But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. —1 John 1:7
When we really believe that Jesus died for our sins, we no longer need to look better than we really are. We accept what God says about us. We no longer deny it, because Jesus covered it. Now we want to experience his covering and cleansing. We don’t want the cross to be a mere concept. We want the cross to be a constant help, a resource moment by moment. How does that happen? It happens as we walk in the light. We step out into the light of the gospel with honesty before the Lord and one another, and in that light two things happen. One, we have fellowship with one another as never before. Two, the blood of Jesus cleanses away the sins we’ve never cleansed away. You don’t have to stay where you are one moment longer. You can begin a new journey into fellowship and cleansing today.
Here at Immanuel we’re learning how to walk in the light. This is not just sermons I am preaching. This is a lifestyle all of us are learning. In our men’s groups, women’s groups, band rehearsals, among the elders and deacons, our community groups, and in the small groups we’re going to be launching this Fall – whenever Immanuel people gather, what always happens? We walk in the light together. What is this walking in the light? Walking in the light is an honest relationship with Jesus and one another, so that we’re free to grow.
Can any of us say, “That’s great. It’s biblical. I can’t deny that. But it isn’t for me. No way am I opening up”? If that thought enters our minds, what is happening? We’ve forgotten what Jesus did for us at the cross. What happened at the cross? Two things. One, God showed us how evil we really are. It took the bloody death of the Lamb of God to atone for our sins. If there had been an easier way, God would have found it. So at the cross we admit that what God says about us is true, and God says we are evil. The Bible says the human heart is deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9). Do you see your heart as the most deceitful reality you will ever encounter in all your life? It’s humiliating to admit that, but it’s freeing because of the second thing that happened at the cross. Two, God put all our evil onto Jesus at the cross. The wrath of God came down on him, so that the love of God would come down on us. The cross takes us down, so that we see our evil bluntly. And the cross lifts us up, so that we see God’s love clearly. And now God is saying, “If you will walk in this light moment by moment, you’ll be free to grow.” Do you really want to say back to him, “That isn’t for me”? What needs to happen today is that every one of us believes the gospel at that very point of pain and regret and shame and sorrow and failure where we’ve never believed the gospel before. It is at that very point in our lives that God loves us the most, and we need to believe that today – and rejoice in it.
The apostle John defines walking in the light as the only authentic Christianity there is (1 John 1:1-10). We’ve seen how it worked out in the life of Jacob (Genesis 27, 32). Today we go to another part of the Bible, because I want you to see that this is everywhere in Scripture. In Psalm 32 God coaches us in how to walk in the light. Let’s take it in two steps. First, I’ll explain the flow of thought in the psalm. Second, I’ll show you the three keys to walking in the light embedded here in Psalm 32.
The flow of thought
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
There is no happier person than a forgiven sinner. That’s what the word “Blessed” means – happy. Now if we were innocent and God said “I forgive you,” it would be an insult. But if we are guilty – not just plagued with guilt feelings but, whatever we feel, objectively guilty before the all-holy God – if we have truly offended God and he forgives us, that cheers us up. But God only talks to guilty people about forgiveness. If it’s forgiveness you want – well, God doesn’t forgive excuses. He only forgives sins.
What does God do for sinful people, according to these verses? Three things. One, God forgives transgression, that is, rebellion and defiance – what we call “an attitude.” When we sin, we are trying to undermine the government of God and create our own alternative reality in which we are God. We want to impeach God and replace him – with guess who? This is treason. And God forgives that arrogance and treachery. The Hebrew word for “forgive” means that he lifts it away. God picks it up and carries it off. In the prayer of confession in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, we’re led to admit that “the remembrance of [our sins] is grievous unto us, the burden of them intolerable.” Many of us are carrying around – that’s the language even we use – we lug around the regrets and sorrows and “If onlys” of past transgressions. We feel it every day. But here is the gospel God wants us to believe. For the sake of Christ crucified, God himself unburdens the rebel, he bears it himself, he removes the stigma, so that there is no longer any wanted poster with the rebel’s face on it anywhere in God’s kingdom. Your transgression is gone from your place before God, as far as he is concerned. So many people think that becoming a Christian means you finally get serious about bearing your guilt. But God isn’t asking you to bear your guilt; he’s inviting you to stop bearing your guilt, because Christ bore it in your place at the cross.
