Blessed are the Forgiven
Are you happy this morning?
If yes, why? What’s making you happy today? What are the causes for your joy?
Are you unhappy this morning? If so, why? What’s causing your lack of joy? What would it take to make you happy today?
In our series on the Psalms we’ve been talking a lot about emotions. That’s the kind of territory that the Psalms deal with. We’ve heard how one third of the Psalms deal with themes of lament, sadness and sorrow.
But the Psalms don’t just deal with sadness. The Psalms also speak even more about joy—true, real and ultimate joy.
And that’s what our Psalm is about this morning. Psalm 32 is a Psalm about happiness and joy. And it’s laid out to answer three basic questions: “Who are the people who are genuinely happy? How can you know this to be true? And how can you become one of them yourself?”
Now before we hear how Psalm 32 answers those questions, I hope you know that these three questions are ones that people are asking and answering all the time. You’ve been asking these questions your whole life, even if you didn’t know it. And you’re surrounded by competing answers to these questions.
I think about an advertisement for a BBQ I saw yesterday that pictured a group of smiling models gathered around the grill. That advertisement was trying to answer these three questions for us.
Who are the genuinely happy? They are the people who have that BBQ. How can you know this to be true? Just look at the smiles on their faces. And how can you become one of them? You buy the BBQ. And wouldn’t you know, it’s on sale.
So Psalm 32 is not unique in that it tries to answer these three questions. It is profoundly unique in the answers it gives to these three questions. And so let’s dive in and see what it’s saying to us today.
Who Are the Genuinely Happy?
First question: who are the truly happy? And the answer from Psalm 32 is that the truly happy are those whose sins have been forgiven.
And we see that in those first two verses—“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” (Psalm 32:1–2).
That word “blessed” means “truly happy.” It’s a different Hebrew word from the one we find in passages like Genesis 12:3, when God says to Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you.” Or Deuteronomy 28, which speaks about the blessings of the covenant with Israel. Again, that’s a totally different Hebrew word than what we find in Psalm 32.
Instead of referring to the blessings of children or wealth, this word in Psalm 32 has the more basic meaning of being genuinely happy.
And so the first two verses of Psalm 32 are telling us who the truly happy are. And there’s four statements that fill it in for us. The truly happy are those 1) whose transgression is forgiven, 2) whose sin is covered, 3) against whom the Lord does not count iniquity, and 4) in whose spirit there is no deceit.
Transgression and iniquity and sin all basically mean the same thing. The things we do which are wrong. And so the truly happy are those whose sin has been forgiven. Note that they are not sinless, but their sins have been forgiven.
How Do We Know This to Be True?
The answer to the second question comes in the next section of the Psalm, verses 3-5. Here’s where we are told how we know this to be true.
And what these verses do is describe a time in which David experienced the truth of verses 1-2. A time when he tasted the truth that the happy are the forgiven. And his experience is presented to us as a testimony to validate this truth.
So in the background here is the assumption that David had committed a sin. We’re not told any details about that sin. Some people have guessed it might be his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of her husband. It might be, but it might not be. Psalm 32 supplies no details. It lets us fill in the blank.
And this is important. When we remember that the Psalms were Israel’s songbook, and that this Psalm would have been sung together by the people, then we can assume that David crafted the Psalm in this way so that we can fill our own blanks.
Each one of God’s people can make these words their own, remembering the many times that we have been in this spot. When we have sinned and tried to hide it. When we have done what Adam did, running and hiding from God’s presence. Trying to keep our sin a secret from God. Trying to pretend it never happened.
And how did that go for David? “…when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer” (Psalm 32:3–4).
David sinned and tried to hide his sin and as a result he was absolutely miserable.
Now there’s some uncertainly here about whether these words about bones wasting away and strength being dried up are describing an actual physical sickness that David experienced, or if they are poetic language for what was going on in his heart, in his spirit.
It could be a fever or something like that, or it could be poetic language for that feeling you get after you’ve done something wrong, how you just feel miserable and it almost sucks the breath out of you.
And both ideas really work. We know, on the one hand, that God sometimes does remove the blessing of physical health when His people are walking in unrepentant sin.
And this isn’t just an Old Covenant thing, by the way. 1 Corinthians 11 is the passage which speaks about the Lord’s supper, which we’re going to be celebrating later on this morning, and it tells us, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world” (1 Corinthians 11:27–32).
This is not something we often talk about. This is not something that, to be honest, factors into my thinking very often. Here in the New Covenant, God sometimes uses physical sickness and even death to discipline his people.
Please notice that He’s not punishing them. The goal of this physical discipline is in fact so that they would not be “condemned along with the world” (v. 32).
