Tag Archive: forgiveness


The Gospel in Psalm 130

July 19, 2015

 

Introduction

Psa. 130:1 A Song of Ascents. Out of the depths I have cried to You, O LORD. 2 Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications. 3 If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? 4 But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared. 5 I wait for the LORD, my soul does wait, and in His word do I hope. 6 My soul waits for the Lord more than the watchmen for the morning; indeed, more than the watchmen for the morning. 7 O Israel, hope in the LORD; for with the LORD there is lovingkindness, and with Him is abundant redemption. 8 And He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

Based on the text of this Psalm, it seems appropriate to begin with some questions. How many transgressions of all the principles and commandments and precepts that are found in Scripture did you violate last week? What would the list look like if all of your sins, up to this moment in time, had been recorded? How would you like to appear before God and see such a list displayed before Him?

The truth is, you don’t know how many times you’ve violated the holiness of God just since you opened your eyes this morning. Even if we attempted to record all of our sinful thoughts and words and actions for just a day, we would miss most of them. We don’t go through life thinking in terms of cataloging our sins—and for good reason. We don’t have to live like that. But that shouldn’t stop us from considering how often we violate God’s standard and that shouldn’t stop us from meditating, at times, on all the ways in which we sin against God. Such times of reflection can be most beneficial, as we are about to see as we turn our attention to Psa. 130.

This obviously is a prayer offered by a worshiper of God; it is a prayer expressing anguish, to a degree, and relief as the writer acknowledges certain facts about God. These facts, as they are recalled, provide him with a much needed encouragement and corrected perspective on whatever it was that drove him to describe himself as being in the “depths.”

I would note that the first truth that stands out is this writer’s apparent conviction that the LORD establishes the standard by which we are judged, the standard by which our lives are measured. This critical truth comes after the writer’s introductory remarks in which he expresses his distress and his desire that the LORD would hear his supplications. In v. 3, the writer asks a question that carries such momentous implications that I fear we will not be able to grasp them all. The writer of this Psalm asks: “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” Before I talk about the most sobering aspects of this question, I want you to notice that the writer automatically assumes that it is the LORD’s place to decide what is and what is not an iniquity; he assumes that the LORD is the One who sets the standard to which all are held.

The writer does not suggest that if the LORD were to be the One with the authority or right to mark iniquities, we might find ourselves in trouble; he assumes that the LORD is the One whose nature is such that He determines that which constitutes acceptable thinking, speaking, and conduct. This fact, in itself, declares to us something vital concerning God’s nature—His nature is the standard of morality. Whatever God is, that is what it means to be morally upright; whatever contradicts what God is, that is what it means to be morally corrupt and fallen.

With this tremendously important assumption operating, the writer asks his question: “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” If God, whose nature is the standard of judgment in this universe, were to “mark iniquities,” no one would survive, the writer asserts. Let me define two words at this point before we continue. First, the word translated “mark” (shamar) means “to keep” as it to preserve something for an indefinite period of time. Second, the word “iniquities” (avon) means “perversity, depravity, sin.” Now, look again at the question: “If You, LORD, should keep or preserve a record of sins or acts of perversity or thoughts of depravity, O Lord, who could stand?”

I already noted that the writer operates with the assumption that the LORD has the authority to determine the standard by which we are judged. Another assumption, which is obviously held by this writer, is that we are a people characterized by that which qualifies as iniquity. He doesn’t speak as though iniquity is a rare thing; he speaks as though everyone on this earth is characterized by enough iniquity to render them worthy of destruction were the LORD ever to decide to call them to account. This Psalm tells us that God sets the standard and it tells us that He is not like us; we are different from God because we are characterized by various elements that are contrary to His nature; therefore, we deserve judgment—that is a clear message from this writer.