What else does God do for sinners, according to these verses? Two, God covers sin. This Hebrew word for sin suggests failure – trying and failing, as we all do, because we are morally inept. We’re just not good at being good. But God covers failure, that is, he conceals it, he doesn’t drag it out time after time to embarrass us and manipulate us. And the word “cover” doesn’t mean that God is hiding something that’s still there and still unresolved but he’s just choosing to be polite and gloss over it. No, this verse has already told us God lifts up the sin and takes it far away. God covers failure by concealing it both from our view and from his. He changes the subject from our sin to his grace.
What else does God do for sinners, according to these verses? Three, God counts no iniquity. The word “iniquity” describes that mean streak you’ve seen in yourself. Maybe it flashes out of you when you’re tired or hungry or in a bad mood, but you know it’s inexcusable. God puts before you the right path. But you go off your own way. He offers you every resource for walking his path. But you make excuses as to why God’s path is so impossible. Remember the words of the hymn: “Could we bear from one another what he daily bears from us? Yet this glorious Friend and Brother loves us, though we treat him thus.” When we come to Christ, what does God do? He writes into the story of an inexcusably stubborn person the obedience of Christ. That’s what the word “counts” means. God does a new kind of math, so to speak. God treats us bad people as if we were good people because he provided atonement at the cross.
The business of your life and mine is to believe this. We do believe it, kinda sorta. But to whatever extent your heart is not blown away by the love of God for you, you’re not believing it. What difference does it make, when we believe the gospel for our own very real sins? What difference does it make when we stop believing that accusing voice within? What difference does it make when, for every look at our sins, we take ten looks at Jesus on the cross for us? What difference does it make to take the good news to heart for ourselves and the sins we’ve committed that make us so sad? The difference is, we cheer up, and God likes that. As I said, this repeated word “Blessed” means “happy.” We come to God as we are, with no excuses, we believe that Jesus alone is enough to make us sinners happy.
Do you feel a need for this happiness? You know your sin, you know God’s grace. But knowing alone won’t free you. Charles Haddon Spurgeon was preaching on the Bible verse that says, “My cup overflows” (Psalm 23:5). Here’s how he coached us in how to get into overflowing fullness:
You say, “I wish my cup would overflow!” What are you doing with it? “I am trying to empty it of my old sins.” That will not make it flow over. “I have been washing it with my tears.” That will not make it flow over. Do you know the only way of having joy and peace in your heart? What would you do with an empty cup if you were thirsty? Would you not hold it under a fountain until it was full? That is what you must do with your poor, dry, empty soul. Come and receive from Jesus grace upon grace…. Hold your empty cup under the stream of divine fullness, which flows to the guilty through Jesus Christ, and you also shall joyfully say, “My cup overflows.”
God is ready for you to step out into the light and tell him all your need. Hold your unbelief and sadness right out before him and say to him, “Lord, please fill my heart with your forgiving love.” He fills empty people, who become happy people. Lesslie Newbigin describes the early church as “a kind of explosion of joy.” Forgiven people spread the gospel not because they’re commanded to. The command simply assures us we have God backing us up. But how can we not spread the joy of a forgiveness that knows no limits?
Here’s what we need to stop doing:
For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.
There is no more miserable person than a sinner in denial. The real problem is not our sin but our silence. Our sin makes us pouty and self-pitying, and it wears us out. Unconfessed sin is exhausting. It’s “the blahs.” We lose our zest for life. That’s what he means when he says, “My strength was dried up.” We all know what he’s talking about. We all know spiritual drought: “. . . as by the heat of summer.” And he’s not talking about an impersonal psychological law. God does it: “Your hand was heavy upon me.” God holds back in comfort, when we hold back in confession. He will never make peace with our hypocrisy. Why should he? The Bible speaks of “the deceitfulness of sin,” that hardens us (Hebrews 3:13). Sin is deceitful because it doesn’t feel sinful. Then it can harden us without our even knowing it. So God, in mercy, steps in. He puts his hand of conviction on us, until we break our silence and come out into the light.
