never even saying happy birthday, because you’ve completely forgotten. And of course, we sin against each other in much worse ways! As we’ve been learning through the book of Romans, we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. How good is it, says David, to have your sins covered! To have your shameful failings and everything that’s so wrong about you covered over, so that you don’t have to try and hide who you are, because your ‘sin’ is gone.

 Iniquity, which is just translated as ‘sin’ again in the NIV in verse 2, emphasises our ‘crookedness’. Things are meant to be a certain way, we are meant to live and relate in a certain way according to God, but we have bent ourselves, our conscience, and our world out of shape through a disregard for God’s good wisdom and authority. We have preserved this sense of the word in English by the term ‘crook’ for a criminal. For example, we say that a used-car salesman is a crook if they sell people dodgy cars, pretending that they are good. And the Bible says that our iniquities, our crooked ways, weigh us down and will bring about our ruin in the end. How good is it, says David, when God doesn’t count this sin, this iniquity, against us? How blessed are we when God wipes the slate clean and considers us to be upright instead of crooked?!

Of course, there’s lots of overlap between these words and ideas, and David is really just using these three words and phrases to build up a full picture of our desperate fallen state, and thus how great a blessing it is to have it all ‘cleaned up’ – forgiven and covered in every sense. This truly is being #blessed! This is worth singing about!

In the very last verse of the Psalm, David exclaims ‘Rejoice in the LORD and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart!’ He hasn’t turned his attention from sinners who enjoy God’s forgiveness to perfectly righteous people now… no, he’s speaking to those who are righteous and upright in heart because they’ve had their transgressions and sin forgiven and removed completely! This is how complete and profound is the blessing of forgiveness he’s talking about! Though we are sinners, we are counted righteous! And that’s why we sing!

You can see, can’t you, why Paul quotes from the opening lines of this Psalm as he explains the blessing of being freely justified by faith and not works in Romans chapter 4 (you might remember that from two weeks ago!). David may not have had the language of ‘justification by faith’, but he’s celebrating the same reality. He’s describing the same incredible blessing of being freely declared innocent and righteous in God’s sight, not because you have earnt such a declaration, but because God is merciful and has dealt with your sin through the sacrifice of Jesus.

We need to see the need

Of course, to truly appreciate this as a great blessing, we need to be convinced we need this forgiveness. If we don’t see ourselves as sinners, or we trivialise sin and its consequences, we won’t see forgiveness as such an amazing blessing. We might see this ‘blessing’ as just another product being advertised to us that we don’t really need. (Like someone trying to convince you that even though you thought knives were good enough to slice bananas, what you really need to be happy is a special banana slicer.) But forgiveness of our sins is no banana slicer! No, it’s more like a cure for someone with a terminal sickness… and so someone who brushes off God’s gracious forgiveness of their sin as something they don’t really need is like someone who turns down a cure they desperately need, because they don’t really believe they’re sick.

Because the reality is that we really arehopelessly sinful. Our lives really are littered with examples of transgression. Our hearts and minds really are corrupted and crooked with selfish desires and impulses. The Bible’s diagnoses of us as human beings is much more in touch with reality than the idealistic view that we are essentially good. And the Bible is deadly serious that if this sin and transgression is not dealt with, if we don’t somehow secure forgiveness, we face the terrible reality of God’s judgement.

Denying these realities will prevent us from appreciatingwhat a profound blessing forgiveness is, and it will prevent us from receivingthat forgiveness. That’s why David remarks ‘blessed is the one in whose spirit is no deceit’ at the end of verse 2. It’s not saying this blessing is only available for pure people – that wouldn’t make any sense of what he’s just said! No, those without deceit are those who see themselves for who they really are and admit it to God… and that’s what he goes on to share about – the need to confess our sin openly before God, rather than hide it and pretend everything’s ok.

True Blessing is only possible by owning and confessing our sin

The rest of the Psalm, from verse 3 through to verse 10 (before he comes back to that summary call to rejoice and celebrate in the LORD at the end) – the rest of the Psalm is essentially a call to seek this blessing by humbly and openly confessing our sin before God, rather than stubbornly resisting and trying to hide it.

‘Learn my lesson’ – the folly of hiding sin, and the beauty of confession

And first of all he does this by sharing from his own experience the folly of resisting confession, and then the relief of finally confessing his sin before God and enjoying his wonderful forgiveness. 

In verses 3 and 4, David shares,

3       When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4  For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.

He’s describing how guilt eats away at us and affects us not just spiritually, and not even just emotionally, but physically. David points out 3000 years ago what psychologists have been telling us over the last century, that bottling up guilt is bad for you. David describes his experience of trying to ignore his sin by ‘keeping silent’ as if God’s hand is pressing heavily upon him. The guilt builds up like a damn filling with water until the pressure becomes almost too much. You get to a point where you either burst and confess, or you sear your conscience and your soul begins to whither inside you to protect you from feeling the reality of your situation.

