The pain and hurt of broken relationships are real and deep. How often people are wounded and discouraged through personal relationship problems. Yet personal relationship problems abound, and impact daily life often. Think of how many songs lament difficult relationship issues. We are relational beings, and relational hurt and struggle are a real part of the human experience.
It is wonderful to know that the child of God is secure in an eternal relationship with God. But, it is sad when our fellowship with God is impacted negatively in some way.
God does not sin. God is holy. God always loves. God is always faithful. God is the all-wise God. God is righteous, merciful, and full of grace.
So, if there is a problem (real or perceived) between the Christian and the Lord, it is due to the Christian. Often the cause of the problem in our fellowship with the Lord is a sin or sins that we have committed against the Lord. The Lord is a person, and even though we are in His family it is possible to hinder close fellowship with Him.
The effect can be that God seems distant, our Christian life seems mechanical. We have lost our joy.
Yes, there can be various other reasons for a sense of dullness or distance in our spiritual lives. These reasons can be emotional, physical, circumstantial, and otherwise.
The focus of this message is on the blessedness of forgiveness and restoration. And the issue that has caused the need for forgiveness and restoration is sin.
God desires for us to have joyful fellowship with Him. Is that not what you want? That is where this Psalm ends, it ends with joy. So, let’s see how the Psalmist gets there!
“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 is no deceit.
For 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. (Selah)
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.” (Selah)
This psalm begins by speaking of the blessing of forgiveness. Various words for “offenses” against God are used in the first two verses. It is helpful, I believe, to consider the different words and phrases used in order to emphasize the need for forgiveness. I do this with the help of a scholar named Peter C. Craigie. (See Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 19, Psalm 1-50)
The Psalmist speaks of a “transgression” being forgiven. Transgression indicates an act of direct rebellion against God. This is an act of direct disobedience to the revealed will of God. Think of the ten commandments. Think also of the great commandment to love God with all that we are, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Direct disobedience to the Lord is so common in our world.
Sin initially separates people from a holy God, and that is why we need reconciliation through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Through Christ, and His death on the cross for our sins, people come into a right relationship with God, initially. This happens as a person comes to God in repentance and faith, and that person becomes a child of God through Christ Jesus our Lord.
The blessing is that God forgives such direct acts against Himself and His Word. We should never get too used to the idea that God is a forgiving God. God is so gracious and so merciful!
The Lord continues to be gracious and merciful to His children who sin against Him, and it is a blessing that He is a forgiving God. The Psalmist is writing as one who already knows the Lord. He is speaking of the blessedness of being forgiven even as a believer, one of God’s people.
The word for “sin” speaks of missing the right path of action, or causing some offense to someone. The Apostle Paul states that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Ultimately all have missed the mark and “fallen short.” The “covering” of sin by God does not mean that it is approved, it means that God’s forgiveness involves covering sin so that it will not be exposed or considered again. That sin will not be used against you in some way by God. It is covered “for good.” This is an important aspect of what forgiveness means.
“Iniquity” speaks of that which is criminal and disrespectful of God, indeed it is a distortion of God’s will. Forgiveness involves not keeping a record, or counting this iniquity against someone. God does not hold grudges. He will not bring up something that has been done in the past if it is covered and forgiven by Him.
The last phrase in verse two deals with the absence of deceit in our lives. This really is an indication of true confession, true forgiveness, and now the ability to live a life of integrity, purity, and transparency. Peter Craigie writes, “…the forgiveness implied in the first three lines presupposes repentance and confession (cf. v 5), and only when that repentance and confession are honest, devoid of deceit, will the happy estate of forgiveness be experienced.” (p. 266)
We need to remember that this is poetry and beautiful Old Testament poetry at that. The Psalmist is expressing the completeness of God’s forgiveness of the sins of His people by using all of these words. While detailing various aspects of offenses against and before the Lord, the completeness of God’s forgiveness is emphasized. Praise His Name! Where would we be if God was not a forgiving God?? We would be candidates for God’s judgment and punishment.
“If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” (Psalm 130:3-4)
So, we move to the key thought in these verses and that is the blessedness of forgiveness.
The Lord’s forgiveness is not somehow merited by us. The Lord’s forgiveness is due to His grace, mercy, and provision. Given the holiness and sovereignty of God, complete forgiveness is such a blessing.
God’s forgiveness was due to His mercy and grace in Old Testament times. This mercy and grace were demonstrated for all time in the sending of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, to die a sacrificial death for our sins on Calvary’s cross. He was the perfect sacrifice offered; He paid the penalty sufficient for all our sins. So, the costly payment for our forgiveness has been made (1 Peter 1:18-21). Indeed, this is a fundamental aspect of the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:3-8, Romans 3:21-26). And the blood continues to cleanse from sin; we have an advocate for us in our righteous Savior and Lord (1 John 1:7-2:2).