We deserve judgment because we commit violation after violation of God’s standard, and yet we do not perish. Why is this? It is because the LORD is pleased not to mark our iniquities, and He is pleased not to keep a list of our sins current right up to this present moment in time is a running count of accusations against us. He is pleased not to call us to account for our transgressions. Now the writer has revealed a truth about God that should leave us astounded —we are creatures of depravity, but the LORD chooses not to hold our sins against us. He chooses not to mark our iniquities. If we could simply comprehend this one primary point, we would have an understanding of the gospel that would change us forever; we would understand the power of the gospel, the beauty of the gospel, and the comfort of the gospel. The LORD does not mark our iniquities because “there is forgiveness with [Him], that [He] may be feared.” (v. 4)

Forgiveness—that is the explanation. We are characterized by iniquities, but the LORD doesn’t hold on to those transgressions and He doesn’t bring them against us time after time because He forgives us. It’s not that we learn to do better and it’s not that God cares less about His holy character as time goes by and it’s not that our offenses are any less offensive the tenth time we commit them as opposed to the first time. The answer is forgiveness. God forgives us, which means, as the writer’s word structure indicates, that forgiveness is the very opposite of marking iniquities. Knowing that God forgives, the writer states, leads us to fear Him. He uses a Hebrew term (yare) that refers to the deep reverence we have when we stand in awe of something. This word is used extensively in the Old Testament to describe a proper attitude toward God. This fear is not that He will harm us, the fear is reverence, respect, standing in all of the magnificent God of the Bible. To meditate on the forgiveness of God leads to this worshipful attitude; it is an attitude of humility and thanksgiving.

The only way for you to understand the richness of your salvation is to first grasp the enormity of your sin. This is the idea here in our text. The enormity of our sin is revealed when the writer says, in essence, that if we had to answer for our conduct, we would perish; the richness of our salvation is revealed when he says that, instead of being called to account for our sins, God forgives us—which explains, by the way, what forgiveness is; it is relating to the offending party without regard for his sins. Here I must make something absolutely clear; what I want to make absolutely clear is how this kind of situation can exist. I want to make clear how it is that God forgives the guilty.

If anyone ever had a doubt regarding the presence of the gospel in the Old Testament, here is a prime example of how the Old Testament reveals the nature of redemption without speaking as directly about Christ as is the case after the incarnation. We know why the LORD doesn’t mark our iniquities; it is because He forgives us. But we also know that God’s holy nature makes it impossible for Him simply to overlook transgressions. The kind of statement found in this Psalm would have led any pious mind to thoughts about what was taught in the Levitical system, namely, that sins are forgiven on the basis of a substitutionary atonement. If there is forgiveness with God, as this writer says, it is because something has been done about our sins—and that “something” is that God has provided Another to bear the consequences of our iniquities.

As I said before, we do not escape answering for our transgressions because God forgets about them or because He knows that we are “doing our best.” We escape because our Savior takes our place. That is the underlying truth of this portion of Psa. 130. Here is a brief, but truthful reminder of what God had been promising for ages; and the writer of this Psalm relates in a simple fashion the reality of redemption.

This Psalm tells us that God determines the standard to which we are held, that He does not count our transgressions against us even though we violate His standard, and that in the place of destruction God provides forgiveness. Consequently, as the writer goes on to teach, God becomes the focus of his hope (cf. v. 5). Because he knows what the LORD has done, because He knows that the LORD forgives and restores, the writer found great comfort for his soul as he faced hardships. We’ll see in a moment the manner in which he describes this hope, but for now the important point is that the way in which God treats His people makes Him the object of their trust and hope.

This Psalm is a wonderful assertion of some of the primary truths of the gospel. Sinners who are condemned and deserving of destruction are forgiven by the very God against whom they have committed innumerable acts of transgression. Imagine the God who would operate in this manner! Imagine His love and His mercy and His patience.

Clearly, as we’ve seen in many of the other Psalms in this current series, this Psalm tells us that these were people who quickly and confidently turned to the LORD in times of distress. Routinely, these Psalms have given testimony to the fact that the worshipers sought guidance, comfort and confidence from the LORD in the many adverse circumstances they encountered. In this case, the writer describes himself as crying to the LORD “out of the depths.” (v. 1) Whenever this word (“depths”) is used in the Old Testament, it normally refers to the deepest parts of the ocean. Figuratively, therefore, it is used to express a state of great anguish and despair.

