Teach Me Your Paths: Dealing with Sin | Psalm 25
Brian Hedges | August 8, 2021
Let me invite you to turn in your Bibles to Psalm 25. We started in a three-week series last week, and really we’re just kind of getting oriented to this psalm, a psalm written by a man in trouble, that teaches us how to pray. We saw that at the heart of this psalm is the fear of the Lord (verses 12-14); talking about the fear of the Lord, what it means to fear the Lord. One of the characteristics of someone who fears the Lord is that they are conscious of their sin and of their need to deal with sin in their lives.
This morning I want us to look at the psalm again, but I want us to look specifically at how the psalm teaches us to deal with sin. This is right at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. A Christian is someone who recognizes himself or herself as a sinner in the sigh of God, in need of both forgiveness—cleansing—on one hand, and also of renewal and transformation and repentance on the other. The psalms are very helpful for us in teaching us how to deal with sin, teaching us how to confess, how to repent, how to work through this process, so that we are growing in holiness as we pursue the Lord. I want us to see how this psalm in particular teaches us this.
We’re going to begin by reading the psalm together. You can follow along on the screen, but I hope you’ll also have a copy of God’s word open in your hands so that as we’re looking at specific verses through the message you can refer to it. So, Psalm 25, beginning in verse 1. This is a psalm of David.
“To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust;
let me not be put to shame;
let not my enemies exult over me.
Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame;
they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
“Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all the day long.
“Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for the sake of your goodness, O Lord!
“Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way.
All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.
“For your name's sake, O Lord,
pardon my guilt, for it is great.
Who is the man who fears the Lord?
Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose.
His soul shall abide in well-being,
and his offspring shall inherit the land.
The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him,
and he makes known to them his covenant.
My eyes are ever toward the Lord,
for he will pluck my feet out of the net.
“Turn to me and be gracious to me,
for I am lonely and afflicted.
The troubles of my heart are enlarged;
bring me out of my distresses.
Consider my affliction and my trouble,
and forgive all my sins.
“Consider how many are my foes,
and with what violent hatred they hate me.
Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me!
Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.
May integrity and uprightness preserve me,
for I wait for you.
“Redeem Israel, O God,
out of all his troubles.”
This is God’s word.
As we saw last week, this psalm is an acrostic; it is the first of what’s called the alphabetical psalms, as pretty much each verse of this psalm begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. That situates the psalm not only as a lament and a prayer of confession, but also as wisdom literature, and it’s teaching us what it means and what it looks like to walk in wisdom and in the fear of the Lord.
We saw that this was a psalm written by a man in trouble, and it seems that the experience of trouble that he is in is bringing to mind his sins, so it provokes confession. This is often the case in our lives, that when we go through trials we are suddenly more conscious of the ways in which we have forsaken God or we have offended God or we have sinned against God. Oftentimes trials are God’s means of bringing us to repentance. Perhaps that was the case for David in this psalm.
What we see in this psalm is that in a number of places he addresses the issue of his sins with an appeal to God for mercy and for forgiveness. I want us to notice three things; we’re not going to look at every verse, but we’re going to look at a handful of verses around this theme of dealing with sin. I want us to notice three things. We could call these:
1. The Practice of Confession
2. The Basis of Forgiveness
3. The Heart of Repentance
I would suggest to you that all three of these things have to be present for there to be a real experience of the forgiveness of our sins and renewal, repentance in our hearts in the ways of God.
1. The Practice of Confession
What we see in this psalm is deep consciousness of sin, acknowledgement of guilt, and an earnest plea for mercy, pardon, and forgiveness. We see it in three verses, three different verses in which he confesses his sin in some way or another: verse 7, verse 11, and verse 18. Let me read each one of those again.
First of all, in verse 7 he says, “Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me for the sake of your goodness, O Lord.” Then drop down to verse 11: “For your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt [or my iniquity], for it is great.” Then in verse 18: “Consider my affliction and my trouble and forgive all my sins.”
You can see in those three verses that here’s a man who is conscious that he has offended God. He is conscious of his sins, and he’s conscious not only of recent sins but of the long record of his sins. He looks back on his life and he says, “Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions.”
Some commentators suppose that David wrote this as an older man, perhaps when he was running from his son, Asalom, and that he’s conscious of the sins of his life, the sins that have led up to this day. So he’s saying, “Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions.”
He’s conscious of the deep iniquity and guilt of his heart and the magnitude of that guilt, so he says in verse 11, “Pardon my guilt, for it is great.” Here’s someone who feels that he has greatly sinned, and he is praying for complete pardon and forgiveness for all of the sins that he has committed. “Forgive all my sins,” he says in verse 18.
I think this just shows us several things. It shows us that confession is necessary and that this is part and parcel of the Christian life, the life of the believer. To be a person who walks with God is to be someone who knows that they have sinned and then who consciously and deliberately and intentionally and regularly deals with their sins.
Now, there are some people, even among Christian circles, who could say that confessing our sins is not really necessary. I think it was W.H. Auden, that poet of the 20th century, who said something to this effect: “I sin, God forgives; it’s a wonderful arrangement.” It was kind of a blase perspective on sin, taking God’s forgiveness for granted.
