“Let it be known to you therefore, friends, that through this man (Jesus) forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses (Acts 13:38-39).
Many are amused, embarrassed or offended by talk of sin and repentance. After all, if there’s no God, each of us must define what is right and wrong for ourselves. Surely we will be free when we throw off the shackles of guilt imposed by society and religion? Surely feelings of shame and unworthiness vanish when we are finally true to ourselves? Yet, looking around our postmodern, post-truth world, we see a different picture—less freedom, less peace, less joy. More angst, more anxiety, more disorder. God’s word tells us that repentance is not a dirty word. In fact, it is the only way our souls can be clean from real sin and guilt, from the inside out. If we find ourselves in a mud bath, we can scrub ourselves to the bone, but will remain covered in mud. Our sin is like that oppressive mud bath, because we are unable to atone for ourselves no matter how many good deeds we do. When storms and pressure come, the benign mud bath often mutates into a mud slide which threatens to drown us in its deadly path. But when we receive the extravagant gift of God’s forgiveness through our Lord Jesus Christ, it is as though we are plucked out of the mud bath of our own sin and pride, and placed under a waterfall that cleanses and restores us to wholeness, rest and shalom to the depths of our soul. Peace with God our Father streams into every aspect of our lives, including our relationships with others. This is the freedom of forgiveness.
Our text today is Psalm 32:1-6
Blessed is the one
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
2 Blessed is the one
whose sin the Lord does not count against them
and in whose spirit is no deceit.
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.
5 Then 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.
6 Therefore let all the faithful pray to you
while you may be found;
surely the rising of the mighty waters
will not reach them.
Undermining God’s grace
“No judgment”, “positive self talk” and “self love” sound like gracious and liberating buzzwords, but they can undermine the grace of God by implying that we do not need His forgiveness. The Psalmist in our text has no doubt that his sin and guilt are real (Ps 32:5) and that he has greatly offended God (Ps 32:4). He knows his actions are at odds with God’s will for his life. His guilt even causes physical symptoms that sap his vitality (Ps 32:3-4), but he does not try to affirm himself, ask God for relief or offer excuses. He does not delve into what was done to him to provoke his sinful reactions or blame his family of origin. He has no doubt about God’s holy character and His unchanging measure of what is good and acceptable. Then the tone of the Psalm lifts as the writer begins to pray to God, admitting that he is part of the problem, not part of the solution (Ps 32:5). At the same time he clutches onto the hope of forgiveness because he is breaking his silence and acknowledging his sin. As he removes the covers from hidden sin, he allows God to cover his shame instead, and receives forgiveness (Ps 32: 5). The result is that his anguished spirit is revitalized and blessed (Ps 32:1-2) and he walks in intimacy with the Lord again, praying and trusting him with the challenges of life (Ps 32:6). It is blessed forgiveness!
Solomon sums it up well in this proverb: “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy” (Proverbs 28:13). We must be careful not to undermine God’s mercy by sugar coating sin.
Sin is why Jesus died
When Jesus proclaimed and proved himself to be God’s chosen Messiah, this was the core of his message: “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). I wonder what Jesus would say to those who speak only of God’s grace and love, but minimize sin and repentance? Brian McLaren, speaker in the emerging church movement and author of A New Kind Of Christian, argues, “The church latched on to that old doctrine of original sin like a dog to a stick, and before you knew it, the whole gospel got twisted around it. Instead of being God’s big message of saving love for the whole world, the gospel became a little bit of secret information on how to solve the pesky legal problem of original sin.”
But if there is no such thing as sin, how does the agonising death of the Lord Jesus prove God’s love for the whole world? Why was Jesus forsaken by God as he died? Why did Jesus cry out “It is finished?” What was finished? Why did the temple curtain split down the middle to give access to the Holy of Holies? What a wasted sacrifice of the only perfectly good man who ever lived (and thousands of faithful martyrs after him)… unless of course the bitter cup Jesus drank on the cross achieved what the Bible claims it did: Forgiveness of sin for everyone who repents and believes in Jesus’ name.
From the lips of Jesus
Jesus could not have painted a clearer picture of the emptiness, desperation and filth of sin alongside the extravagant forgiveness of the Father than in the parable of the lost son:
“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living… 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
The son was forgiven and reconciled with his father because he got up, went to his father and confessed his sin. He threw himself at his father’s mercy and then received his father’s forgiveness. Jesus sees each one of us as that prodigal, alienated from God because of our sin. If we create ways of saving ourselves without God, without a sense of sin and without the way He has provided for our forgiveness (repentance and trust in Jesus), we will remain in the pig pen, spiritually empty, alienated and in desperate need, but utterly without hope.
Biblical hope assures us that when we acknowledge our sin as an assault against heaven– against God himself– and come to the Saviour who has paid our ransom in full (Mark 10:45), we will always be met with the Father’s gracious and compassionate face (2 Chron 30:9b). We will experience the freedom and joy of forgiveness, along with the angels in heaven (Luke 15:10).
Live it out!
- Distinguish false from true guilt. Feelings of shame due to another person’s actions or self condemnation are not convictions from the Holy Spirit, but lies from the enemy. Once you are forgiven, you are “in Christ” and no one can condemn you (Rom 8:1).
- Pray the words of Psalm 51, which is a great template for confession: “Create in me a clean heart, O God… Wash me and make me clean O Lord…Against you only have I sinned… Restore to me the joy of your salvation.” Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” (Matt 6:12).
- Sin does not only distort our actions, but also our thoughts, desires, motives and will. Lay your heart bare before the Lord and ask Him to expose your blind spots. It is risky to pray for exposure, but better to be free than blind.
Father, search me and know my heart today. Test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting (Ps 139:23-24). Lord Jesus, I know my sins are great but I know that your forgiveness is greater. Please give me the blessing and freedom of your forgiveness, so that I may rest in your grace and mercy, not my efforts. Holy Spirit, give me assurance that I am absolutely forgiven in Jesus. Stir my heart with your great sacrifice so that I am truly sorry for my sin and am sad to offend you and violate your holiness. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.
Join us over the next two weeks to explore what it means to repent and believe: “Repent, Believe and Receive” and “Radical Repentance.”