And that much is certainly true of David’s case. He was suffering—either in his body, or his spirit, or both—not because God had abandoned Him or was being mean to him. Instead, as v. 4 says, “your hand was heavy upon me.” God was doing this. God was after his heart. His goodness and mercy was chasing him down, like we heard last week (Psalm 23:6). God loves His children enough to make them miserable enough to seek His face.
I’ve known people who have done something terrible like leave their wife for another woman, and they say “I’ve never been happier.” And if they are telling the truth then they don’t know God. Because God lives His children too much to allow them to experience fullness of joy while they’re in rebellion to Him.
So so David turns in verse 5. He turns back to the One who had been pursuing Him.
But notice how David does this. Notice what he doesn’t say. He doesn’t say, “It’s ok God, I’ll never do that again.” He doesn’t offer to punish himself or treat himself harshly in one way or another. He doesn’t go out and do something really good or spiritual to try and make up for it.
What’s he say in verse 5? “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’” (Psalm 32:5).
This verse is so remarkable in how unremarkable it is. Because all David did was just be honest. He just told God the truth that they both already knew. He just stopped trying to hide, and he confessed what he did.
There’s no hint here of “I’ll try better.” No bartering of good works to make up for the bad works. And what’s remarkable, given the Old Covenant setting, is that there’s no sacrifice mentioned. No animals being killed. Just simple honesty.
See, this is what verse 2 was talking about when it said “Blessed is the man…in whose spirit there is no deceit” (Psalm 32:2). Verse 5 is just filling that in more. David was not deceitful in his spirit regarding his sin, and instead he acknowledged and confessed it.
“You Forgave Me.”
And what did God do?
How did God respond to this child of his who had sinned against Him and had gone on trying to run and hide for so long?
And one again, before we answer that question, let’s ask: how do others tend to respond when we’ve been in this spot with them?
Think about the home you grew up in. How did you parents act when you had done something wrong and asked them to forgive you? Some of you grew up in homes where your parents were quick forgivers and had no problem forgiving you and bringing you back into fellowship.
But others of you grew up in homes where your parents would hold your failures over your head for hours, or maybe weeks, or maybe even years, and continue to punish you emotionally, repeatedly reminding you of what you did, and how you could never escape from your failures.
I bring this up because, whether we know it or not, our ideas of God are often significantly influenced by the way our parents treated us. Especially our fathers. Which is why your job is so big, dads.
And in contrast to all of that, just listen to verse 5 with fresh ears. “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin” (Psalm 32:5).
That’s it. David confessed, and God just…forgave him. I love how the NLT paraphrases this part of the passage. “And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone” (Psalm 32:5d, NLT).
Where’s the catch here? What did David need to do? What sort of recompense or reparations did he need to make? How did He pay God back for the way he had insulted him and treated him so poorly?
He didn’t. There is no catch here. All David does is admit to what happened—confessing and acknowledging his sin. And he is forgiven, 100%. His guilt is gone.
This is why the Apostle Paul quotes Psalm 32 in the book of Romans when he’s trying to explain how we are justified by faith and not by works. We are counted righteous by God even though we are in fact unrighteous and ungodly people. But through faith, and faith alone—not our good works—God counts us righteous for Jesus’ sake. And as he explains this, Paul quotes from Psalm 32. Listen to this part from Romans 4:
“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, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered’” (Romans 4:4–7).
That’s what’s going on here in Psalm 32. David is experiencing the righteousness that comes by faith alone. Forgiveness that he doesn’t need to work for. He just confesses, and God forgives him.
What is Forgiveness?
So what does that actually mean? What has actually taken place here? What is forgiveness, as far as Psalm 32 is concerned?
We know from David’s story in 2 Samuel 11 that forgiveness does not mean zero consequences for our sin. There is always fallout when we chose to rebel against God. When David committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered her husband, there were real and ongoing consequences for that sin.
So this idea of “forgive and forget” isn’t really true. Forgiveness does not mean pretending that the sin never happened in the first place.
But forgiveness meant that the guilt of his sin was removed. David’s fellowship with God was restored. Things were good between the two of them again. In terms of David’s relationship with God, it’s as if the sin never took place.
And this is where the joy comes in. This is why the forgiven are the truly happy. Because the forgiven are the ones who have a restored relationship with God.
And God is the source of all joy. Like we heard a few weeks ago, in God’s presence there is fullness of joy, and at his right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).
And sin breaks our fellowship with God. It sends us off running into the trees like Adam, hiding from the source of all joy.
And this is one of the reasons why so many people today are miserable. This is one of the reasons why many Christians are miserable. Not the only reason, but a reason. Unconfessed sin has sent them running from the source of all joy, namely, God.
But God’s goodness and mercy pursues us, and when we turn, when we confess and acknowledge that sin, our faithful, covenant-keeping God is ready to forgive us.
