God’s Grace Toward Sinners, Part 4: David’s Lessons Learned (Psalm 32)

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God’s Grace toward Sinners

David’s Lessons Learned—part 4

Psalm 32

 Six reasons to confess sin

Well this morning we come to our final session together. If you’re visiting with us today, we’ve been in a mini-series called “God’s Grace to Sinners,” and we’ve been studying events in David’s life to learn more about just how gracious God is. We spent the first two weeks looking at God’s dealings with David and Bathsheba. Last Sunday we looked at Psalm 51 and saw David’s confession of sin and we identified seven signs of genuine repentance–these were the characteristics of genuine confession that David modeled for us in his prayer, and they’re very helpful for us to evaluate our own prayers to God.

Now we come to Psalm 32, and here we’ll find there has been some passing of time since David wrote Psalm 51. There has been time for healing to take place. There’s been time for David to collect his thoughts regarding all that he did during these dark days in his life. He has learned some lessons through all of this and now he wants to pass those lessons onto others. And so as we come to Psalm 32 this morning, we’re reading with keen interest because whatever it is that David is going to say here, it going to be good. It’s going to be practical. It is going to have motivational value for us as we go about our Christian lives today.

As a kid I remember getting quite confused over the definitions of two words–I couldn’t understand how they differed. One word was “conscious” and the other was “conscience”. Being conscious is the idea of being alive, awake, aware of your surroundings. Conscience, on the other hand, is that inner voice that tells you that someone is watching. It tells you what is right and what is wrong.

I remember when Sereena and I were dating a few years back. Just out of the blue, I asked her if she would marry me. She was overwhelmed with excitement and she said, “Of course I’ll marry you!” To which I responded, “Just kidding.” I was immediately conscious that I shouldn’t have said that. In addition, I’ve had a guilty conscience ever since. Someone once said, “Conscious is when you’re aware of something. Conscience is when you wish you weren’t.”

The conscience can be like that. A clear conscience is a wonderful thing. But a guilty conscience is the plague of our existence, constantly reminding us that we aren’t living rightly. A guilty conscience is debilitating–it stops us from experiencing peace. It stops us from knowing true joy.

There are basically two ways to deal with a guilty conscience–we can either try to run from it, or we can embrace it. In April 2000, the British Psychological Society held its annual conference. At that conference, a chartered psychologist from the University of Hull, Dr. Geoff Lowe, addressed the conference attendees. He said, “Feeling guilty about indulging in life’s pleasures can damage your health—so if you want to stay in peak condition, you should adopt a more hedonistic approach to life.”

In others words, strip away the rules, traditions, moral limitations of society and just go out and make personal pleasure your life pursuit. If it feels good then just do it. He said, “People would be healthier if they relaxed and enjoyed ‘sins'”. He said, “We ought to focus more on the positive things in life. If we enjoy simple pleasures we should not feel guilty about them. We should maximize the pleasure,” he said. “We should take a bit of time to smell the flowers.”

Now most people in our community will resonate with that kind of thinking. We live in a society that proclaims there are no rules, there is no authority–we should all live for pleasure. But the problem is that in practice that doesn’t work. Running away from our consciences is impossible. The more we try to do it, the more guilty we feel.

Scripture is very clear that God is the One Who has placed within each person a conscience. That’s true for believers and unbelievers. In Romans 2:15 Paul says, when a person lives a moral life, “They show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness.” Their conscience either accuses them or it defends them, depending on how they live.

So if it’s true that God has established in every heart a conscience, and it is–then running away from it won’t work. You can try to remove personal inhibitions and declare the world amoral, but your conscience is always going to be there, always telling you that what you’re doing is wrong.  God intended it to be that way. So we can try the impossible and try to run from our guilty conscience, or we can embrace it and thank the Lord for it.

King David ran from his conscience for nine months, but then he learned that it wasn’t working. And so he decided to embrace his conscience, and accept that his feelings of guilt were legitimate. Just like physical pain, like a toothache is a warning sign that something’s wrong and a visit to the dentist is necessary, so too the conscience is like a pain in the head that says something’s wrong and a visit to the Lord is necessary.

