Responding to God's Moral Correction
We are studying Psalms that show us how to relate to God when we are in pain, so that God may hear our prayers and lift us up and restore us to himself. Today we will look at portions of two Psalms (32 & 51) that King David wrote about the same painful event in his life, in which he relates what he learned about how to respond to God’s moral correction.
BACKGROUND (2Sam.12): David abused his power to seduce the wife of one of his soldiers, a woman named Bathsheba. When she became pregnant, he tried to cover his tracks by bringing her husband (Uriah) back from war so he would sleep with her. But when Uriah refused to do this (out of respect for his comrades), David made arrangements to expose Uriah to extreme danger in battle, and he got killed. Now David could say that Uriah had sex with Bathsheba, and no one could contradict his story (pre-DNA testing). David then married Bathsheba and went on with his life for one year. But God sent Nathan the prophet to confront him and expose his sin. Immediately after this encounter, David wrote these Psalms and distributed them all of Israel, and through them to all of us.
Though the specifics of David’s experience were unique, he says that the lesson he learned is universally applicable. We all sin, and God (who is both morally righteous and loving) personally corrects us like a good Parent (not impersonally, but personally on what he knows is most needed)—primarily through our conscience. Responding properly to God’s moral correction is one of the most important features of our relationship with him.
What did David learn about how to respond to God’s moral correction? Read 32:1-9.
He learned that “there is a way that seems right to man, but the end of that way is death” (Prov.14:12). He learned that his natural/intuitive response to God’s correction was the wrong way that led to misery and spiritual impotence.
He learned that there is a non-natural, counter-intuitive way to respond to God’s moral correction—but it is the right way and it leads to restoration and spiritual impact.
The natural-but-wrong way
David uses three phrases to describe his intuitive but wrong response to God’s correction. In 32:2, he calls it a “deceitful spirit.” In 32:3, he calls it “keeping silent about my sin.” In 32;5, he calls it “hiding my iniquity.” When God smites our conscience about some sin, isn’t this our instinctive response—to lie about it, to squelch exposure of it, to hide it? Like Adam and Eve in the Garden, we feel ashamed of what we did—so we reflexively hide from God in the bushes, and cover ourselves to hide our sin from others and from ourselves. We do this in many, many ways. Can you identify your “hiding” strategy?
We may seek to deny to ourselves the sinfulness of our sin through rationalizing (“I couldn’t help blowing up—I was tired”), minimizing (“I don’t do this as much as I used to”), blame-shifting (”He deserves it because of what he did to me”), or psychologizing (replacing moral categories with therapeutic categories like “dysfunction;” “issues”).
We may admit it is wrong, but seek to deal with it ourselves by beating ourselves up (“You did it again—you make me sick!”), by fatalistically identifying ourselves with the sin (“This is just who I am...”), by “being good” for a while, or by embarking on our own self-improvement plan.
We may just seek to bury it through concealment or distraction or getting away from the people who remind us of it.
Christians may theologize it by saying to ourselves, “I’m under grace, so I’m moving on.” This is using the most precious gift of Christianity as a way to evade God’s moral correction!
All of these come instinctively to us, all of them “seem right” at the time—and all of them are absolutely wrong. They are all deceitful ways of keeping silent and hiding from yourself, from others, and—most of all—from God. Prov.28:13a says: “He who conceals his sins will not prosper.” This is what David experienced—the longer he hid his sin, the less vitality he had—spiritually, emotionally, and even physically (32:3,4; 38:1-8). We were not built to hide our sins; it places a strain on us that breaks us down and wears us out.
Even worse is when we sear our consciences and/or when this loss of spiritual vitality becomes “normal” to us. When many Christians in a church or home group are in this state, the situation is very perilous (see Rev.2:20). I think some of our home groups may be in this situation. How important it is to know the proper way to respond to God’s moral correction...
The unnatural-but-right way
And this is great lesson that David learned and relays to us (read 32:5). He made a conscious decision (“I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord”) to personally takes his sins into God’s presence (“I acknowledged my sin to You...”). What does it look like to do this? Here, and in Ps.51, David says this involves three things:
It involves humble “confession”—telling God specifically what you did and agreeing with him that it was inexcusable rebellion against him that deserves his judgment (51:3,4). Vague, diluted, excuse-filled confession is a religious evasion.