I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.
What a relief! When we finally admit what we need to admit and bring it to the Lord, then he sends out his felt forgiveness. Only God can. Karl Menninger, the psychiatrist, is quoted as saying that if he could convince his patients that their sins were forgiven, 75 percent of them could walk out of the hospital the next day. Here is our part in that. The third line of verse 5 starts with “I said.” How decisive David became! “This is what I’m going to do. I’m going to live a life of confession, openness, repentance.” Not that we earn God’s forgiveness that way. But what honesty does is it cracks our hearts open, so that God’s love can flow in. What do you need to confess to God today? He is so ready to listen to every word you need to say.
Therefore let everyone who is godly
offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found;
surely in the rush of great waters,
they shall not reach him.
You are a hiding place for me;
you preserve me from trouble;
you surround me with shouts of deliverance.
The wonderful thing is, when we bring our sins out in confession, that isn’t when God goes away. That’s when God is near and God can be found. That’s when the Spirit is moving. That’s the perfect time for prayer, according to verse 6. God’s presence comes down among sinners who are praying to be forgiven and to change. They are both godly, and they are sinful, and they are going to God together about it. As Luther said, we are righteous sinners, sinful in ourselves, righteous in Christ. And righteous sinners can pray. We can lay one sin after another at the Lord’s feet, and he cleanses away every single one. We are sinners surrounded not with shaming but with shouts of deliverance as even the angels in heaven rejoice over our repentance.
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
which must be curbed with bit and bridle,
or it will not stay near you.
God is speaking in verses 8-9. He is explaining how we can stay close to him. Forgiveness is good, but fellowship is better. Why care about forgiveness? Because it’s how we get near to God again. And what I want you to know about verse 9 is this. The command, “Be not like a horse or a mule,” is a plural command. It’s not for David only. The command is relevant to all of us. A mule needs a 2×4 upside the head, or it will not stay near you. But what is David talking about? He already told us back in verse 3: “When I kept silent . . . .” Mule-like David was unresponsive. He ignored the warning signs. He stuck to his story. He kept up an appearance of okayness. But repentant people are easily led to confession and repentance and freedom. Repentant people want more than forgiveness; they want change. If all you want is forgiveness only, without also changing, you don’t want God, you just want to feel better about yourself. You want to go to heaven only because you don’t want hellfire. You don’t really want God to forgive your sins; you want him to ignore your sins, because you want to ignore your sins. You haven’t forsaken your sins. You don’t hate your sins that put Jesus on the cross. And that is a mule-like hardness of heart. If that describes you, you are resisting God at every turn. You are why your life is so painful:
Many are the sorrows [or pains] of the wicked,
but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord.
Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous,
and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!
Which will it be for you? I’ll tell you what God wants for you. He wants you to be glad and rejoice and shout for joy. If you will walk in the light, this life is all the hell you will ever know. The crisis of human existence – the wrath of God – is already over for you, if you are in Christ, because his wrath came down at the cross so that his joy could come down on you today.
The three keys to walking in the light
One, “no deceit” in verse 2: “. . . in whose spirit there is no deceit.” The NLT paraphrases it, “. . . whose lives are lived in complete honesty.” Another way of putting it is in verse 11: “. . . all you upright in heart.” Not sinless people. Not perfect people. But honest people.
But don’t stop with honesty alone. After all, we might think, “Here’s all my mess. But at least I’m honest about it.”
Two, “I acknowledged my sin to you” in verse 5. The Bible says, “O people, pour out your hearts before him” (Psalm 62:8). And where do we do that? At the throne of grace. The Bible says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). Are you going there and pouring out your confession before the King of grace? Don’t just think about that. Go there. Draw near. The Bible says, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8).
But don’t stop there either. After all, we might confess and confess and confess, without turning and obeying him in a positive way.
Three, “stay near” in verse 9. Stay open. Let the Lord lead you. If we’re open about our failings, but not eager to grow, it’s dishonest. Walking in the light is honesty about our bondage and eagerness to get free and obey the Lord. Let’s stay near him, where we can walk in newness of life by his power.