As we continue to wrestle with the question of forgiveness, I want to take a look today at Psalm 51, written by King David. This is a man about whom God said, “I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My heart, who will do all my will.” (Acts 13:22c) But David was far from faultless.
Most of you will be familiar with the story of David and Bathsheba, but let me refresh your memory. King David was out on the castle roof one warm spring evening, and he saw a beautiful woman bathing. Inquiring about her, he learned she was the wife of Uriah the Hittite. Uriah was away, fighting with David’s army, so King David quietly sent messengers to bring Bathsheba to the palace. He slept with her, and he sent her home. But lo and behold, she had become pregnant.
So, to cover up his sin, King David first tried bringing her husband Uriah home to sleep with his wife. But Uriah did not go, considering it wrong to exercise his conjugal privileges when the other fighting men with whom he served could not. So, David arranged to have Uriah sent to the front lines where he was killed in battle. After an appropriate mourning period, David married Bathsheba.
The Scripture says, “…the thing David had done was evil in the sight of the Lord.” (2 Sam 11:27) So, God sent Nathan the prophet to confront David with his sin. Now, I believe this is why God called David a man after His own heart – not because he was without sin – but because as soon as he was confronted with his sin, King David truly and wholeheartedly repented and sought God’s forgiveness. Psalm 51 records David’s prayer, pleading for God’s forgiveness.
Read Psalm 51:1-17 and keep your Bible open, because we will look at this Psalm in depth to see what it can tell us about forgiveness.
But first, before we go any further, there is one point I want to address. You may be thinking, “My forgiveness is in Christ, but this is the Old Testament. King David did not have forgiveness through the blood of Christ, did he? So, how can this apply to me?”
We need to understand that long before Christ appeared in the flesh, God had promised salvation. According to Hebrews chapter 11, the faithful men and women of the Old Testament “…died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance” (Heb. 11:13). In other words, they trusted in God’s promises by faith long before they were fulfilled. Again we read both the Apostle Paul and James testified that “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” (Gal. 3:6; Jam. 2:23) In other words, Abraham was justified by his faith in God’s promise. These passages make it clear that the Old Testament saints were saved through faith in Christ’s work on the cross just as surely as we are today; they, trusting by faith in what had been promised and was yet to come, we, trusting by faith in what has already been accomplished.
I also want to point out that David does use some language that is specific to the Old Testament experience. For example, in verse 11 he says “do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.” As believers in Christ, we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit (John 14:17). But in Old Testament times, that was not the case. Faithful men and women were often filled with the Holy Spirit for a period of time or for a purpose, but the indwelling of the Spirit was not experienced until Pentecost, after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. Therefore David expresses the fear that God will remove His Spirit as He did with King Saul before him.
David also talks about burnt offerings and sacrifices in verses 16 & 19, clearly reflecting an Old Testament relationship with God. However, there is much in this Psalm that can help us understand the experience of God’s forgiveness as believers in Jesus Christ.
Now, having addressed those concerns, let us consider the manner in which David seeks God’s forgiveness. In the first verse, we see David appealing to God’s grace, His lovingkindness and His compassion. He says,
Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness;
According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions.
God has not changed. He is today the same gracious, compassionate, and loving God. In verse 2 David pleads for God’s cleansing from His sin, and in verses 3-4 we see David’s heartfelt confession of his sin before God. We read,
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity
And cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions,
And my sin is ever before me.
4 Against You, You only, I have sinned
And done what is evil in Your sight,
So that You are justified when You speak
And blameless when You judge.
Compare this, for example, to 1 John 1:9 which reminds us,
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
But what I want to really focus on today are the effects of forgiveness described by David in his Psalm. What do we experience when we receive God’s forgiveness? David knew. He had experienced it before, and he was longing for it now. Here is what he says:
v.6 Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being,
And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.
- When I am open and honest about my sin, I experience God’s wisdom in my innermost being
v.7 Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
- I enjoy a sense of being clean and fresh
v.8 Make me to hear joy and gladness,
Let the bones which You have broken rejoice.
- I enjoy a deep sense of joy and gladness
v.10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
- I receive a clean heart and a spirit that is steadfast, not easily swayed from God’s will
v.11 Do not cast me away from Your presence
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
- I gain a restored sense of God’s presence and open communication with Him
v.12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
And sustain me with a willing spirit.
