The Sorrows of Religious Deception

Posted On January 23, 2017

Psalm 32:10 is so true: “Many are the sorrows of the wicked.” But in this chapter, King David focuses on one particular sin that leads to many sorrows. It is a sin that all of us at one point or another have been guilty of. It is the sin of religious deception. “Blessed is the man . . . in whose spirit [mouth; LXX] there is no deceit” (v. 2). He defines this sin of deception as the sin of silence in verse 3: “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.” Kept silent about what? Look over at verse 5: “I acknowledged my sin to you.”

What happens to you when you refuse to admit your sin, when you keep silent and do not confess it to the Lord? According to verse 3, you will experience the scorching guilt of shame. This is a sorrow I’m certain all of us have experienced. Your bones wasting away through your groaning all day long. Your strength being dried up as by the heat of summer. That inner, debilitating pain of a guilty conscience is such a familiar experience for Christians. It comes when, out of unbelief, we give ourselves over to the enticing pleasures of sin and, out of pride, put on our best Christian façade.

Let me give you an example. Let’s say a Christian is guilt-ridden because he had sex with his girlfriend and doesn’t want to stop. He knows he should confess his sin, but he doesn’t. When he attends church, all that comes out of his mouth is deceit. When asked, “How are you doing this morning?” He responds, “I’m good,” with a deceptive smile. Even as he sits in church, sings about God’s love for him, and hears about the promise of forgiveness from God’s Word, his soul feels like a dry desert, a parched land. He knows where he can find the fountain of living water for his soul, but sin deceives him, and he refuses. Sin takes advantage of that refusal and convinces him to make for himself cisterns of water to quench his guilt, but they are broken cisterns that can hold no water (Jer. 2:13). He tries to numb the pain of guilt with alcohol, drugs, or even excelling in his theology courses, but it doesn’t help. He is left dry, empty, and inwardly groaning.

If that describes you, be encouraged and be warned. Be encouraged by God’s love in verses 3–4. Even in the midst of your sinful religious deception, God is still gracious toward you. Notice that the cause of David’s debilitating guilt is the Lord’s hand in his life: “For day and night your hand was heavy upon me” (v. 4). Let this glimpse of love compel you to forsake sin. Contrary to what you may think, that painful feeling of guilt is not confirmation of God’s wrath or absence. It is confirmation of His presence and His love. Even as you spurn His forgiveness through deceitful silence, God’s unrelenting love pursues you and His loving discipline corrects you.

But I also want you to be warned. There may come a time when you give into your sin so frequently and ignore God’s love in your guilt that He departs (v. 6): “Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found.” If that time comes, you will feel no guilt. Something strange will happen. An overwhelming desire, one that had not been felt before, will well up in your heart. You will try to sleep it off, but it will only grow in intensity overnight. And not long after you wake up, you will long to be taken as a slave by your sin as far and as deep as it can possibly take you. Before you know it, and more quickly than you anticipate, your heart will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. You will have what Hebrews 3:12–13 describes as “an evil, unbelieving heart that leads you to fall away from the living God.”

Be encouraged by God’s love, be warned by His wrath, and find refuge in the shadow of the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ where God’s wrath against sin was satisfied and where His love for His people was magnified. Be like David who instead of concealing his sin acknowledges it. Instead of covering it from the Lord (v. 5), he trusts in the Lord who covers his sin (v. 1). And instead of keeping silent, he declares, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord” (v. 5). For by confessing his sin against God, David moves from the sorrow to joy, from death to life.

Dr. David Briones is Professor of New Testament at Reformation Bible College.