As preached by Timothy O'Day.
Psalm 32 shows us what it means to be blessed and how we are blessed. In it we see...
1. Forgiveness is the only pathway of blessing for the sinner
2. Confession is the only pathway of forgiveness for the sinner
Because of this, we should...
Confess your sins
Rejoice in the Lord
What Does It Mean to be Blessed?
If you go into a bookstore, or if you search for popular books online, you will find a plethora of books that promise you the good life. They will tell you that there are 10 steps to figuring your life out, losing weight, getting your finances in order, simplifying your life, or repairing your marriage. All such acts are good and helpful. But what I want to draw your attention to in mentioning these things is the fact that everyone is looking for a way to be blessed even if they would not use that exact terminology. I want to be blessed, you want to be blessed, we all want to be blessed.
That being blessed is good is something that everyone can agree on. Where people disagree, however, is how to be blessed and what being blessed actually looks like. The self-help books and the “10 ways to fix yourself” articles online testify to the fact that we all feel the same problem but have different solutions to it. Everyone wants what is good. We just disagree about what is good. We are 7 billion people insisting that each one of us knows what is best and will lead to flourishing. That hasn’t worked out well for us and it never will.
The Bible is not a self-help book, but in its pages you do find the Author of life, the one who made you and thus knows you better than you know yourself, speaking to you. And at various places, including Psalm 32, he speaks to you in order to confirm not only what we know to be true—that you lack something and need it in order to be blessed—but also what it is that you need to be blessed. In Psalm 32 God makes known to us that true blessing is based on right standing with him. To be blessed, then, is to know God, have God, and enjoy God. You were made to experience his beauty, his goodness, and his fullness. You were made to find your all in him, which is to glorify.
You are created to know God, which means you were created to be blessed. But there is a problem that you and I face in this, isn’t there? We are sinners. Each one of us have transgressed God’s good limits for us; we have rejected him and chased after lesser things; we have wronged him in calling him evil and calling what is evil good. By our sin, we have made a separation between us and God and in that there is no blessing. We have cut ourselves off. Psalm 32 is direction for us, for sinners, in how we may have God and be truly blessed. What does it tell us?
First, forgiveness is the only pathway of blessing for the sinner.
Verses 1 and 2 lay this out clearly for us to see. Look there with me, “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.” The one who is forgiven is the one who is counted as blessed; the one whose sin is covered is counted as blessed; the one against whom the Lord will not count his iniquity is the one who is counted as blessed.
Why is this the case? Because sin is what separates us from God. Thus, the one whose sin is no longer there, no longer counted to him, is the one who is blessed because there is nothing between him and God. There is peace where there should be peace and there is communion between him and God that is not disrupted but pure.
Forgiveness is the Act of God
And don’t miss this: this blessing is delivered by God. It is his prerogative and his act. How do we see this? Note with me that the passive actor in verse 1 is God. Who is doing the forgiving? Who is doing the covering? Not the blessed man but God.
“Lifting” and “Bearing” Sin
This word for forgiven has the meaning of “lifting.” Blessed is the man whose sin is “lifted.” It also has the meaning of “bearing” because the idea of forgiveness is that sin is lifted from one and placed on another. This word carries this range in Leviticus 16:22 which, speaking of the goat on the Day of Atonement, says this, “The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.” On the day of atonement, the sins where “lifted” from the people and the goat “bore” them away. This is what forgiveness is: lifting and bearing away sin. Under the Old Covenant sacrificial system, the Israelites weren’t just looking at God’s commands to sacrifice animals and saying, “This is weird. I wonder why he wants us to do this.” They knew very well that through the act of sacrificing the animals God was placing their sin on the animal and it was dying in their place because sin brings death. Sin was lifted from the one making the sacrifice and placed on the animal. How? By God.
Here is what it means to be blessed: your sin is not left on you. It is taken up and taken away from you. Forgiveness is not God saying to you, “I’m just going to ignore that sin,” but God saying to you, “I am going to take it away.” To be forgiven then means that you are no longer defined by your sin because it is gone.
But your sin is not only gone, it is also covered as it says in verse 1. And you aren’t the one covering it. We are used to that. We want to cover our sin because it is shameful. We hide it away so that others will not see it and in hopes that God will not know. But the blessed man is the one who has his sin taken away from him by God and has God say to him, “Do not worry about this sin anymore. I am going to hide it away. Does that sound like a relief to you this morning? You don’t have to hide away sins anymore because God can take them away?
Forgiving and Covering Happens by Faith
But what does this lifting and covering really mean? Verse 2 makes it plain: This lifting and covering is God’s way of not counting—which means not reckoning—your sin to you. It isn’t counted as yours because he takes it away, which means it isn’t yours anymore. It is telling that the word for “Count” here is the same word used of Abraham in Genesis 15:6. That verse is where we are told that Abraham believed the Lord and this faith was counted to him as righteousness. In other words, God is doing the counting, meaning crediting to us, and he is doing it by faith in him. As righteousness was counted toward Abraham’s account by faith in Genesis 15, so sin is lifted and covered in Psalm 32 by faith. Paul sees this connection which is why he connects Abraham in Genesis 15 and David in Psalm 32 in Romans 4. In Romans 4:1-8 Paul argues that to be truly blessed is to be counted as right with God and we are counted as right with God by faith alone. Being right with God requires two things: God credits righteousness to your account and doesn’t count your sin against you. And both of these things happen not by works that you do. They happen simply by trusting God’s promise that he will do them for you.
Faith is Effective Because Christ’s Work is Real
But why should you have confidence that he has really lifted your sin from you and no longer counts it as yours? You should have confidence because you can look to the one upon whom he gave your sin. For you to be forgiven, to have your sin lifted, means that it is borne by someone else. We aren’t looking at a sheep, a goat, or a bull as our sin offering. We are looking at Jesus Christ. Isaiah, prophesying of Jesus, says of him, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted…He poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:4, 12b). Or listen to Peter speak of Jesus, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:23-24).
The only way to be blessed is to have your sin removed; and the only way to have your sin removed is for you to look at Jesus and to trust him to take away your sin. By faith in Jesus, your sin is lifted and placed on him and he takes it away. Sin no longer defines you because it is no longer yours. What comes to define you? The righteousness of Jesus which he gives to you. On the cross, Jesus bears the penalty of sin and, in rising from the dead, he shows that sin is totally paid and will never return to us. It is covered by his blood.
But how can you take hold of this forgiveness?
Second, confession is the only pathway of forgiveness for the sinner.
Verse 2 ends by saying that the blessed man is one “in whose spirit there is no deceit.” Why is this the case? Verses 3-5 reveal it to us. In these verses David recounts how he suffered after he had sinned but did not confess that sin. Instead of confessing sin, he remained silent. As he remained silent, he suffered under conviction of sin, which eventually led him to confess, as we see in verse 5. This confession brought relief to his suffering, as we see in the rest of the psalm. This enlightens us as to what is meant by having deceit in your spirit. To have deceit in your spirit is the opposite of being blessed. It is to know that you have sinned but not to acknowledge that you have sinner. It is to play the part of a righteousness but to know that you are simply hiding your sin.
Forgiveness is the only pathway of blessing, and confession is the only pathway of forgiveness, so silence in regard to our sin is a sure pathway to misery. We see in verses 3-4 what silence does…
Silence about his sin leads to groaning. He is pained and uncomfortable because of his deceitful heart.
Silence about his sin leads to him feel sick in his bones.
Silence about his sin leads him to feel weak. Like a tree with sap drying up in the summer heat, he feels like he is wasting away and will break.
Don’t lose sight of this. This suffering is actually God being kind. When we sprint toward sin we are plunging ourselves into the pool of death. If you were to just break my ribs, I would say you were just being mean. But if I were to go into cardiac arrest and you broke my ribs because you were laboring over me to restart my heart, then the context of my situation changes the way I view my broken ribs. It still hurts, but when I wince from the pain of moving around with broken ribs, I would not be bitter. The pain would lead me to say, “thank you, my friend. You did for me exactly what I needed.” God’s discipline is painful, but it is given so you may have life. Sin is not the pathway to life. Sin is the road to misery and death. The pleasure of sin is momentary and fleeting, but God makes known to us the path of life. In his presence is fullness of joy and at his right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Noticing the Pathways of Psalm 32: Blessing, Forgiveness, and Confession
Do you see the layout of this psalm yet? Verses 1-2 tell us that the pathway to blessing is forgiveness and verses 3-4 tell us that unconfessed sin leads to pain and misery. This leads us to verse 5 which tells us that confession is the pathway to blessing because it is the pathway to forgiveness. So what is confession? Verse 5 tells us plainly:
First, confession is acknowledging sin to God. Acknowledging sin isn’t making it known to God. He already knows. Confession is agreeing with God about his judgment of your sin. It is saying to God, “You call what I have done evil. I have been calling it good. I am coming to you now to say that I agree with you. It is evil and repugnant.”
Second, confession is refusing to cover your sin. Confession means we do not hide our sin. You can hide sin in at least two ways. You hide it by completely denying it and covering it up. But you can also hide your sin by minimizing it. You minimize sin when you try to sanitize it and make it look better than it really is.
You are minimizing when you lay out reasons for your sin. “God, what I did was wrong, but I was in an impossible situation!”
You minimize sin when you only give a partial confession of sin, “God, forgive me for gossiping!” But completely ignoring the fact that you have had evil thoughts toward this person for days.
The way of having no deceit in your heart is to acknowledge and not try to cover your sin at all. And how foolish it is to try to cover our sin! Do you know what happens when you stop covering your sin and you confess it to God? Look back at the end of verse 1: God covers your sin and he covers it with the blood of Christ, showing that it is paid. When you cover your sin, you live in fear that someone is going to find it out. You are living a fake life with a fake righteousness and it will not profit you. But when God covers your sin, you can live in peace.
When confess you will be humbled before God and maybe even humbled before people, but you will be safe and he will exult you. But if you are proud and hide your sins, there is no prospering for you. You might impress people, but you won’t impress God.
God Stands Ready to Forgive
At the end of verse 5 something happens so quickly that you might miss it. David writes, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” Don’t miss how quick this is. David confesses and God forgives. God does not say, “let me think about it.” He forgives. God is more ready to forgive you of your sin than you are to confess it. He wants to take away your sin more than you want him to take it away. Why is this the case? It is just a testament to our wicked hearts. We actually cling to sin. We hate the guilt of sin, yes, but the guilt is packed with the sin itself. Here is what I mean: to confess sin is to ask God to remove the sin itself and not merely the guilt we feel. We are saying to God, “take this sin away from me.” But often times we do not want him to take away the sin. We want him to take away the guilt and the conviction we feel. But we want him to leave the sin for us to enjoy. But that would not be an act of mercy. That would be an act of judgment. When you feel conviction, that is an act of God’s mercy on you. When you sin and do not feel convicted, that is a sign of his judgment. To harden your heart to his voice is to prepare yourself for hell. No sin is worth it.
He stands ready to receive any sinner. Have you been hardening your heart? Do you sin and feel no conviction? Don’t take that as a sign that your sin is excused. You are like a man with nerve damage. Your nerves can be so damaged that your body can not feel pain in certain areas. A man with nerve damage could receive a deep cut and not feel it. His reaction should not be, “I guess I am okay.” Rather, it should be, “there is something very wrong with me.” Just as your body can break and not respond properly, so your soul can be broken and not respond properly. What should you do? Exactly what David exhorts us to do in the rest of the psalm. Here are 3 applications.
Responding to God’s Promise of Blessing
First, confess your sins. Upon being forgiven, David turns into an instructor in verse 6. As one who has experienced the blessing of forgiveness, he turns to all and pleads with us to confess our sins as well. He calls everyone who is godly, that is, everyone who desires to have the blessing of being with God, to offer prayer to him when he may be found. This prayer is not a generic prayer but a prayer of confession of sin. That we are to offer this prayer at a time when God may be found reveals to us that there is a time that we may not find him. What is that time? The day of judgment. We know that he means judgment because the second half of verse 6 is an illusion to the flood in the days of Noah. What David is saying, then, is that when one turns to God in confession now he will be saved from the flood of judgment because the waters of judgment will not reach him. In the days of Noah, people had the opportunity to join him until the Ark was closed up and the waters came. Since forgiveness is the only pathway of blessing and confession is the only pathway of forgiveness, we should not delay in confession our sin.
What is keeping you from confessing your sin and being done with it?
Are you afraid of what people will think of you? Don’t fear the judgment of people, fear the judgment of God.
Are you afraid of losing status and comforts that you enjoy? Whatever status and comfort you have now, it will not make the horror of judgment any less.
Are you afraid of missing out on the pleasures of sin? Those pleasures will either be dwarfed by the terror of judgment or they will be dwarfed by the glory of heaven. In any case, they are fleeting and not worth it.
Really, when it comes down to it, we resist confession because we feel like we won’t be safe or we will miss out on something. Verse 7 tells us that the opposite is true. When you honestly come before God in confession, then he becomes your security and hiding place. He knows you. Even if every man rejects you, you are known and cherished by God. Not only this, but he preserves you from trouble. With him, you will be held secure in the faith. He has claimed you as his own and he will keep you as his own. Not only that, but he will surround you with shouts of victory. You might feel like you are losing something when you give up your sin, but in Christ everything you put down counts as your gain.