Like the father of the prodigal son, He’s waiting at the door, eyes on the road, running to embrace us at at the first sight of our dirty faces.
And so, the forgiven are happy because the forgiven have a restored fellowship with God, who is the source of all joy.
How Can You Become One of Them?
Now all of that is in answer to that second major question this morning. First, who are the truly happy, and second, how can we know this to be true? The happy are the forgiven, and David’s experience illustrates this for us in living colour, as he experienced the misery of sin and the joy of a restored relationship with God.
Finally, Psalm 32 answers the last question, “how can I become one of these truly happy, forgiven people?” Verses 6 and following answer this question for us: “Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found; surely in the rush of great waters, they shall not reach him” (Psalm 32:6–7).
Let the godly pray to God “at a time when you may be found.” There’s a backhanded warning there in verse 6. Perhaps there is a time when He may not be found.
We learned last year in 1 John that if we never confess our sins, if we go on and on in an unbroken pattern of unrepentant sin, we prove that we are not in fact one of God’s children, that we are not in fact among the godly.
We prove that we are one of God’s children when we repent as soon as we can. And that seems to be David’s message here in verse 6. Yes, God is eager to forgive. So prove that you are God’s child by seeking that forgiveness today.
And when we do that, we will find God ready to protect and save us. That’s the idea behind the rush of great waters and the hiding place in verse 7. God is an able and a ready and an eager saviour. He surrounds us with shouts of deliverance (Psalm 32:7).
So that’s what we should do. And that’s what you should do this morning. Have you sinned recently? Are you trying to hide it or ignore it or pretend it away?
Just stop. Don’t be like a stubborn mule. And if that sounds offensive to you, that’s just verse 9. Don’t fight against God and force him to discipline you even more. Talk to God and seek His forgiveness today.
This is something we need to do regularly and often. And this, by the way, is why many churches throughout history have often included a part in their worship service where the people, together, out loud, confess their sins and ask for God’s mercy. That was just seen as a normal part of what Christians should do when they gather together.
And if you’ve noticed in recent months, our service leaders have often included words in their prayer during the service. They’ve prayed words of confession for our sins and sought God’s forgiveness.
And maybe sometime we’ll experiment with saying that kind of thing out loud together. It might feel strange to us, especially here in Canada where it’s not seen as polite to do that kind of thing. But I’ve heard from people in churches that have begun to reintroduce this practice and they’ve said it’s so freeing to say those kinds of words together, out loud, as a church.
So that’s what we should do. That’s how we become one of the truly happy people. Confess our sin and seek the forgiveness of our eagerly gracious God.
And verses 10 & 11 sum all of this up for us. “Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord. Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” (Psalm 32:10–11).
Be glad! Be happy! Rejoice! Which, as we’ve seen, does not mean achieving sinless perfection. It means we just stop covering up our sin and we confess it freely to God and experience His eager forgiveness.
How Does This Work?
Now there’s one final question we need to ask this morning to really get our heads and hearts around this Psalm. And this one final question is, how does this forgiveness work? How is it even possible? How can God let David get away with his sin like this?
You know that feeling when you hear about that person who is charged with a crime but the judge gives them this piddly little sentence, or even no sentence at all, and you’re thinking “that’s not fair! You can’t just let them get away with that!”
That would not be an incorrect reaction to Psalm 32. You would be on the right track if you read Psalm 32 and thought, “What do you mean, ‘he forgave me’? How can he just do that? It’s not fair!”
You’re right, it’s not fair. And when God just passes over sin like this, it calls His righteousness into question. It calls His justice into question. It could makes one wonder if God really is as great and glorious as He says He is if he just lets people walk all over Him and get away with it.
And so there’s this tension in the storyline of the Bible, a tension that went on for centuries until it was shattered by the sound of a hammer pounding nails through the hands and feet of the sinless lamb of God.
Romans 4:25 tells us that Jesus died as a “propitiation.” And then it says, “This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.”
Here’s what this means: Jesus died as a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of His people. All of His people, from all of time. Whatever sin of David’s is in the background here in Psalm 32, Jesus paid for it on the cross. God’s wrath, stored up for all those years, fell on Him.
And so God could forgive David back in Psalm 32 because He knew that these sins would be paid for by His own son 1,000 years later.
For you and I, it works in the opposite direction. God can forgive our sin today because they already have been paid for by His own Son 2,000 years ago. Like the next verse in Romans 3 says this about Christ’s death: “It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26).
And so, we come to the table this morning. The bread and the cup are here to help us remember and proclaim what Jesus did to make Psalm 32 possible. Forgiveness is not free. Grace is not cheap. But the price has been paid in full by our Saviour Jesus Christ.
So come, sinners, gather round the table and confess your sins to your Father and receive His forgiveness this morning as you eat and as you drink.