It involves humble “repentance”—re-submitting yourself to God’s moral leadership in this area of your life (32:8,9). We are not merely “apologizing” so we can go on rebelling; we are willingly re-embracing the path of obedience that we left.
It involves bold “asking.” David boldly asks God to completely forgive him of his sin (51:1,2). He didn’t know how a righteous God could do this without compromising his righteous character—he just knew that this is the kind of God God had revealed himself to be. But we know how, because his Son Jesus Christ has come and lived the perfect life that we owe God, and died to bear the judgment that we owe to God because of our sins. Because of this, we can boldly claim God’s forgiveness because Jesus has paid completely for our sins.
NOTE: Sometimes God will also insist that you also confess to certain other people. David had to confess to Nathan, and (through these Psalms) to the whole nation. There are several reasons why God may insist on this.
Sometimes, it is to help you value God’s acceptance more than other people’s acceptance (“I confessed to God; I don’t need to confess to anyone else”). Sometimes this is a dishonest way to evade human exposure. If you know God accepts you, what does it matter how others react?
Sometimes, it is because he wants to restore a human relationship that you have injured through your sin. Over the years, I have counseled many people who have committed adultery, and determined never to tell their spouses “to spare them the pain.” But how can you ever truly reconcile this relationship unless you confess your betrayal and receive their forgiveness?
Sometimes, it is because the help you need to overcome this sin God has decided to give you through other brothers or sisters (Jas.5:16).
Sometimes, it’s because he wants you to model what he wants others to do. Leaders, especially, need to be lead confessors—to talk openly about their sins and fears and weaknesses—not just about the past but also about the present. The church needs to be a place where people who know they are sinful feel like they are with others who know the same thing (H.B. 2 YEARS AGO).
So let God decide if this is necessary, and obey him if he tells you to do this.
When you come to God this way, he is irresistibly attracted to you. He must shower his love on you—because Jesus’ death has freed him to do what he wants to do! He will do for you what he did for David:
He will make you know that he has forgiven you for this sin, so your guilty conscience comes to rest (32:5). He will make you know that he is with you and will protect you so that troubles do not overwhelm you (32:6,7a). He will put a song/shout of joy in your heart because you know he has delivered you (32:7b). And you will want to tell others about how real and good God is (this whole Psalm)!
This is how you begin a relationship with God. This is called conversion. When you come to God, bring your sin to him. “What sin?” How about choosing to live your life independently from him! Humbly admit your rebellion, tell him you want to follow him—and boldly ask for his forgiveness through Jesus Christ. God will welcome you home and make you experience his love for the first time. Have you ever been converted?
This is a key to vitality and fruitfulness in your relationship with God. David was already God’s child before this event in his life. He re-experienced God’s forgiveness and restoration as soon as he responded. It is will for you to re-experience his forgiveness and restoration—to be freshly excited about his forgiveness, to be freshly secure in his love, to have renewed joy in him, and to want to share with others (Christians and non-Christians) how real and good he is. Do you have this? You will find that Christians who have this are sensitive and responsive to his ongoing, recent moral correction—and they talk freely about this. If you don’t have this, is it because you have not been responding properly to his moral correction? Listen to Jack Miller on this:
“Unless (you allow) His Spirit (to) continually search you out, you see your life almost immediately clogged with indifference, self-will, envy, pride, lust, and unbelief. You know that yesterday’s love to God can be swiftly washed away by today’s fear and worry... It can be a struggle even to name your sin before God. You flounder because the name you give your sin often expresses further evasion. You pray: ‘Lord, forgive me for not loving Mrs. X.’... Then... you realize through the Holy Spirit that you have been trifling. Now you pray differently, with a stricken conscience: ‘Father, I have not loved Mrs. X. But that's only part of my sin. In my heart I have despised her.’ So in your confession to God you fight to... give your sin its right name. Then you hand it over to Christ by faith and taste the happiness of guilt forgiven and find the deliverance from hypocrisy which comes through honest confession. What you now know is almost beyond words, but has the feel of clear shining after rain, sunshine after tears. Grace is for sinners, and you have felt grace make a clean sweep of your repentant heart. God loves you where you are, not where you have been pretending to be. There is a natural transition now to start loving other sinners where they are, not where they pretend to be—or where you think they should be... From (God’s presence) you go forth to share (the grace) you have received firsthand from the Father. This is the beating heart of Christian witness...”
Don’t leave this lesson on the table—act on it!