On Psalm 51—Part 1

(Ps 51:1) To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came unto him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba. Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.
(Ps 51:2) Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

(Ps 51:3)ESV For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.

Literally, the word for "thoroughly" is "much". Now, three different words related to sin are used in Ps 51:1-2: "transgressions", "iniquity", and "sin". The Hebrew word for "transgression" is related to a verb meaning "to rebel, revolt". Thus, it emphasizes rebellion. The Hebrew word for "iniquity" is related to a verb meaning "to bend, twist, distort". Thus, it emphasizes perversity. The Hebrew word for "sin" is related to a verb meaning "to sin, miss, miss the way, go wrong, ... ". Thus, it emphasizes going wrong. Sin involves iniquity but may not involve rebellion (transgression). When one sins without realizing it, he does not rebel, since he is not aware that he does something wrong. However, under the law, he is guilty of sin and iniquity even if he acts in ignorance (Lev 5:17). Sin separates a person from God.

(Is 59:1) Behold, the LORD'S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear:
(Is 59:2) But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.

"All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way ... " (Is 53:6). "For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not" (Ec 7:20). However, because forgiveness is available, we read "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool" (Is 1:18). "Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity ... " (Ps 32:1-2). Though all have sinned, Ps 32:2 mentions that there are people "unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity". This cannot be something temporary, something that applies only to the short period between the time forgiveness is granted and the time a sin is committed again. Indeed, due to the sinful nature, man keeps doing things that are not right. Thus, Ps 32:1-2 refers to people who are forgiven in spite of the fact that they continue to fail in various ways. This does not mean that God ignores the sins of those who are forgiven. Indeed, in the same Ps 32 we read also about confessing sins to the Lord. Thus, we can identify two levels of forgiveness. One allowing a person to belong to God and have a relationship with him (Ps 32:1-2). The other one is forgiveness allowing the relationship with God to function well. The sacrifices of the law were intended for those who belonged to God. Thus, they were used to restore the relationship of the believer with God. Unbelievers are separated by sin from God. Believers are forgiven and so they are no longer separated from God. However, for a good relationship with God, the believer needs also the second level of forgiveness. He still has to confess his sins, as mentioned also in Ps 32. "When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me ... I acknowledged my sin unto thee ... and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin" (Ps 32:3-5).

David was a believer, so he was not a sinner separated from God. He asked "blot out my transgressions" (Ps 51:1) and "blot out all mine iniquities" (Ps 51:9). This was necessary in order to restore his relationship with God. That God blots out sins we read also in Is 44:22: "I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me; for I have redeemed thee".

In the New Testament also we read about forgiveness of sins in the context of salvation and in the context of maintaing a good relationship with God. These two types of forgiveness should not be confused. The forgiveness of sins that accompanies salvation is the one mentioned in passages such as Ro 4:5-8. It is one of the most important topics of the good news of Jesus Christ (Lk 24:47, Ac 10:43, Ac 13:38). A saved person is one who has been forgiven. Since salvation cannot be lost, it follows that this forgiveness cannot be lost either. It covers all past and future sins. "I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you on account of His name" (1Jn 2:12)EMTV. In 1Jn 2:12, the phrase "little children" refers to believers who are new to the faith. When a person gives his life to Christ, he is a forgiven person (1Jn 2:12), for the Lord will no longer deal with him as with a sinner separated from God, but as with a son. The sins of a believer do not change the fact that God deals with him as with a son. In this sense, the sins are forgiven. However, God still considers sins when he deals with his sons, for "whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth" (Heb 12:6). Thus, sins affect the relationship of the believer with God and in this sense a believer may have unforgiven sins. That a believer may have unforgiven sins is clear from various passages, such as Mk 11:25-26. Mk 11:25-26 is a passage addressed to believers in which we read that one who does not forgive is not forgiven either. The Greek verb translated "to forgive" means also "to let go, leave, ... ". Thus, once God has forgiven a sin, he no longer considers it when dealing with the person that committed it. Clearly, the believer should not let sins affect his relationship with God. If he knows of a specific sin, he should repent and confess it. Then the Lord forgives him (1Jn 1:9). If he is unaware of sins, the model prayer of Lk 11 still applies. In Lk 11 the Lord taught the disciples to pray "And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us" (Lk 11:4). The Lord could answer the prayer request of Lk 11:4 by revealing areas of sin. Then, the believer confesses his sin and the Lord forgives him and purifies him. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1Jn 1:9). A believer who does not repent acts very unwisely, for the Lord pays attention to sins. He says "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten" (Rev 3:19). "For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth" (Heb 12:6). If a believer does not listen to the instruction of the Word he faces discipline and judgment in this life. "For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world" (1Co 11:31-32).

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