David even came to a place where he could thank the Lord for his guilty conscience. What we must realize is that a guilty conscience is a gift from God. It is a good thing that we become guilty about our sin. Now the guilt can be removed–that’s the joy of living as a Christian. Guilt can be removed, and it will be removed by God. But the starting place for any genuine confession is to feel the full weight of our sin.

We’ve spent the past four weeks focusing on God’s grace. This morning we get to see that even a guilty conscience is an evidence of God’s gracious hand towards sinners. How does that work? It works, because if we listen to our guilty conscience, we will be driven to look to God for mercy.

So that brings us to Psalm 32. Take your Bibles and turn to Psalm 32. When you get there, the first thing you will notice is the heading of the Psalm. It is a two-part heading–it says first, “A Psalm of David.” That tells us who the author is. Then the heading tells us this psalm is “A Maskil.”

This term “maskil” is an interesting word that’s actually quite difficult to define. Some say that the term has to do with the artistic merit of a psalm. Some say that it refers to a psalm that is meant to have an instructive focus–that would definitely be true here in Psalm 32, but it is not always as apparent in the other psalms in which the title is also used. It’s used in twelve other psalms. Certainly here in Psalm 32 we can see for sure the didactic or instructive purpose of the psalm is evident.

So since this psalm is a maskil, it will have a teaching focus. David has taken on the role of teacher–he is an instructor as he writes this psalm. And what we’re going to see is that David is teaching others why it is a good thing to confess sin. And he gives them six reasons to confess sin. In this psalm there are six reasons why we should listen to our conscience and respond to the feelings of guilt that plague us. And they’re really encouraging reasons. The first three reasons come from David’s experience–they are David’s personal testimony of how things have been for him. So let’s jump into these first three reasons.

Reason 1  I’m Happier  Verses 1 to 2

The first reason to confess sin is found in verses 1 and 2. Basically David says, “I’m glad I confessed my sin, because now “I’m happier”–that’s number one. Look at verses 1 and 2 again. David says, “Blessed is one whose transgression is lifted, whose sin is covered. 2 Blessed is a man against whom the LORD considers no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.”

Just like he did in Psalm 51, David uses three words to describe his sin. He calls his disobedience transgression in verse 1 (pesha)–that’s an act of rebellion or disloyalty, sin in verse 1 (hata-ah)–that’s an act that directly messes with God’s revealed will, and iniquity in verse 2 (āvon)–that’s a consciously crooked act that involves an intentional plan to do wrong.

These are not three different kinds of specific sins–these three terms are meant to indicate David’s comprehensive sinfulness. He is totally depraved. He is sinful in every possible way. So he identifies his absolute depravity and then says that the person who has all of this transgression lifted, sin covered, and iniquity wiped away is blessed. And of course the person he speaks of is himself–this is his own testimony.

He says, “I was weighed down with the heavy burden of my sin. It was pressing down on me and I never felt any release from the heavy load. But once that weight was lifted, I was so blessed.” He says, “My sin was ever before me and I knew that the lord knew about it. The knowledge that the sin had happened and that the Lord was displeased with me was horrible. But when the Lord covered my sin over and erased it from His memory, then I was so blessed.”

For almost a year the Lord knew about David’s iniquity, but now David is so blessed because the Lord doesn’t consider it anymore. David is revelling in the blessing that has come after he aired his dirty laundry. He openly confessed his sin and stopped being deceitful. For months he had concealed everything. He had kept his sin a secret. He had lied to himself and to the Lord. But now that he has listened to his conscience and fessed up–now that he has confessed it all, God has granted him blessing.

Proverbs 28:13 says, “He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion.” That verse cuts across our sinful tendency to want to hide away from the shame of revealing our sin. But it is only by breaking through the walls of pride and hypocrisy that we can get to the other side in a broken, humble state and find waiting for us there is a state of true blessing, compassion, and peace that make the whole process of confession worthwhile.

David is standing on the other side of confession now and he is testifying as to how good it is to have found happiness. He is more blessed–much happier now than he ever was while he held onto his sin. That’s the first reason to confess sin–we’ll be happier.

Reason 2  I’m Healthier  Verses 3 to 4

The second reason to confess sin is found in verses 3 and 4. In these two verses David says, “I’m glad I have confessed my sin because now I’m healthier.” Look at verses 3 and 4–David says, “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me. My vigor was sapped as by the dry heat of summer. Selah.”

