There are many distinctions that we can make between individuals. We can differentiate between height, weight, hair and eye color, skin color, natural gifts, lack of natural gifts, social quirks, intelligence, etc. We can identify ourselves with our country, state, city, town, job, family, or spouse – and even within these categories we can further differentiate one person from another person. But seeing as we are finite creatures who will have to give an account for ourselves before God one day, are these the kinds of distinctions that we should be focused on being content with, improving, deploring, or seeking to eliminate? Or is there a greater distinction that should always be given priority in our minds?
David, in Psalm 32, tells us that there is. And this distinction is as follows: There is the man who trusts in the Lord and is, thereby, surrounded by mercy (v. 10b), whose transgressions have been forgiven, whose sins have been covered, and to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity (vv. 1-2); and, there are the wicked who will have many sorrows. The starkness of the contrast is staggering, if you consider the great detail given concerning the blessings that “the godly” (v. 6) experience, and the solemnity of the complete absence of all of these blessings indicated by the words: “Many sorrows shall be to the wicked” (v. 10a) This is reminiscent of the drastic contrast we encountered in Psalm 1, where the life of the righteous is given in such great and precious detail, while the phrase “the wicked are not so” serves to completely polarize these two groups by denying that any of the blessings enjoyed by the righteous are enjoyed by the wicked.
But what is profound to me is that it is the sinner who confesses his sin who is called “godly” (v.6), “righteous” (v.11a), and “upright in heart” (v.11b). The sinner who does not hide from God’s penetrating gaze into his soul, who does not deny that the law of God is not just accusing others but himself in particular, this is the sinner whom the Lord calls godly, righteous, and upright in heart. This is the sinner whom the Lord will protect in times of trouble and distress (vv.6-7), and the one whom He will lead as a Shepherd (vv.8-9). This is the redeemed child of God who deserves no one of these blessings of infinite worth, but who receives them all from the merciful hand of God Almighty who forgives freely all who turn to Christ in faith, demanding no fee from them but simply saying: “Go your way, your faith has made you well.”
It is the wicked, contrarily, who will experience many sorrows. So we have to ask: How do we identify the wicked? Who are they? I wonder whether or not “the wicked” are simply those who are just as sinful as David, and all of us!, but who do not confess their iniquity unto God and seek forgiveness. I say this simply because the righteous man is the one whose sins have been forgiven, and to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity. And that means that he sins, just as the wicked man sins. So the difference between these two is not primarily the absence or presence of sin, but the absence or presence of an acknowledgment of one’s utter sinfulness, a repentant heart that understands the true nature of its wickedness and cries out for mercy, trusting that the Lord God is merciful and good and forgiving. The wicked one is the man who cannot see his utter sinfulness, or the Law’s absolute perfection, who counts his deeds up before God and says: “Behold, the works of my hands, and the work of Your Son!”
The wicked do not see themselves as sinners in need of forgiveness; they see themselves as having no sin at all. One thinks of the Lord’s Words to the Pharisees in John 9 who judged the formerly blind man, and Christ the Lord Himself, as sinners but failed to see that their desire to murder Christ and murder the reputation of the blind man Jesus healed proved that they were children of the devil. He tells them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘We see.’ Therefore, your sin remains” (John 9:41).
In Psalm 32, then, the righteous are not differentiated, first and foremost, by their moral impeccability, but by their awareness of just how infinitely short they fall daily, those who do not trust in their ability to perform well in front of God (or so they think) and others, but who openly confess every day until their last breath: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Tim 1:15). The wicked are those who are self-righteous, blind to their self-righteousness and other attending sins, refuse to cry out to Christ for His mercy, and who will experience many sorrows.
Who are you? Are you depending upon your works? Or are you trusting in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation?