The Blessing of Forgiveness
A number of years ago there was a western film called Unforgiven. What a terrible label to have stamped across the story of our lives! In Psalm 32 we read about the blessing of forgiveness, and it prompts us to ask this question: what word marks your relationship with God? Do you enjoy the blessing of being forgiven, or do you consistently feel as if you don’t measure up? Is the story of your life that you feel unforgiven?
One of the key themes in scripture is that God wants you to win. God is for you, if you do things God’s way, you’ll prosper (Psalm 1:4).
We can construe ‘winning’ in different ways, but simply, it means that God’s children walk in the fulness of his grace towards them. The key word in Psalms describing the experience of God’s grace is blessed, the joy, satisfaction and sense of well-being experienced in a covenant relationship with God.
At the heart of this relationship is forgiveness, God’s act of acquitting us of our sins. Psalm 32 describes the doctrine, experience, and benefits of forgiveness. Remember this:
Everyone sins, but not everyone is forgiven. Don’t reject God’s offer to enjoy the blessing of forgiveness.
1. The Doctrine of Forgiveness
To understand the blessing of forgiveness, we need to understand why we need forgiveness. In Psalm 32:1-2, David uses three different words to describe the behaviour that needs forgiving: transgression, sin, and iniquity.
The Hebrew word for transgression means to go beyond, to go over a limit or a boundary, to exceed or overstep, thus, a violation of law. So a transgression is rebellion against God by crossing over a boundary he has set. A sin is an offense, a crime, doing something wrong; a moral violation against God or another person. And iniquity is perversity, depravity, gross immorality or wickedness. That is, really bad sin. The point here is that all of us need forgiveness.
But David doesn’t stop with merely defining the problem; God’s solution is appropriate and deals effectively with it:
- Psalm 32:1: Transgression (boundary crossing) gets forgiven.
- Psalm 32:1: Sin (doing something wrong) gets covered.
- Psalm 32:2: Iniquity (gross immorality) is not counted.
Now let’s unpack each of these. To say that transgressions get forgiven, the picture here is of release from a debt. It’s like someone pays off your mortgage for you; you know longer owe anything. The second picture is that sins get covered. This is like putting concealer on a blemish, or photoshopping an image … where a blemish used to be visible, now it’s covered – gone! And finally, iniquity – our gross immorality – is not counted.
Now this last picture is so important that Paul quotes this Psalm in Romans 4:6-8 to teach the doctrine of imputation. He explains the significance in verses 5-6:
Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness. Romans 4:5-6
Now notice that there is a double imputation. When we use the word imputation, we mean to reckon, to count as. And so, whereas David acknowledges that God does not count, reckon, or impute our sin to us, Paul goes one step further to affirm that God DOES count the righteousness of Christ as ours: ‘faith is credited as righteousness’.
This is really good news, and the heart of the gospel: through faith in Christ, not only are we forgiven – but Christ’s righteousness is credited to us. So to add to the ‘debt’ picture, not only is our debt removed, but a massive deposit is made on our behalf.
More than forgiven, in Christ, we are made, or counted, righteous, because of what Christ has done, not our performance. This is the Big Exchange described in 2 Corinthians 5:21:
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
We’re not due it, but God gives it graciously through faith in Christ.
2. The Experience of Forgiveness
It’s one thing to know – intellectually – that God forgives. It’s an entirely different thing to experience that forgiveness. After establishing the doctrine of forgiveness – That God removes, covers, and doesn’t count our sin to us, David describes how we can experience that forgiveness, summarised in the word confession.
First, in verse 2 he says that blessed is the one in whose spirit there is no deceit. That is, the blessing of forgiveness comes to those who are willing to be honest about their spiritual condition. David then reflects on time in his own life when he ‘kept silent’ with God about his sin; he says ‘my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long’. That is, when he tried to hide his sin, when he was unwilling to confess, it affected his physical health.
Notice verse 4:
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer (Psalm 32:4).
For God’s ‘hand to be heavy upon me’ references the convicting work of the Holy Spirit: in his grace and goodness, God points out our own sinfulness to us. And this isn’t bad, it’s God’s grace. This conviction led David to a feeling of desperation, a feeling compared to extreme thirst while crossing the desert.
We live at a time where we want to deal with the fruit – feeling guilty – rather than the cause – conviction from God because we are guilty. But David learned his lesson, however, and in verse 5, he acknowledges his sin, he does not cover his sin, he confesses his sin, and ‘and you forgave the iniquity of my sin’.
Here’s the point: confession leads to forgiveness. If you want to enjoy the benefits of forgiveness, learn the art of honesty with God, confessing your sins to Him.
3. The Benefits of Forgiveness
Towards the end of this Psalm David identifies several key benefits that come to those who have been forgiven.
- They enjoy God’s care (Psalm 32:7 – he is their hiding place: their protection and preservation)
- They enjoy God’s guidance (Psalm 32:8 – you instruct, teach, counsel me with your eye upon me).
- They enjoy God’s love (steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord, Psalm 32:10)
God is incredibly rich towards those who turn to him, confessing their sin and repenting. He draws them to experience his goodness in deep and profound ways.
Too many Christians live unnecessarily with the label ‘Unforgiven’. More than feelings of guilt, they are guilty, because they have sinned against God. The practical application of this Psalm is simply this: be honest with God about your spiritual condition, and confess your sins to the Lord.
Our honest with God is rooted in reality: as the apostle states in 1 John 1:10 ‘If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us’. God already knows what’s in your heart anyway, so you might as well be honest with him. That’s the pathway towards experiencing the blessing of forgiveness.
This promise of forgiveness is succinctly stated in the New Testament:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. I John 1:9
Not only are we forgiven – a legal and relational action – but we are cleansed: God removes from us the feelings associated with our unrighteousness. We are freed to stand before our God in confidence and joy, because we have been forgiven.