- I receive a fresh dose of the joy of salvation and a renewed motivation to obey God
v.13, 14b & 15 Then I will teach transgressors Your ways,
And sinners will be converted to You
…Then my tongue will joyfully sing of Your righteousness.
O Lord, open my lips, That my mouth may declare Your praise.
- Praising and speaking to others about God will become more natural for me than ever before
Can you understand David’s longing for the experience of God’s forgiveness? If you are a believer, you should recognize the experience of full forgiveness. Have you lost it somewhere along the way? Maybe you have never had the pleasure of experiencing the effects of God’s forgiveness through the blood of Christ… Well, as a believer, the experience of forgiveness can be restored to you. And if you have never received Christ as your Savior, the joy of forgiveness is near to you. But before I tell you how to receive it, there is one more point that is critical to forgiveness that you need to understand.
There is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood. David knew this. In the first part of verse 14, David pleads,
“Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation.”
For David, there was a constant reminder of the need for the shedding of blood in the Old Testament system of sacrifices. But for us, the shedding of blood is past. Romans 8:3-4 tells us:
“For what the Law could not do… God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin… so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled…”
Jesus shed His blood on the cross to pay the price for our sins. Romans 6:10 says,
“For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all…”
Jesus’ death on the cross makes forgiveness possible. Without the shedding of blood, the guilt of sin would remain. But Jesus came and willingly suffered on the cross, bearing the guilt of our sin–yours and mine–and shedding His blood to pay the penalty for our sin once and for all. Colossians 2:13-14 says,
“When you were dead in your transgressions… He made you alive together with [Jesus], having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.”
Because the blood-guilt of sin was paid, once for all, by Jesus Christ on the cross, you and I can experience God’s forgiveness. If you have never received Jesus as your Savior, you can receive Him right now. Ephesians 2:8-9 reminds us that we are saved by grace through our faith as a free gift–because of what Jesus did on the cross. Your debt has been paid in full. You need only ask God to apply Jesus’ payment to your account. And having believed, you can pray to God, confessing your sins and asking His forgiveness. You will experience the same forgiveness that King David describes in his psalm.
But what if you are a believer? What if you have sinned once again after having received Christ as your Savior? What if you neglect to confess your sins and receive God’s fresh forgiveness? Will you lose your salvation?
This is important, and I believe often misunderstood.
What does the Bible say? We read earlier in Colossians 2:13:
“When you were dead in your transgressions… He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions…”
Not some of our transgressions, but all. Jesus paid the penalty for all of our sins long before we were even born. That means at the moment we received the gift of salvation, the full debt of our sin was paid–that includes all of our past, present, and future sins!
So, we have nothing more to worry about, right? We don’t need to be concerned with sin any more, right? Nope, not right. Because for us, the experience of sin is now and we need the experience of forgiveness now.
The problem is that when we think of sin, we tend to focus only on the guilt of sin. We get confused because we don’t feel forgiven, even though we are told that Jesus died for our sins and our sins have already been forgiven. So did forgiveness happen in the past or does it happen now, in the present? Both! The guilt or debt of sin is forgiven at the moment we receive Christ, but the full experience of forgiveness is ongoing.
What about that troubling question. The Bible tells us:
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
Does this mean if we neglect to confess our sins we will lose our salvation?
To understand the answer to that question, we need to go back again to King David and Psalm 51. What happens when we are forgiven?
First of all, the bloodguiltiness of my sin is removed. This was taken care of, once and for all, at the cross– it does not need to be done again. That is why Romans 8:1 states,
“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Our debt has been paid in full. Therefore, having received Jesus’ death on the cross as payment for sin on our behalf, our salvation is secure. But what else do we experience when we are forgiven? What did we read in Psalm 51?
- I experience God’s wisdom in my innermost being
- I have a sense of being clean and fresh and a deep sense of joy and gladness
- My heart is made clean and my spirit is made steadfast, so that I will not be easily swayed from God’s will
- I have a restored sense of God’s presence and open communication with Him
- I receive a fresh dose of the joy of salvation and a renewed motivation to obey God
- I find myself praising and speaking to others about God more naturally than ever before
This, then, is why a believer must confess any known sin and receive God’s forgiveness. This is why we need to make sure we keep short accounts. Because forgiveness means so much more than just not having guilt.
