The Blessedness of Being a Justified Sinner
Posted On December 07, 2016
In Psalm 32:1–2, David declares: “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity.” Although “every sin deserves God’s wrath and curse, both in this life, and that which is to come” (WSC 84), here, in Psalm 32, man brings before God his transgressions, and the Lord forgives them. Man uncovers his sin, and the Lord covers them. Man brings his iniquity, and the Lord does not count it against him. Instead of receiving what every sin deserves—God’s curse and wrath, both now and forever—this sinner receives God’s forgiveness and is called “blessed.”
This is one of the greatest promises held out to the people of God: if you are trusting in Christ by faith for your salvation, your sins are forgiven. Recall your past transgressions against our gracious God. Those times when you raised your fist at his divine will in utter defiance? They are forgiven. They were, literally, “lifted up” or “borne away,” as the scapegoat bore all of Israel’s sin and carried it off into the wilderness. Your transgressions, though vile and offensive, have been forgiven by the offended party. Recall your past sins against our Holy God. Those times when you willfully gave in to your own sinful desire rather than living the life that God desires; those sins that should have condemned you eternally; those sins that, at their very remembrance, cause you to bow your head in utter shame—those sins are covered. Our past sins, like David’s in Psalm 51, may be ever before us, but they are not before God (cf. Ps. 103:12). Your sin is covered.
Not only were your defiant transgressions forgiven and your willful sins covered, but, according to Psalm 32, the Lord makes it certain that He will never count your iniquity against you. God “does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our transgressions” (Ps. 103:10). He is, as Exodus 34:6–7 puts it, “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands.” And how does he do that? By “forgiving [your] iniquity and transgression and sin,” the exact same trifecta of evil found in Psalm 32.
But while David answers why a sinner is called blessed by God, he doesn’t specifically explain how a sinner can be forgiven by a God who cannot look upon sin (Heb. 1:13). For that, we need to read Paul’s commentary on Psalm 32:1–2 in Romans 4:4–8. After speaking of Abraham as being justified by faith, Paul writes:
Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: “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.”
The person who is blessed in Psalm 32 is a person who has been justified, who has had the righteousness of Christ imputed to him by faith, with the result that he stands before God (both now and forever) as Christ stands before God—perfect, holy, and blameless. For Christ bore our transgressions at the cross so that we might be forgiven. His blood covers all our sin and shields us from the wrath of God. His perfect life, death, and resurrection secure for us our justification, our righteous standing before God. We are indeed blessed as justified sinners because we’re united to the blessed Son of God. As Martin Luther explains, by the wedding ring of faith, our souls have been united to Christ as a bride is united with her bridegroom. And all that is His is ours, and all that is ours became His. He pledged His eternal love to His bride and redeemed “her from all her evil and adorns her with all of his goodness,” Luther says. We need to recall the riches of God’s promises daily, lest our hearts become cold, calloused, and impoverished by indwelling sin.
Dr. David Briones is Professor of New Testament at Reformation Bible College.