Although the writer doesn’t provide specific details concerning his situation, we do have some indication of what was bothering him. After expressing such anguish, he begins speaking of iniquities. It is possible, therefore, that the writer was deeply troubled by his transgressions or those of the nation. For some reason, sin and forgiveness were on his mind when he wrote this song. Rightly, as I noted, he turns to the LORD and pours out his distress in those few words found in vv. 1 and 2. This writer is in a position where only the LORD can help him and it is to the LORD that he directs his cry for assistance.

Those who, along with this writer, worshiped the LORD at this point in history knew the fundamental truth that God is the one to whom we turn in times of distress, especially if that distress is caused by the contemplation of our sin. Where else can we turn to find relief for our troubled soul when, upon the contemplation of our depravity, we find ourselves near despair? The very act of meditating on one’s fallen state quickly leads to the conclusion that there is no help to be found in self—self is the problem! We are sinners and when sinners think soberly on their condition, they certainly do not conclude that deliverance from condemnation and the torment of guilt is to be found in their own devices. It is to the LORD and to Him only that we turn in such moments and it is that perspective that is recorded in this Psalm.

This apparent deliberation on his condition led this writer to a sobering conclusion: “If you, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” (v. 2) Realizing, even to a slight degree, how unfit he was to stand before the LORD, this writer confesses the truth that if the LORD were to require an accounting from him for his transgressions, he would be doomed. And, in fact, the way he states the question makes it obvious that he held this same opinion about all of his countrymen. If the LORD were to keep track of our sins, he says, and then require a reckoning from us, we would be lost. We could not possibly stand before the LORD were He to produce a list of our sins.

Imagine knowing that the LORD was, in fact, marking iniquities, was keeping a record and would demand an accounting. This would be enough to unravel any pious person, or any person who truly wanted to walk before Jehovah in faith. But just as such disturbing thoughts occurred to this writer, he adds that astounding statement in v. 4: “But there is forgiveness with You…”

These worshipers were not free of sin and they were not free of guilt before the LORD, but He was not relating to them based on their sin because with Jehovah there is forgiveness. With Him, there is a remedy for sin—because there is forgiveness with the LORD. What a change of perspectives! If the LORD should mark iniquities, these worshipers knew that they could not endure before Him, but the LORD did not keep a record of their sin in order to bring it against them. Instead, He offered them forgiveness; instead, the LORD, the holy One, the offended One, made a provision for their deliverance.

It’s no wonder that the writer goes on to express how he eagerly waited for the LORD (vv. 5 and 6). As he considered his sin and the fact that the LORD forgave him, he wanted nothing more than to be with the LORD who loved him so. The truth of God’s forgiveness was the hope to which this man held as he made his way through life. It was communion with God that brought this man joy and comfort.

The word translated “wait” (qavah) is interesting (cf. v. 5). It’s a term that refers to remaining or abiding in a specific state as you anticipate something beneficial. When the writer says that he waited for the LORD, he doesn’t mean he was expecting the LORD to show up at some point. He means that he was resting in the LORD. And from that perspective, he was anticipating a time of communion with God, perhaps through worship or perhaps through his departure from this life into the presence of God.

In this frame of mind, the writer could urge his fellow-worshipers to “hope in the LORD.” (v. 7) He could assure them that they served a God who is known for His lovingkindness. In Him, the writer declares, there is “abundant redemption.” He presents a picture of the LORD that is completely uplifting and perfectly suited for those who were on their way to worship Jehovah.

At some point, this writer was made aware of his transgressions or something caused him to pause and think about the fact that he was a sinner and his sins were committed against a God of purity and holiness. And as he was going through this thought process, he realized that he deserved destruction. But there he was—alive and well and able to worship the LORD. The contemplation of his sin led, of course, to the contemplation of God’s forgiveness of his sin. Those two realities—his sin and God’s forgiveness of his sin—overwhelmed him and he had to exclaim praise for the LORD.

If God marked your iniquities, if He kept a record of your sins and called you to account, would you be able to stand? If God took note of your transgressions and preserved a list of them, would you be able to appear before Him with confidence? You know the answer to those questions. Our problem is that we don’t face these kinds of questions often enough. We rarely consider the implications of such a question as: “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?”

Meditation on such questions leads inevitably to the conclusion that God forgives—otherwise, we wouldn’t be here and we wouldn’t have a life and we wouldn’t know the LORD. Meditation on what God has done for sinners is where God-honoring worship begins.