Now think about this–in medical circles, it has long been known that the mind affects one’s physical wellbeing. Whether it’s stress in the workplace or tensions among family members, the mental load of these things takes its toll on our bodies. That is especially true when it comes to unconfessed sin–our bodies can’t handle that. A normally energetic person can be reduced to immobility.

In David’s case he said his bones wasted away. His vitality was sapped. His strength was depleted. His energy levels were at an all-time low. He became sluggish. This is what happens when someone has a guilty conscience incessantly condemning them. But look at something interesting in verse 4. Whose hand was heavy upon David? Who was it that did this to David? It was God–it’s right there in verse 4.

God had a heavy hand. God made David’s life a misery day and night. It was the Lord who increased his guilt levels. It was God who turned up the heat dial of David’s guilty conscience until things got too hot, and David buckled under the pressure. Listen–a guilty conscience is a blessing. It’s a gift from God. We need to remember that, and we need to learn how to take advantage of our conscience.

One of the commentaries I read was really funny. It was an old commentary written decades ago, and it rephrased David’s words this way: “My bones waxed old. My strength was exhausted. It seemed as if the decrepitude of age was coming upon me.” The decrepitude of age was coming upon him! That’s just another way of saying he felt like he was getting old–his guilt was aging him.

Now I want you to see something here–nowhere in the text does it say that the person who confesses sin will have perfect health. That’s not in the text. That’s not the point of the passage. No matter what those prosperity preachers tell you on TV, confession doesn’t result in an illness-free life. Christians do get sick. Those health and wealth proponents are liars when they tell you they don’t. Don’t make this verse say something it doesn’t say. David is simply teaching that after he confessed his sin, even his body was relieved of the weight of that burden.

At the end of verse 4, David says, “Selah.” That is a reference to a musical interlude–a pause in the song for reflection. “Think on these things”—and that’s what we’re doing. So think about this–there is nothing like a clear conscience. You can’t beat it. It works better than a sleeping pill. If we can go to bed knowing with absolute confidence that all is well between me and the Lord, we sleep easier.

If I can go through each day knowing that God has no qualms with me because my sin ledger is clear, I’ll have a spring in my step. That’s the second reason to confess sin. Like David, we’ll be able to say, “I am happier” and “I feel healthier” because my guilt has been removed.

Reason 3  I’m Healed  Verse 5

The third reason to confess sin is found in verse 5, where David says, “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 lifted the iniquity of my sin. Selah.” Here David is repeating many of the same concepts of verses 1 and 2. I revealed my sin, I uncovered it and the Lord covered it, I confessed my sin and the Lord lifted it.

The iniquity of David’s sin was lifted from his shoulders. It was removed from his account. He was no longer responsible for it–he was forgiven. Or you could say it this way, “David was healed.” David was spiritually healed–restored to full communion with his Lord. His guilty conscience was healed. The hurt and shame of the past year have been removed forever. The healing that took place in that moment far surpassed the pleasure the sin brought a year earlier.

I remember when I was in high school–I was 14-years-old and had generally been one of the good boys at school. I never really got into trouble. I’d never been sent to the principal to get the strap or the cane. A lot of my friends had though and I was more and more looking like the odd one out. So I devised a plan to do something that would help me to regain some ground with my friends.

And so my plan was executed on a day when we had cooking class. For that particular class we were told to bring an egg to make a cake. Well I told my mother I needed two eggs, when we really only needed one. I got to the class with all the other students and before the teacher arrived I positioned my extra egg on top of the classroom door. My classmates instantly loved me, and the glory of the moment was something else.

So we all waited for the teacher to walk in. Mr. Froman was in his sixties and had some physical ailments–he walked with a walking stick and was generally pretty weak. He was quite a nice old man. Well he walked into the room, and the egg dropped, and caught him on top of his head. It was the perfect shot. It couldn’t have been better.

Thankfully he was bald and so the clean-up was easy. But I can still remember his reaction when he realized what had happened. All the kids were laughing at him, and he looked at us with a sense of betrayal in his eyes. He was tearing up, he was embarrassed, he couldn’t believe that his beloved students in whom he had invested so much time had done this to him.