It is possible, we must admit, for the believer in Jesus to sin, and for that sin to hinder fellowship with the Lord. The sin does not cut off the covenant relationship, but the fellowship can be hindered as the indwelling Spirit is grieved or quenched.
The question for today is – are you living with a sense of complete forgiveness? Or, are you struggling in your fellowship with God? Do you think that there may be sin that needs to be dealt with through true repentance and confession??
Let’s learn lessons from the experience of the Psalmist. Consider with me:
The individual must experience this forgiveness personally for this forgiveness to be the personal blessing that the Psalmist is writing about.
Notice first of all:
Read these words carefully (3-4). Can you sense the sadness, even the sickness of the Psalmist as he delays in getting right with God? Why waste the time of being and feeling out of fellowship with God? It can drain your spiritual and even your mental and physical strength. A true sense of conviction can weigh on the conscience and can cause spiritual discouragement. This is the experience shared by the Psalmist, David. Some like to put this Psalm together with Psalm 51 to give an even fuller appreciation of the experience of forgiveness.
You may have experienced this “delay” in a human relationship. You may be married and the relationship is settled and secure, but fellowship has been impacted due to some harsh words, a hurtful thoughtless act, or something else. A period of strained fellowship takes place until there is a willingness for confession and forgiveness.
We do need to remember that there is such a thing as false guilt. That is not what we are talking about. False guilt is found in people who are perfectionists, people who are overly sensitive to any possible failure or weakness in their lives. False guilt is usually vague without specific Biblical teaching, and without a specific path to forgiveness. Be careful about false guilt, and bring it before the Lord, and even have friends in the Lord encourage you through prayer and support. It may be due to things that have happened in the past, and the impact still lingers and causes a sense of guilt. This is not our focus in this message.
But, there can be a real sense of conviction of sin revealed to us, and we should not delay to deal with it to remove any hindrance in our fellowship with the Lord.
Delay can occur because of pride. We simply do not want to honestly admit before God that we have sinned. We rationalize, we justify ourselves, we blame others. We delay by doing everything else except coming to God directly.
Delay can also occur due to pre-occupations. We are too busy with activities, work, and other things. These other things cause us to put our relationship with God in a secondary place in our lives. We don’t like the “pain” of getting right with God, so we stay busy and put aside or delay that encounter with God. And our fellowship with the Lord becomes distant and “inactive.”
Remember Proverbs 28:13 - “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.”
There is no good reason to delay getting right with God if we sense we have grieved or quenched the Holy Spirit. If we know we have sinned, we need to be honest and open with God. The Apostle James reminds us that the Lord gives more grace (James 4:6). We need grace to humble ourselves and to come to the Lord at times when we know that we have hindered our joyful fellowship with the Lord. It is our fault, period!
The Psalmist states personally his response. Relating this to our own lives, we need to:
And in the light of his full confession, he had full confidence in the Lord’s forgiveness. This was not confidence due to himself, but confidence in the character of God. Yes, he was honest, open, and sincere in his confession of sin, but he had to trust God to forgive.
In the New Testament, we have a confirmation of this experience in I 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.”
God is a forgiving God. We must not compare God’s forgiveness to how an unforgiving person acts or functions. You may have been hurt by someone who does not really forgive. (A Christian, by the way, must forgive, even as he or she has been forgiven by the Lord.)
Sin is real. God is holy. But, because of Christ’s sacrifice, we are made right with God initially and continually. Furthermore, because of the Lord’s mercy and grace, fellowship with God can be maintained and restored.
Is that what you need right now? Do you need to follow the Psalmist’s example and experience complete forgiveness?
But, there is more in this Psalm that calls our attention. Notice:
“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 will not reach him. You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance. (Selah)
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you. 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.”
The Psalm moves on to express important aspects of our fellowship with God. From this part of the Psalm, we learn different aspects of a renewed fellowship with God, that I am calling a “renewed discipleship.” Confession is only the beginning, there is so much more to a renewed and joyful fellowship with the Lord.
Prayer is fundamental to our walk with God. We need to pray urgently in time of need. God is our deliverer and not our enemy. There are beautiful words of encouragement in these verses. Don’t run from God, run to God in time of need! This includes prayers of confession in a timely manner. But, I would add that sometimes our sins hinder us from going to God in prayer for other reasons. In short, sin can hinder our prayer lives. So, we need this exhortation to go to God in prayer. Notice that David, the Psalmist, is speaking to the godly. The godly thing to do is to pray and especially in times of trouble.
It is the character of God to act on behalf of His children who come to Him and pray to Him. Prayer and praying are important aspects of a restored and growing fellowship with the Lord. Earlier in the Psalm, we read of a time when the Psalmist kept silent (verse 3). These were bad times. Whatever the circumstances, we need to be people ready to pray. This is a mark of renewed discipleship. It is through the life of prayer that we come to know God more fully as our deliverer, our protector, our hiding place. The disciple needs to be growing in a personal understanding of who God is and who God is to him or her in accordance with God’s revelation in His Word.