When the writer of this Psalm thought on such things, he was moved to fear the LORD. How about you? We don’t hear much talk about fearing the LORD these days. To fear the LORD means that you relate to Him as God, as a holy and righteous God. It means that we look to Him with thankful hearts realizing that He is the One who saves us and who watches over us. To fear the LORD is to stand in awe of Him.

These kinds of thoughts come much more easily when we keep before us the fact that God has forgiven us. It was that truth that caused the writer to find hope in spite of his sins. He knew that God had provided for his forgiveness. As I said before, the gospel is portrayed in Psa. 130. There is the undeniable teaching of atonement in this Psalm. There is recognition of sin and there is recognition of forgiveness—the two key elements in redemption.

Therefore, we cannot study this Psalm without being directed to Christ. There is no way to read this Psalm and even begin to have the slightest understanding of it without turning our eyes to Christ. It is impossible for us to think about our transgression and breathe a sigh of relief knowing that they have been forgiven without turning our minds to Christ. He is the explanation for sins forgiven. The Messiah is the explanation for this writer’s conclusion that, although he was a man of iniquity, there was forgiveness with the LORD. Amen.

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The Gospel of Our Salvation

(Rom. 5:6-11)

Part 2

 Romans 5:6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. 11 And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.

In part 1 of this study, I noted that the gospel is a message concerning two primary issues: the spiritual condition of human beings and God’s response to that condition. In response to man’s need, God set in motion a plan of redemption by which the human race would be rescued and delivered from condemnation through the work of Jesus Christ. I noted that the entire Bible is about this unfolding decree of God whereby He appointed us to eternal life.

I called attention to the way in which Paul begins this section of his letter to the Romans. He describes a sinner’s condition at the point where the ministry of Christ becomes relevant. While we were still helpless, Christ died for the ungodly. (v.6) Paul uses a Greek term (asthenes) that means” to be weak, sick, feeble, without strength.” Paul is speaking of our spiritual condition. He is teaching that the sinner is incapable of delivering himself from the judgment of God.

Paul uses another term to describe fallen man’s condition apart from Christ. In verse 8, he refers to us as “sinners.” This is the simplest and most prevalent term used to identify fallen man in his relationship to God. As we continued working through these verses, we found that Paul uses yet another phrase to explain fallen man’s condition. In v. 9, Paul refers to us as being “saved from the wrath of God through Him.” If we are saved from the wrath of God in Christ, that means that we existed under the wrath of God prior to our deliverance.

One other descriptive term of man in sin is found in verse 10: “[W]hile we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son.” I suggested that it is quite unsettling to think of ourselves as enemies of God. He made us and yet we are declared to be hostile toward Him. To be an enemy of God is to be doomed. It is to have no hope of deliverance.

Having worked through Paul’s description of man apart from Christ, or man in sin, we began looking at the second primary element of the gospel, which is God’s response to our need. While we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (v. 6) The first component of God’s response to fallen man’s need is recorded in this verse. God responded to our need by taking our guilt from us and placing it on the back of His own Son. And then, bearing our sin Himself, Jesus Christ gave His life as a payment for our transgressions.

A second aspect of God’s response to our need is found in verse 8 where Paul says that the coming of Christ for us was a demonstration of God’s love toward us. We must always remember that God’s response to our need was grounded in His love for us. God loves us; therefore, He did not require us to answer for our rebellion against Him. His love revealed itself in His plan for our deliverance, which, as we know, involved Another taking our place.

We are now ready to examine the remainder of this passage as we continue looking at how God responded to man’s lost condition.

A third aspect of God’s response to our condition has to do with our standing before God. As I have said several times, outside of Christ, we are condemned before God because of our sin. But the death of Christ on our behalf changes our status before God because the Savior took upon Himself our guilt and paid the required penalty, which was His own life.

As result, God declares and we have been justified by Christ’s blood.(v. 9) To be justified means that we are pronounced guilt-free and no charge remains pending against us. All of our sin is pardoned because our Savior died for it. Before, we were condemned with no means of escape. But after Christ, we are free and God views us as those for whom His Son made atonement.