So he tried to compose himself. For me if felt like time had stood still–I was immediately sorry that I had done this thing. So he said, “Class, who did this?” And the whole class went silent–I stayed silent, I was so ashamed. I liked Mr. Froman. He had always treated us with tremendous respect, and now I had repaid his kindness with meanness.

Two years later Mr. Froman died. He was a frail man who just simply succumbed to his ailments. For two years I had stayed silent. The guilt remained with me the whole time and remains even today. A guilty conscience is unyielding and it takes its toll on us. We can try to put it aside and forget it, but God has installed this internal disposition in all of us–an inner voice which we must learn to listen to and respond to appropriately.

David finally came to the place where he yielded to his conscience, faced up to his sin, uncovered it before the Lord, confessed it, repented from it, sought transformation, and God granted forgiveness. There’s nothing better in the world. If you are wrestling with a guilty conscience, stop trying to silence it. Stop trying to run from it. Embrace it, and go to the Lord to have your sin wiped away forever. Christ died in your place so you wouldn’t need to. But you’ve got to go to the Lord and seek His forgiveness.

David did, and as a result he was happier, healthier, and spiritually healed. These are the first three reasons to confess sin, and they all come from the testimony of David. But that’s not all. There are three more reasons to confess sin. The next three reasons all come from David’s instruction to others–they come from his public teaching ministry.

Notice in verse 6 that David begins with the word, “Therefore.” His focus changes here. Now he takes all the lessons he’s learned personally and applies them to others. He goes into teacher mode and tries to help others. Remember last week we read in Psalm 51 that David promised to undertake ministry to others–well here it is. Psalm 32 is the fulfillment of what David promised to do in Psalm 51.

Reason 4  You’ll be Harbored  Verses 6 to 7

In verses 6 and 7 we see the fourth reason to confess sin where David says, “Therefore, let everyone who is godly pray to You at a time when You may be found. Surely, the mighty floodwaters shall not reach him. 7 You are a hiding place for me. You protect me from trouble. You encompass me with songs of deliverance. Selah.”

David says, “If you confess sin, you will find a God who will protect you.” In other words, you’ll be harboured–that’s our fourth reason to confess sin. The word “harboured” pictures an old sailing ship that comes into an enclosed bay for protection from the high seas and the rough weather on the open ocean. In the same way, God is a gracious Father who protects His people from mighty floodwaters. He responds graciously to sinners who call on Him for forgiveness.

We need not be afraid of Him. He doesn’t reject penitent sinners. If we come genuinely confessing our sin, God promises three things. Look at verse 7–He Himself will be our hiding place, He will protect us from trouble, and He will surround us with deliverance songs. Selah–think about that. This is a wonderful place to be–it is a safe place.

Verse 6 says floodwaters can’t reach us there. It conjures up images of the worldwide flood that happened in Noah’s day. God judged the entire world for their sinfulness by drowning them in a flood that was the largest natural disaster to ever happen in world history. But it was purposed and carried out by God who hates sin. God created those mighty floodwaters–God judges sinners.

But David says, “Listen, if you will confess your sin while you still have time, God will relent. His judging hand will not strike. You’ll be harbored. You’ll be sheltered from judgment.” Look at verse 6 again–it reminds sinners to not delay. Pray while God can be found. Pray while there is opportunity, because a day is coming when it’s going to be too late.

My teacher, Mr. Froman, is dead–I can’t go to him. I can’t find him to seek his forgiveness. But what’s worse than that, there is going to be a day when the Lord can’t be found either. And once that day comes, there will no longer be any chance to receive forgiveness. So David says, “Don’t wait. If you approach God today, you’ll find a welcoming merciful Father who will not turn you away–you’ll be harbored.”

Reason 5  You’ll be Helped  Verses 8 to 9

The fifth reason to confess sin is found in verses 8 and 9. David says, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go. I will counsel you with my eye upon you.” David says, “Look, I’m trying to help you. I’m trying to counsel you. Please don’t be stubborn. If you listen to my words, you will be helped.”

That’s the fifth reason to confess sin–you’ll be helped. So David commits to helping his people. He’ll be their teacher. He’ll be their counselor. And he’ll keep his eye on the people. Some commentators think that these are actually the words of the Lord, not David’s. But the context seems to indicate that this is David continuing in his role as a teacher. David gives this instruction, offers counsel, and promises to keep his eye on the nation.