If you have been carrying a weight of sin in your life, now is the time to let it go. Acknowledge your sin before God. Thank the Lord Jesus for paying the price for your sin so that you can be forgiven. Ask the Father to cleanse you and to restore the joy of salvation to you so that you can experience all the blessings of His gracious forgiveness in your life.
Up to this point, we have looked at forgiveness from the perspective of God forgiving me for my sin. But I want to take a moment to consider what happens when I do not forgive others. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught His followers to pray,
“…forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matt. 6:12)
As we learned last week, Jesus follows His prayer by emphasizing the importance of forgiveness in this way, He says,
“For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” (Matt. 6:14-15)
What did He mean? Did He mean that you will lose your salvation if you refuse to forgive others? We have already seen that this is not the case. But we have also seen that forgiveness is much more than the removal of bloodguiltiness. We are saved because we have put our faith in Jesus and what He did for us on the cross. But what Jesus did on the cross was not forgiveness. What Jesus did on the cross made forgiveness possible.
If you refuse to forgive others, you will not experience the full grace of God’s forgiveness in your life, and as we read in Hebrews 12:14-15, you will risk allowing a root of bitterness to spring up inside you, causing trouble in your life and hurting many people around you. Confess your unforgiveness to God and receive His help to forgive those who have hurt you so that He may, in turn, apply the healing balm of forgiveness to your life.
This brings us to a very critical point. I am going to tell you something that is very important, and I want you to listen carefully. I believe Christians often misunderstand this point and it causes much confusion in their lives. Here it is:
- You are not saved because you asked God to forgive you of your sins.
Did you hear it?
- You are not saved because you asked God to forgive you of your sins!
You are saved because you believe that Jesus’ death and resurrection is your only hope, and so you put your trust in Him and receive the salvation God offers as a free gift by His grace through Christ.
Jesus bore the penalty of sin for every man, woman, and child that ever lived as He hung on the cross. God, the Father, sent His only Son, Jesus, to suffer and die on that cross for our sins because that was the only way He could be free to pour out His love, mercy, and compassion on us without compromising His justice and holiness.
Jesus’ death on the cross made forgiveness possible, but not automatic. We are saved when we put our faith in Him. We receive forgiveness when we repent and ask forgiveness, and as we have seen from David’s example, God’s gracious forgiveness reaches into every part of our lives.
So what exactly did Jesus mean when He said God would not forgive us if we refuse to forgive others? I believe He meant exactly what He said. If we refuse to forgive others, we will not experience God’s forgiveness in our own lives. Instead we will experience the torturous consequences of unforgiveness.
Why would God choose not to forgive us when we choose not to forgive others? I can think of a few possible reasons:
- First of all, unforgiveness is sin. We are commanded to forgive one another. If we refuse to forgive others, it is like we are saying to God, “Please forgive me, but by the way I fully intend to continue in the sin of unforgiveness.” There is no forgiveness without repentance.
- Another way to look at it is that asking for God’s forgiveness while refusing to forgive another is like saying to God, “Please forgive me, because I deserve your forgiveness, but that other person does not deserve my forgiveness.” God does not forgive us because we deserve to be forgiven, does He? Of course not! We never could deserve God’s forgiveness. God forgives us because He is merciful and compassionate and because Jesus’ death on the cross made forgiveness possible.
- In the same way, we do not forgive others because they deserve forgiveness. Whether they deserve forgiveness is not the point. When I forgive someone else, I am not declaring their innocence. I am not the judge of that person’s heart, God is. I forgive others because God has forgiven me.
- Lastly, refusing to forgive another when God has forgiven me is an insult to Jesus Christ. It is like saying to God that Jesus’ death on the cross is not enough to pay for what that person did to me.
Is it any wonder that God takes the sin of unforgiveness so seriously?
As we conclude, I trust you have gained a deeper understanding of forgiveness according to God’s Word. If you are not experiencing the joy of God’s forgiveness in your life, there is no reason you cannot experience it today. Take the opportunity now to ask God to reveal to you if there is any sin in your life you need His forgiveness for…
- Have you neglected to be obedient to anything God has been asking you to do?
- Have you given into temptation or been stubbornly going your own way?
- Is there someone in your past you have refused to forgive?
Bring it to God right now, confess your sin, receive His forgiveness. By His grace, forgive that other person by faith in the blood of Jesus Christ and receive God’s gracious forgiveness in your own heart and life.
[Adapted from a sermon originally preached August 7, 2011.]