And that would be a pretty sad mistake wouldn’t it? You see, the pain and discomfort is obviously trying to tell us something, and we’re meant to take note and respond! We’re meant to take the message and come to God in humble confession, rather than push it back down, numbing our conscience against the affects of our sin. When we touch a pan right out of the oven without thinking, the searing pain shooting up to our brains is telling us to pull our hand away. Likewise the way unconfessed sin can weigh us down and sap our strength, leaving life empty and bitter… it’s a message telling us to stop ignoring reality and confess.

But unfortunately, our natural instinct seems to be to try and protect ourselves by hiding our sin from others and ultimately from God. Children don’t need to be taught how to try to hide the fact that they’ve done something wrong. Just like Adam and Eve back in the garden of Eden, our instinct is to hide from God out of shame for what we’ve done, and when questioned, to pass on the blame. We make the mistake again and again of thinking that we can protect ourselves from the shame of being exposed for who we really are by coving up our sin and pretending it’s not there. But trying to cover it up has consequences. Either we will wallow under the burden of our unconfessed sin, or we will ultimately pay the price for it even if we manage to live with our guilt in the meantime.

And the solution is so obvious really isn’t it? Come to God and confess. David shares in verse 5, 

5Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin.

Rather than continue to cover up his iniquity, he acknowledges his sin to God. He owns his transgressions and confesses them to the LORD. David uses all three words for sin that he used earlier, to reflect the full and open confession of his moral failure before God. And the simple, beautiful result is that God forgives him. He took away his guilt. He lifted and carried away the consequences of his sin. And David accepts God’s word over him, that he is forgiven because he has confessed, and so the relief is like a damn bursting and the floods dissipating. 

Years ago, when I was on Scripture Union Beach Mission down at Kioloa, I developed an infection in my big toe. I guess it was an ingrown toenail or something like that. It got worse and worse, to the point where I wouldn’t put any weight on my foot at all, or couldn’t bump it or touch anything, or searing pain would scream up my leg and into my brain. It was incredibly painful, and I didn’t want anyone to touch it to try and ‘help’, because I didn’t want it to hurt even more! But eventually I couldn’t keep ignoring it, and the house parent on the mission, who happened to be a nurse by trade took me, soaked my foot, and then pierced the infected area with a sterile needle. Now I won’t describe to you exactly what happened and what it looked like or you won’t eat your lunch, but it wasn’t pretty. Although I can say that the feeling was beautiful. Relief washed over my whole body as the ‘stuff’ that had been causing the pain came out and was washed away. We don’t want to ignore sin and let it build up like an infection. Come to God and confess and let the guilt wash away.

Hide in God, not from God

Now, did you notice the irony between verses 1 and 5? We try to protect ourselves by covering upour sin and iniquity, which never actually works. But when we finally acknowledge our sin and stop covering it up (v5), that’s when God does actually truly cover over our sin (v1). It’s counter intuitive, because we have to go through the risk of exposing ourselves for who we really are and owning our failures, our selfishness, and our weakness. But this is the only real path to finding freedom from shame. As we uncover the true state of our hearts before God, he graciously covers the darkness over with his grace and mercy. In fact, as David goes on to describe in verse 7, once we stop trying to hide fromGod he actually becomesour hiding place. Rather than hide ourselves from God, we hide ourselves in God. This is the profound blessing of confession and forgiveness. 

Many of us would know this from our relationships with other people. When we’ve wronged someone, our instinct is to protect ourselves from shame by hiding our failings and denying them. But that kind of ‘acceptance’ is hollow and false and it eats away at the relationship. It’s only when we acknowledge our sin and admit what we’ve done and (hopefully!) the person graciously forgives us that we truly find the acceptance and safety in the relationship that we were looking for. It’s the same with God. Trying to pretend everything’s ok is a complete waste of time and will only lead to pain and further alienation. True relief and acceptance only comes with exposing ourselves for who we really are before God and throwing ourselves on his mercy. 

Confessing to others and confessing to God

And I think it’s worth appreciating the connection between our willingness to admit our failings to each other, especially those we’ve actually sinned against, and the reality of confessing our sin to God. David is primarily urging us to acknowledge our sin to God as the one we have ultimately sinned against. But more often than not, our sin has affected someone else – it’s been expressed in some failure to relate rightly to people around us. And if you think you’re openly confessing your sin to God, but you’re never willing to admit to another person how you’ve sinned against them or someone else, it would have to make you question just how much you’re really owning your sin and confessing it. I know it’s not fun, but it’s not meant to be! It’s meant to be humiliating! That’s why we don’t want to do it! But it’s good for us, and it’s the only path to true freedom from shame. 