He simply says, “Hey, I’m trying to help you.” And then David says in verse 9, “Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be harnessed with bit and bridle, or it will not come near you.” Imagine a mule just for a second. What one word describes a mule? Stubborn, right? A donkey wins the top position of immovability in the animal kingdom.

A horse, on the other hand, runs freely. It moves without much coercion at all. Mules won’t budge–horses run. The only question with the horse is, where will it go? A horse needs to be bridled to be made to go in the right direction.

So David says to his people, don’t go the wrong way like an unbridled horse, and don’t be stubborn like a mule. Listen to my advice–it’s good advice. Confessing sin now is the best thing in the world. There are temporal benefits–blessedness, health . . . but there are eternal benefits too. God’s forgiveness, His grace, His mercy, His protective hand that will never allow eternal judgment to take place.

David says, “Please, listen to my voice.” You can hear in him the voice of experience. “I’ve been there, done that. You don’t have to live with a guilty conscience. And you don’t have to live in fear of judgment. Let me help you.”

Reason 6  You’ll be Happier  Verses 10 to 11

Then lastly, the sixth reason to confess sin is found in verses 10 and 11, where David says if you confess your sin “you’ll be happier.” David finishes where he started. In verse 10 David says, “Many are the sorrows of the wicked. But loyal love surrounds the one who trusts in the LORD.”

Someone once said, “The cause of sorrow is not sorrow itself. It’s unbelief.” I think that’s right.  The unbelief of the wicked can only result in sorrow. That’s because any kind of joy an unbeliever might experience in this world is temporary and superficial. Can you imagine what it would be to live without a belief in a gracious and merciful Savior? It would be terrible! But that’s the life of an unbeliever.

So verse 10 says the sorrows of the wicked are many. But you don’t need to be sorrowful. David says if we trust in God, we are surrounded by hesed–loyal love, grace, loving-kindness, unfailing love, mercy, the kind of love that trumps all other kinds of love. If you want to be surrounded by that kind of love, confess your sin.

And then in verse 11 David says, “Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, O righteous, and shout with joy, all you upright in heart.” What other response could there be? If you know for sure that your sins have been covered over, blotted out, erased forever, lifted off, wiped away, and the eternal consequences of those sins will never, ever, ever be experienced–there is no other way to respond than to shout for joy, be glad, rejoice, be happier.

It’s the kind of rejoicing that continues forever. That’s why we’re here this morning. We are rejoicing in the goodness of our God who sent Jesus Christ to earth–to live a perfect life and yet be nailed to a cross, take on Himself the burden of our sin, pay the penalty of that sin, and die in our place. That’s something to shout about.

An old Jesuit priest once said, “Joy is the surest sign of the presence of God.” He said, “Grimness is not a Christian virtue. There are no sad saints. If God really is the center of one’s life and being, joy is inevitable. If we have no joy, we have missed the heart of the good news, and our bodies as much as our souls will suffer the consequences.”

Are you rejoicing in God’s grace today? Is your heart jumping inside as we reflect on God’s goodness? That’s what happens when we have absolute confidence in the forgiving power of the Lord of Heaven. That’s what happens when God heals a guilty conscience. So there are six reasons to confess sin. Like David we can say, “I confessed my sin to the Lord. Christ paid for my sin–now I’m forgiven and I’m happier, I’m healthier, I’m healed, and if you he asked each prisoner the question, “What brought you here?”

Again and again he received replies like these–“I don’t deserve to be here,” and “I was framed,” or “I was falsely accused,” and “I was given an unfair trial.” Not one inmate would admit he was guilty. Finally Moody found a man with his face buried in his hands, weeping. Moody said, “And what’s wrong, my friend?” The prisoner responded, “My sins are more than I can bear.”

Moody responded, “Thank God for that!” Moody knew that a guilty conscience was a sign of God’s grace. He then had the joy of pointing the inmate to a saving knowledge of Christ–a knowledge that released him from his shackles of sin. How about you? Are you feeling the weight of the guilt of your sin like that? God will provide relief. He will provide forgiveness. He will provide restoration, if you would just call out to Him for mercy and grace. Let’s pray.

About Nigel Shailer

A pastor and elder at Faith Bible Church and head of the counseling ministry.

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