This is an incredibly encouraging truth. At one time, we faced only the judgment of God and our condemnation was completely just. That judgment, however, fell on our Substitute. This is a change that only God by His grace could bring about. We could never have altered our standing before a holy God and, therefore, had no hope whatsoever while looking only to ourselves.

But when we look to Christ, we find a loving Savior who was willing to receive what truly belonged to us. Being pure and without sin Himself, Jesus became sin for us. With our guilt credited to Him, Jesus allowed Himself to be nailed to the cross where, in due time, He surrendered His life in our place. Only a sacrifice of infinite worth could atone for our offense against infinitely holy God. Jesus was that infinitely worthy sacrifice because He was God in the flesh.

So far, then, we have seen three aspects or elements in God’s response to man’s need: He sent His Son to die for the ungodly, He manifested His love for us in Christ, and He declares us justified as a result of having the blood of His own Son shed in order to atone for our sin.

That brings us to a fourth aspect of God’s response to our condition. It is found in v. 10. Previously, I noted that in this verse, we are referred to as the “enemies” of God. That was one of the terms Paul used to describe our status outside of Christ. Now, notice what follows that statement: “we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son.” Note also that the same truth is stated in verse 11.

Reconciliation is one of the leading themes of the Bible. When this term is used in the context of redemption, it means that those who were enemies of God, those who were separated from Him due to sin, have been brought back into a peaceful and loving relationship with God. It was not God who needed to be reconciled to us, but we who needed to be reconciled to God. That has taken place, according to Paul, through the death of Christ.

We find ourselves in a relationship of peace instead of adversity. We have the assurance of everlasting life instead of assurance of inevitable judgment. And we relate to God as our heavenly Father instead of our offended Judge. In Christ, our eternal destinies have been settled.

This is the gospel. It is a message of profound implications for us as we live out our days in this world. If you have believed the gospel and have called upon Christ to be your Savior, then you may lead a life of contentment in a world of chaos.

To have peace with God is to have the peace that truly matters most. Knowing that God has received us as one of His redeemed, gives us joy and a steadfastness of heart. Our life is one of living in the saving love of God. Everything we experience is within the amazing love of God. This is life in the gospel.

I once attended a meeting in which several characteristics could be observed. There was impatience, anger, deception, and unfriendliness. There were clearly two sides represented with one displaying undeniable contempt for the other. Not so long ago, most of those present would have shared at least cordial relationships. On this day, however, the climate was decidedly different.

This was not a meeting of stockholders and executives. It was not a meeting between protesters and police. This was a congregational meeting in a local church. One speaker after another came to the microphone to express opinions that seemed unnecessarily hostile, as if they were trying to preempt an attack from the other side, which never materialized. The one characteristic that was desperately needed, but cannot be included in the list I just provided, was charity.

The concept of charity is closely related to that of forgiveness. When I forgive someone for an offense, I am giving them something they did not necessarily deserve. Charity occurs when someone in need receives help for which they cannot pay or which they have not earned. Charity is an act of selfless kindness for the sake of being kind. It is not motivated by merit or the expectation of return.

Both forgiveness and charity have their origin in the nature of God who delivers us from the consequences of our sin even though we have done nothing (and could do nothing) to warrant such a response from Him. Likewise, charity is exhibited by God throughout our lives. He provides for us when we are in need; He has pity on us even when, due to our own actions, we find ourselves in a desperate situation. Charity, forgiveness, kindness, compassion—all of these attributes are grounded in the nature of God and they all represent God’s amazing grace toward sinners who are guilty.

Jesus sums up all of these qualities when He says: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34) Show love as you have been shown love. Extend forgiveness as it has been extended to you. Be kind to one another as God has been kind to you. Abound in compassion as God’s compassion has abounded to you. The idea is not complicated. We are to mimic God’s treatment of us in our treatment of one another. If we are unwilling to live this way, we are saying that we are of greater importance than God (cf. the parable of the ungrateful servant in Matt. 18).

It’s a shameful display when believers exhibit bitterness, jealousy, and self-interest in their encounters with one another. There is no excuse for it. This is the kind of behavior seen in the world every day. We are called to do better by remembering what we have received.