We need to be open to and be instructed by the Lord’s words to us. Notice that in verses 8-9 the Lord is speaking to the Psalmist and to us. He is confirming His will to teach and guide. He is offering words of direction and help. God’s words are words of guidance backed up by loving attention. Our ears and hearts need to be available and submissive to what He has to say to us.
The Psalmist gives the illustrations of the horse and the mule to encourage us to accept humbly the counsel we need, and not to be stubborn or resistant. Humble listening and obedience are marks of a healthy fellowship with the Lord. The disciple is a learner. The disciple is waiting on the words of the Master. The disciple is seeking to listen and to obey.
Instead of horses or mules, think about people driving cars. There are those drivers of cars who really don’t like getting directions from anyone else. They like to figure things out on their own. When they are lost or unsure of directions, their own pride will not let them say, “I need your help.” “I need your instructions.” They may not even seek help from their phones!
We need the Lord’s instruction, and we should always desire it. A disciple wants to be led by the Lord.
Think of our Lord’s original twelve disciples. Oh, how they needed the instruction of the Master. We do also. We need to have ears to hear what He is saying to us through His Word. One practical idea for this year is to take one of the four Gospels this year and focus on the teachings of Jesus. Sit at Jesus’ feet and let Him teach you. Of course, this is true for all Scripture, but this may be a practical way to submit yourself afresh to the Lord as teacher.
As Christians and disciples of Jesus, we understand that our righteousness is ultimately a merciful gift in Christ due to the sacrifice He made for our forgiveness. But, we still need daily mercy and daily protection from the Lord. And this Psalm ends by affirming that we can trust the Lord daily and we have every reason to rejoice in the Lord because of His forgiveness, His mercy, and indeed His relationship with us. Those who do not know the Lord, do not enjoy this relationship. They remain in their sins and are not seeking the Lord in any way. They are referred to as the wicked in these verses, and not as the righteous who experience fellowship with God through complete forgiveness and renewed discipleship.
The evidences and the privileges of a healthy fellowship are indeed trust and joy. Trust and joy are privileges, but also characteristics of the lives of disciples. Yes, disciples pray. Yes, disciples listen, learn and obey. Also, disciples walk by faith, and rejoice in their Lord. The disciple’s life is the life of trust and dependence. And it is in a growing fellowship with the Lord that the renewed believer experiences joy in the Lord.
What a blessing to be able to trust the Lord daily as our all-sufficient forgiver, deliverer, teacher, and the One who loves us with an everlasting love. This trust will lead to real joy, a joy that can be lived and be expressed even in the midst of difficult circumstances.
Joy is a rare commodity in our world. So many people lack joy. They may have temporary happiness when circumstances are good. But, deep strengthening joy is lacking. People can go through life controlled by worry, by doubt, by guilt. This is not the way God intended our lives to be as His children and disciples. The fruit of the Spirit includes joy. Joy is something that God wants us to experience.
I am expanding on a phrase that my father used to say: Joy is the flag that flutters at the top of the flagpole of our lives - when King Jesus is in residence and we are in fellowship with Him.
When we experience complete forgiveness and renewed discipleship with the Lord, there is nothing to hinder real joy in our hearts. We enjoy His presence and the blessings of fellowship with the Lord in greater measure.
There is an old hymn with the title: “Nothing between my soul and the Savior.” This should be our daily desire. Just as we should not want anything between or hindering our relationships with our spouses, our children, or close friends. Even more so, we should desire fresh and joyful fellowship with the Lord daily.
In the deepest part of your mind, heart, and soul – do you think your fellowship with the Lord has been impacted negatively? Do you feel that it is broken to some degree? Well, in the words of 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.” Let’s do that right now.
If you sense that your fellowship with the Lord needs to be renewed or restored, tell Him. Pray now in a timely fashion. But, after praying, there needs to be a renewed commitment to discipleship. This includes a commitment to pray and to obey the Lord’s instruction and avoid sinning or rebelling against what He teaches and directs you to do.
Ask the Lord to renew the fellowship and then as humble students affirm that He is our guide, our teacher, our leader. Let’s express our trust and joy in the Lord. By faith we trust Him for forgiveness, especially in the light of Jesus Christ our sacrifice and advocate. Then, we seek His gift of joy through the Holy Spirit. We are blessed indeed by the forgiving mercy and matchless grace of our loving and merciful Lord.
If you are reading this, and you are not sure of having a real relationship with God; Jesus Christ is the answer. If anyone will repent of their sins and trust in Jesus Christ (God’s Son) as God’s all-sufficient Savior, they can be forgiven of their sins and become a child of God. Why? Because God says so. How? Through receiving Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, turning from sin and surrendering to the Lord Jesus Christ and His gracious provision for you. Then, a true personal relationship with God is established. It is a covenant relationship that is permanent and eternal. And joyful fellowship with the Lord can begin.
What a blessing it is to be forgiven and to have true fellowship with the Lord, initially and continually!