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A Lenten Reflection on Psalm 32: The Nature of Sin

By Michael Roop

This blog is part of a series reflecting on Psalm 32. Read the rest of the series here.

We begin our Lenten journey through Psalm 32 with a reflection on the first two verses. In them, David provides three different viewing angles to help us see the extent of our sinful condition and, as a result, how blessed it would be to find a remedy to that condition (more on that in coming weeks).

1   Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
2 Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

First, David refers to transgression. A transgressor is one who violates the terms of an arrangement, contract, or covenant. This is why Scripture so often likens our sin to spiritual adultery (e.g., Hosea 1-2). Every act, or thought, or desire, or emotion that dishonors, offends, or rebels against God; any absence of the same that would have honored, glorified, and obeyed God, is on the level of marital infidelity. And worse, the patterned nature of these acts means we are not simply good people who make mistakes; we are transgressors. A tree is revealed by its fruit.

David then moves to the second viewing angle, which addresses sin. From this angle, he shows us that we have come up short. We have missed the mark. We have failed to reach  God’s glorious standard of holiness (Romans 3:23). We have been weighed on the cosmic scales of God’s very good creation design, and we have been found wanting.

Finally, David moves to the angle of iniquity, which carries the idea of being defiled, stained, or unclean. God baked this reality into the old covenant system of ritual purity. Various situations or tasks required one to be washed before coming near to God’s presence. Of course, this was misunderstood to mean that uncleanness exists “out there” and can be caught without proper care. Jesus clears this all up in a public debate with some Pharisees and scribes: “ But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person…But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone” (Matthew 15:18, 20). Our condition is not something external to us, but living deep within the core of our being. We are lovers of the darkness because our deeds are evil (John 3:19).

Notice with me that David assumes everyone to be transgressors/sinners/defiled. No one is exempt. No one can suggest the promised blessing is not applicable to them. As we will see toward the end of the Psalm, there is no one who is morally perfect, outside the need of this forgiveness. That’s why the last line promises blessing for those “in whose spirit there is no deceit.” Deceit about what? The idea they are not sinners, and that they do not need God’s forgiveness (1 John 1:8). The deeply distressing condition is universal to all humanity. No one is exempt (Romans 3:9-20).

But for all this discussion on the nature of sin, David does not succumb to the risk of making his reflection purely academic. This is, after all, a poem. A reflection. An invitation to an experience in the context of prayer. That’s where David turns in next week’s passage.