Psalm 32: The Collision of Justice and Mercy

Read Psalm 32.

We need a better definition of sin. Contrary to what someone may have told you, sin isn’t just breaking a commandment. Of course, it is that, but sin runs much deeper. The commandments don’t create sins ex nihilo, out of nothing. Had God never said, “You shall not murder,” murder would still be a grievous sin. The commandments in Scripture are there to guide us toward God’s heart. And that gets us to it: Sin is anything we do—or don’t do—that runs contrary to God’s good heart, commandment or no commandment.

If you recall, God made us to be His image-bearers (Genesis 1:27). We are supposed to reflect His goodness to each other and to the world around us. But we fail, we “fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). And the sins we commit bring death, each one chipping away at our humanity until we become twisted and distorted.

Listen to the way David describes his own sin: “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” (Psalm 32:3–4). God, in his graciousness, would not let David forget about his transgressions.

Sometimes, the Lord brings conviction; other times, God lets the natural consequences of sin eat away at us. But either way, God is drawing us in the same direction: toward Him. He wants people to turn and receive life: “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” (v. 5). God brings freedom to sinners—forgiving sin and covering it, not counting it against them (vv. 1­–2).

In mercy, God has paved a way back home using grace rather than obedience. He doesn’t wait until we have our act together. Instead, when we confess our sins and come to Him in faith, He forgives, and then guides us into obedience.

In his letter to the churches at Rome, Paul used Psalm 32 to show that salvation has always come through faith. This was true for Abraham, who believed God and received righteousness in his account. And David, here in Psalm 32, knew it to be true as well. (See Romans 4:1–25.) What was missing in the Old Testament, though, was how God could really be just in His forgiveness of sinners. The answer is Jesus.

The wages of sin has always been death (Romans 6:23), so someone would need to die. God gave His Son to die in our place. There on the cross, God’s mercy collided with His righteousness. Sin was punished, and sinners, forgiven. “He did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (3:26). Then, on Resurrection Sunday morning, death was overcome by life. A new age dawned.

In the New Testament, one of the great mysteries about this new age is revealed: “Christ in you, the hope of glory,” Paul called it (Colossians 1:27). The Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of Christ (Romans 8:9), comes to live inside of believers. He gives us the power we need to turn our faith into obedience, guiding us in truth (John 16:13) and bearing fruit in our lives (Galatians 5:22–23). Now God says to forgiven sinners, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you” (Psalm 32:8). Through His Spirit, He draws near to show us how to be the image-bearers we were always meant to be.

What is this all about?

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