March 12, 2017
A note to readers: Today’s post is part of a Sunday Voice Series by Dr. Timothy C. Tennent, a close friend, mentor and colleague of mine. He serves as the President of Asbury Theological Seminary among other posts he holds across the global church. This Sunday Voice Series will cover the Psalms, beginning to end, by focusing on a Psalm each Sunday. I can’t tell you how excited I am for his interest in contributing here. This will be a huge blessing to us all.
Psalm 32 (NIV)
Blessed is the one
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one
whose sin the LORD does not count against them
and in whose spirit is no deceit.
When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night
your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
as in the heat of summer.
Then 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 forgave
the guilt of my sin.
Therefore let all the faithful pray to you
while you may be found;
surely the rising of the mighty waters
will not reach them.
You are my hiding place;
you will protect me from trouble
and surround me with songs of deliverance.
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.
Do not be like the horse or the mule,
which have no understanding
but must be controlled by bit and bridle
or they will not come to you.
Many are the woes of the wicked,
but the LORD’s unfailing love
surrounds the one who trusts in him.
Rejoice in the LORD and be glad, you righteous;
sing, all you who are upright in heart!
This is the second of the seven penitential Psalms (Psalm 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143). Here in Psalm 32, we see laid out before us the grammar of the penitential life, i.e. the nuts and bolts of what it really means to live the life of repentance. Some regard repentance as merely the door into salvation and do not associate it with our ongoing lives in the presence of God. However, this psalm links together the “first half” of the gospel (justification) with the “second half” of the gospel (sanctification).
Verse 1 begins with celebrating the blessedness of forgiveness: “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered!” The psalm then just explodes with an overflow of words outlining the glorious truths of justification and the peril of failing to confess our sins. Confessed sins are forgiven, covered, and not “counted against us” (vv. 1, 2). Sins which we fail to confess cause our “bones to waste away” and make us “groan all day long.” As a result, we live with his hand heavy upon us and our “strength [is] sapped” (vv. 3, 4). But through confession, we are able to enter into the life justified before God. This is all the glorious first half of the gospel.
The psalm makes an important shift in verse 8. Now, the justified person is being instructed, taught, and given counsel as to what it means to actually live a righteous life. As Christians, we are never less than forgiven sinners. But, God has so much more for us! We are called to abide in him and to embody reflections of his righteousness. Forgiveness is wonderful, but fellowship with God is even greater! We should not be like a mule who resists God’s discipline and instruction and will not come to God when he calls (vs. 9). Discipleship is much more than sin management. It is moving from being captivated by the gravity of sin to being captivated by the gravity of holy love. This psalm sees the whole trajectory, from justification to sanctification and, indeed, even envisions that final day when we are delivered from not only the guilt and power of sin, but even the presence of sin. On that day, we shall sing with this psalmist, “Rejoice in the LORD and be glad you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart” (vs. 11).