Second, receive instruction. With the promise of rescue from judgment, safety, preservation, and victory, we see next in verses 8-9 a warning. We should not be reluctant to obey the call and confess our sins. As one who underwent discipline, David now becomes a teacher to all of us in regard to God’s grace.
In seeing this, I want to remind all of us that this is what we are supposed to be doing for each other as a church. In our church covenant, we are saying that we will instruct one another in the grace of God. This is what our church covenant says, “we will walk together in brotherly love, exercising an affectionate care and watchfulness over each other and faithfully admonish and entreat one another as occasion may require.” We have also covenanted together to do the following: “We will submit ourselves to the discipline of this church as a testimony of our desire to always walk in a manner worthy of the Lord. And for our brothers and sisters, we will seek their spiritual advancement as dearly as our own.”
But we are only able to do these things for each other as we experience God’s grace. Do you know what usually keeps you from confessing your sin? Some version of self-love. We don’t confess because we don’t want to lose the sin. Or we don’t confess because we are afraid that we might lose a relationship with someone or that they may not respect us anymore. We fear that we might be cast out if we confess. All of this, though, if focused on the self.
Loving each other, though, leads us to confess our sins so that we may know God’s forgiving and empowering grace. In this grace we can truly love and help each other. Here is what I mean: if I am living in unconfessed sin, then I am not living in the grace of God and all I have to offer you is my waning and ineffective mercy and counsel. When I confess my sins to God, I become one who can act as a conduit of God’s forgiving and empowering grace (cf. John 15).
And what happens if we do not listen to instruction? We are living without understanding. We are living like a horse or a mule. These animals must have bits put into their mouth in order to lead them where they should go. Christian, if you do not listen to the instruction that God gives you, he will love you enough to discipline you. He will lead you where you need to go. But it may be more painful than it needs to be. Don’t be stubborn in sin or you will be humbled by having a bit and bridle placed on you in order to bring you into his grace.
You have a choice before you, as verse 10 lays out. You can escape the sorrow reserved for the wicked—both the sorrow involved with present sin and the sorrow that comes to the wicked in judgment. Instead, the one who has trusted the Lord—believed that he is made right by faith and thus confessed his sin—is surrounded with love. Instead of his sorrow being numerous, he finds the Lord’s love and care to be plentiful.
You can be surrounded by sorrow or you can be surrounded by the Lord’s love.
Third, rejoice in the Lord. In verse 11, we see the result of the blessing that comes from forgiveness. If you confess your sins, then you can be glad in the Lord and you will be, as it says in verse 11, righteous. This righteousness, as we see from back in verses 1-2, is by faith. You are righteous in God’s sight when you trust him and confess your sins. When you trust Christ, revealing and giving your sin to him, you will be made righteous. This is exactly what we read 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.”
In Christ, we get to worship as those who are counted as righteous. We get to open our mouths and praise God for this glorious work of removing sin from us.
But that isn’t the only avenue of our rejoicing. We also get to shout for joy as the upright in heart, as it says in the last half of verse 11.
Who is righteous? Those who trust God and, because of that trust, confess their sin, knowing that God will lift it from them and place it on Christ. But what is removed is not just the guilt of sin but also its power. In Christ, you will increasingly grow to be what he fully credits to you in Christ: righteous. As you grow in holiness, you will be able to shout for joy as one who is upright in heart (v11). To be upright in heart does not mean that you are perfect, but it does mean that your ways are proper before the Lord. Confession does this. Confession is renouncing your sin and turning from it. Psalm 11:7 tells us, “The LORD is righteous; he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face.
What does it mean to be upright in heart? It is similar to having a spirit without deceit. There is nothing hidden in our hearts that we are trying to keep back from confession. We can say, “I have a clean conscience.
But be careful here. The joy we have is not the pride of confession. Don’t end up like the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee (cf. Luke 18:9-14). That Pharisee gave thanks to God because he was such a good person. He pointed to himself and rejoiced. Instead of rejoicing in our confession, we are to have a humble wonder at God’s transforming work. That means we are more like one of the lepers that Jesus healed. Like a leper, Jesus has touched us, taking away the disease of sin. The leper does not cry out, “Look how glorious my skin is!” But, “look how glorious my savior is!” We do the same.
As we trust Christ, we are being transformed from one degree of glory to the next and this transforming work is a testament to God’s power, goodness, and glory. We can’t help but point to it and rejoice.
Do you want to be blessed? Then come to Jesus. All that is required is for you to feel your need of him. If you do not know Christ, then you can come to him today. If you have been playing with sin, you can give it to him today and he will take it away. Nothing in your hand do you bring; only to the cross must you cling.