And so many Christians have found it helpful over the ages to confess in the presence of others. I’m not talking about the confessional booths of the Catholic church – you don’t need a priest to offer you forgiveness! Jesus is your priest and you go straight to God the Father through him. And no, I’m not encouraging people to jump up in public gatherings and list off all their dirty secrets in some kind of sad grab for attention. I’m just saying that if we truly want to own our sin before God and confess, seeking his forgiveness, then we should probably be willing to admit our failings to some of the mere, fallen human beings around us – especially those we’ve actually hurt! Otherwise it may well be that we are still really just attempting to hide our sin away, even in the midst of rituals of confession. And that would be truly sad…

Embrace the opportunity! Don’t be stubborn!

So in light of all this, David naturally prays that others might find the same blessing and refuge in God that he has. If the only answer is in confessing our guilt before God and seeking his forgiveness, then he prays that all might choose this path and find the security he has found. This wonderful security is pictured as being beyond the reach of flooding waters, being protected from trouble, hidden in God and his grace, and surrounded with songs and shouts of deliverance. David celebrates this true blessing and invites us through his prayer to embrace it too. Don’t leave it too late. Let all the faithful pray to you, God, while you may be found.

Listen to my instruction, don’t be a stubborn mule!

But it’s not enough for David to subtly invite us to embrace the opportunity through his prayer. He turns his attention to us as readers and speaks to us directly, urging us to listen to his instruction and warning us not to resist. From verse 8 he writes,

8I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my [loving] eye on you. 9Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you. 10Many are the woes of the wicked, but the LORD’S unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him.

David’s actual advice is short and sweet. In essence it’s to heed his invitation to pray to God while he may be found, because (v10), ‘many are the woes of the wicked, but the LORD’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him.’ It’s different language from guilt and confession, but I think David’s still making the same basic contrasts and urging us to take the only good choice. Why doom yourself to the fate of the wicked when you can turn and trust in the LORD’s gracious forgiveness and enjoy being surrounded by his unfailing love!? 

But David urges us to heed the advice, because he knows that all of us have an amazing ability to resist what’s good for us. He urges us first by explaining that he offers his council with his eye on us – concerned for our wellbeing. This is not for his profit or glory. “Listen to what I’m saying! For your sake!” explains David.

And secondly he urges us to respond by warning us not to be like a stubborn horse or mule that has to be controlled and forced where to go. I’m quite sure I have literally called my children stubborn mules. It feels like such an appropriate phrase for stubborn children who won’t do what’s good for them! But of course, it’s not just kids who fall into that trap is it? And David is urging us because he knows how tempting it is, especially for adults actually, to resist admitting guilt and confessing our sin and weakness openly to God. 

You may well be caught in this right now. Stubbornly refusing to admit, even to yourself, that you’re in the wrong about something and that you have sinned, you have failed. Your pride keeps knocking back the call to confess and make yourself vulnerable. But that pride will kill you. That pride will cripple your spiritual life, perhaps your emotional life… perhaps even your physical wellbeing at some point. Either that or it will cause you to sear your conscience as you hold on to your sin, so that you pay the price for it on that day when we are finally exposed for who we really are whether we like it or not. Don’t be like the horse or the mule which have no understanding. Set aside your pride, acknowledge your sin and throw yourself on the mercy of God.

Seeking forgiveness as God’s forgiven people

And in case it’s not clear already, this invitation and warning is for you, whether or not you are already a Christian. This Psalm is talking about the need to confess and seek God’s forgiveness for the first time, andthe ongoing reality of confessing our sin to our Heavenly Father as his forgiven children. If you’ve never confessed your sin and sought forgiveness from God, please don’t ignore the invitation and the urging of this Psalm. But for those of us who’ve been following Jesus for years, the invitation and warning is essentially the same – don’t hide your sin; bring it to God, own it, confess it, and seek his forgiveness. Being God’s forgiven children means being people who continue to come before God, humbly confessing our sin rather than hiding it from him, and trusting in his mercy. 

Seek and Celebrate True Blessing

So let’s hear the invitation and challenge of Psalm 32. Amidst the constant pull to seek and celebrate blessing in comfort and pleasure in this world, let’s remember the profound blessing of having our sins forgiven by God – being known for who we really are, but having our failings covered over and our trespasses not held against us. Let’s appreciate that this is true blessing, and that it can only be received by humbly and openly acknowledging our sin for what it really is before God and throwing ourselves on his mercy – and continuing to do so! Let’s resist the urge to hide ourselves and settle for false security and acceptance, and instead seek and celebrate the true freedom and blessing of being forgiven sinners. Let’s continue to enjoy fellowship with God by continuing to confess openly before him and entrust ourselves to his grace.