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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Transgression and Blessing

Perfect? No. But completely restored.
Can my sin be a source of blessing?

That’s not a trick question. There’s no “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” coming, don’t worry.

But it’s a legitimate consideration. A while ago, I exchanged emails with a brother in Christ who was deeply afflicted with guilt over things he had done after coming to know the Lord, and concerned that, given the magnitude of his transgressions, even deeply-felt regret, confession and a changed manner of life might not be acceptable to God.

Obviously good may come from repentance, but you wonder if any good can possibly come from the sin that (eventually) produced it.

David probably wondered the same thing when he wrote these words:
“Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity.”
Is it David’s sin with Bathsheba and his murder of her husband Uriah that prompted these words? We can’t be sure, but his description of his feelings of guilt is certainly suggestive:
“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.”
Not a garden-variety slip or error, we can be sure; either that or David had a very tender conscience indeed. It seems probable that whatever sin prompted David to write Psalm 32, you or I would have difficulty topping it.

And yet forgiveness was available to David and remains available to you and me.

David is quite confident here that he is personally off the hook so far as his ongoing relationship with God is concerned; that is not in question. There might still be real-life consequences to his sin that would have to be borne by David and others, as is usually the case. If it was the Bathsheba incident, that was certainly true. Some bells cannot be un-rung. But David’s status with God was sure. He could call himself “happy” or “blessed”. His transgression was forgiven. God counted no iniquity against him.

But surely that is not the end of the story. Look at what God has done with the sin of a repentant sinner. He’s used David to demonstrate that our Heavenly Father imputes righteousness to men independent of their efforts to please him:
“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”
David the repentant sinner becomes Paul’s evidence to the Romans that it is faith that saves. And not only that, two thousand years worth of readers of holy writ have profited from, gained confidence from, and redoubled their efforts to serve God on the basis of David’s embarrassing testimony of personal failure. David trusted God to justify him upon his confession, notwithstanding his earlier transgressions, and that trust has been turned by divine grace into glorious profit for the people of God that spans centuries and continents and changes lives everywhere and everywhen.

Wow.

But note that this only works because David does not excuse his sin, or glorify his sin, or dramatize his sin. He simply reminds us of its horrible consequences, the greatness of God’s mercy to him, and the joy of restoration.

Note also that Paul has taken his quotation not from David’s original Hebrew psalm, but from an early Greek translation of the Old Testament, and the subtle changes have universalized David’s experience. Instead of “Blessed is the one”, we have “Blessed are those”. Instead of “transgression” [singular], we have “lawless deeds” [plural]. Instead of “whose sin [singular] is covered”, we have “whose sins [plural] are covered”.

I do not think these changes are meaningless, and Paul authenticates them by quoting them in Romans as authoritative. The blessedness experienced by David is just as available today to those who seek it.

Nobody sins or is restored in a vacuum. While it might be nice to hide from the world the unpleasant evidence of our imperfection, scripture does not tell us it should be that way. James’ “Confess your sins one to one another” has nothing of the traditional confessional experience about it, but suggests that my failures and transgressions can be a spur to your holy living, not to mention my own.

Jack Wellman says, “To be transparent is to give others who are lost hope”. That doesn’t mean we need to put the details of our sins on Facebook, of course. But for some of us, David’s “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away” may have an awfully familiar ring to it.

So don’t.

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