by Mike Ratliff
“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.” (Romans 4:7-8 ESV)
The Church, the genuine Church that is, is made up of people whose sins have been forgiven by our merciful God. What is the basis for this forgiveness? Are these God has forgiven more worthy than those outside the Church? Let us look at the paradox of our Holy, Righteous, and Just God who proclaims that He will not forgive those who have sinned against Him, but who does show mercy to some.
So Moses cut two tablets of stone like the first. And he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, and took in his hand two tablets of stone. The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:4-7 ESV)
Do you see that there are two distinct groups of people spoken of in this passage? We know that no person save our Lord Jesus Christ lived this life sinless. All people sin. If that were not the case then there would be no need for God to proclaim that he loves thousands and forgives their iniquity and transgression and sin. However, there is another group, the guilty, whom He will by no means clear. The Geneva Bible renders v7 a bit differently.
So the Lord passed before his face, and cried, The Lord, the Lord, strong, mercifull, & gracious, slowe to anger, and abundant in goodnesse and trueth, Reseruing mercy for thousands, forgiuing iniquitie, and transgression and sinne, and not making the wicked innocent, visiting the iniquitie of the fathers vpon ye children, & vpon childrens children, vnto the third and fourth generation. (Exodus 34:6-7 Geneva)
Here is the KJV version.
And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation. (Exodus 34:6-7 KJV)
Here is the NASB version.
Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “the LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations. (Exodus 34:6-7 NASB)
The words “the guilty” are not in the Hebrew text. The Hebrew word translated here as “unpunished” or “clear” is נקה or nâqâh. This word means, “to be clean, pure; to be guiltless, free from punishment.” In this passage it is preceded by לה לוא לא or lô’ lô’ lôh, which is a particle of negation used to make a positive statement negative or to contradict a previous statement . However, where it precedes a noun, it implies the total negation of what the noun means. Therefore, we see that the translators are correct here. There is a second group of people who are wicked that God will “not make innocent” as He does with the first group. We also see that when God speaks of forgiveness of those whom He loves He is actually “making them innocent.” They have right standing before Him even though they had sinned.
What is the difference between these two groups of people? He loves the first group, but not the second. It couldn’t be the presence of sin or worthiness in the first group, but absent from the second because both sin.
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. (Psalms 32:1-2 ESV)
Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile. (Psalms 32:1-2 KJV)
Blessed is he whose wickednes is forgiuen, and whose sinne is couered. Blessed is the man, vnto whom the Lorde imputeth not iniquitie, and in whose spirite there is no guile. (Psalms 32:1-2 Geneva)
David wrote Psalm 32 as a hymn of thanksgiving, in which those singing it give thanks to God for the joy of having their sins forgiven. The first two verses proclaim the blessedness of those whom God has forgiven because their sin “is covered.” Because of this covering the Lord counts no iniquity. Is any of those who sing this hymn perfect? No, all have sinned or there would be no need for the forgiveness. Therefore, we know that this is speaking of that first group of people whom the LORD forgives and “makes innocent.” What is this covering? This is the Hebrew word כּסה or kâsâh. It means to cover, conceal, hide, to cover sin, to forgive sin. When God forgives sin He cleanses and covers. He takes the sin and casts it as far as the East is from the West. So, yes, blessed is the one whom God has forgiven! Now we come to what separates those whom God forgives from those whom He does not.
In v2 we read, “Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.” Those whom the LORD “clears,” “covers,” or “forgives” have no deceit or guile in their spirit. What does this mean? Deceit refers to deceiving man or God about one’s own sins. The ones whom God forgives confess their sins to Him while those whom He does not forgive do not. If that’s all there is to it then why doesn’t everyone simply confess their sins to God so that He will forgive them and give them eternal life? Ah, you see, this is why the wicked are wicked. They hate the God of the Bible. They have no use for Him or His Law nor do they see any need for forgiveness as they resent even being called a sinner. On the other hand, why is it that these whom God loves and forgives do confess their sins to God?
For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:3-7 ESV)
The Apostle Paul tells us in this passage that we were all once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. In other words, all people are born spiritually dead and do not know it. However, with the advent, crucifixion, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, He saved “us” according to His own mercy not according to any works done by us in righteousness. From this we know then that the confession of sins we looked at above must take place after another event that makes all the difference. What is it? According to God’s own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, we were brought to the point where God is ready to justify us by His grace. This justification is what makes us heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The confession of sins is what happens between the washing of regeneration along with the gift of the Holy Spirit and our justification. The miracle of regeneration and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit change everything. The deceit that attempted to hide our sin from everyone, including God, is washed away and then we are given something else.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience– among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved– and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10 ESV)
By God’s grace and according to His mercy He saved us through faith, which is part of the gift given to us along with regeneration and the Holy Spirit. Our old dead faith is regenerated and made alive and cleansed of deceit. Then we see our sins in contrast to the Holiness and Righteousness of God, which cause us to both repent and believe. This is where we confess our sins and believe. It is then that God covers our sins and makes us innocent. He forgives all our sins and then we are commanded to walk according the Spirit the rest of our days in light of the blessedness of being forgiven.
There are two groups of people in the whole world. There are the forgiven and the wicked. If these words pricked your heart and you desperately want to be in the first group, but know that you are in the second then now is the time for you to fall on your face before God to plead for your soul. Confess your sins to Him and pray that He will save you through the washing of regeneration. I have prayed that all reading this who are in the second group will be drawn into the light through the convicting power of the Holy Spirit. If this is you then I pray you will obey the Gospel and be saved.
Soli Deo Gloria!