Even among some Christians, there are some people who would argue, “Well, if we are really justified by faith in Jesus Christ, and if that means that all of our sins—past, present, and future—are absolved and forgiven because of what Christ has done for us on the cross, there’s no need to confess our sins, because God’s already forgiven them all anyway.”
The problem with that is that it’s simply not biblical, because the Bible over and over and over again both models and teaches us to confess our sins. It’s modeled for us over and again in the psalms, not only here in Psalm 25 but in all of the penitential psalms— Psalm 6, 32, 51, 130, and so on.
Here’s an excerpt from another psalm, Psalm 32, where David once again is praying. He says, “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. 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.”
Once again, here’s someone who has sinned, and when he kept silent about his sins, it hurt him. It hurt him spiritually. That’s one reason why we need to confess our sins, because it hurts us not to. We need to keep our conscience clear with the Lord by regularly confessing our sins. It’s only when we confess those sins that we experience his forgiveness and we’re renewed and restored into his fellowship.
Proverbs 28:13 says, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.”
Even Jesus in the Lord’s Prayer teaches his disciples to regularly confess their sins. Do you remember one of the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer? “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” that presupposes the ongoing need for forgiveness in our lives and for repentance.
Then, as we read from 1 John 1 this morning, there is this promise, a promise that’s written to believers, that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” In that same chapter, John goes on to say that if we say have not sinned, we make him a liar, and the truth is not in us. We must be honest about our need for forgiveness! When we have sinned, we need to confess.
This shows us that confession is normal, it is necessary, and it is expected in the life of a believer.
You might think of confession something like taking your daily shower. Every day you need to take a shower, right? We need to bathe in order to stay clean.
Now, imagine someone—perhaps has actually happened with your children—you tell your teenager, “Hey, son, it’s time to take a bath.” He says, “Why? I’m not dirty. There’s no mud on my face, there’s no dirt on my hands. I’m not dirty; I had a bath Wednesday! I don’t need another one today.”
What do you say to him? You say, “You need a bath whether you have dirt on your face or not, because if you don’t take a bath, you’re going to stink!” You need regular, ongoing cleansing.
The same thing is true spiritually. You might say, “Well, I don’t feel like I need to confess my sins! I haven’t committed adultery, I haven’t committed murder, I haven’t stolen anything, I haven’t lied to anybody. I haven’t cheated anybody recently.” Well, that’s great. That means there’s no mud on your face.
But listen, if you are not confessing the inward sins of thoughts and motives and the multitude of ways in which you fail to love God and others—if you’re not regularly confessing your sins to the Lord, you may not have mud on your face, but you know what’s going to happen? You’re going to develop a stench in your spiritual life. There’s going to be an odor of worldliness, there’s going to be a lack of fellowship with God. You’re not going to carry with you the aroma of sweetness that comes from being in the presence of Christ. You will become course in speech, unkind in manner, worldly in perspective, tainted in motivation. You may not even notice at first, but sensitive souls will know that here’s someone who is not in fellowship with God.
Now, I think one of the great models of this ongoing practice of confession is the old Scottish preacher Robert Murray M’Cheyne. He was actually a young man; he died when he was just about 30 years old. But he was someone who was earnest in his pursuit of holiness and his desire to live in fellowship with the Lord. You’ve heard me quote him many times. He used to pray, “Lord, make me as holy as a pardoned sinner can be.”
One of the most influential things that I’ve ever read in all of my reading over the years was a little piece that he wrote called his “Personal Reformation.” It’s essentially a journal entry that he made. He didn’t write this for publication; no one even knew about this until after he had died. It was something he wrote for his own soul, his personal reformation, where he said that he wanted to maintain, number one, a conscience that was constantly washed in the blood of Christ, he wanted to be constantly filled with the Holy Spirit, and he wanted to be conformed to the image of Christ. Those were his three ambitions.
In order to do that he reflects on each one of these things, and I want to read just a little bit of what he said about maintaining a conscience void of offense, and it’s related to his confession of sin.
He said, “To maintain a conscience void of offense, I am persuaded that I ought to confess my sins more.” What this led M’Cheyne to do was plan regular times for confession throughout the day or throughout the week, or sometimes stated days where he would seek the Lord, he would retire from other people, he would seek the Lord in prayer with self-examination and confession.
He said, “I think I ought at certain times of the day, my best times (say after breakfast and after tea), to confess solemnly the sins of the previous hours and to seek their complete remission.” He said, “I ought to go to Christ for the forgiveness of each sin. In washing my body I go over every spot and wash it out. Should I be less careful in washing my soul?”
He would reflect on sin in so many different ways, the sins of his youth, his sins before conversion, his sins after conversion, his sins against the light and knowledge of God, sins against each person of the Trinity. I mean, here’s somebody who was really, really thorough!
You might read that and you might think, “Oh, that’s just excessive. I can’t even imagine spending a whole day confessing my sins to the Lord!” He was a unique man, to be sure, but here’s someone who walked so closely with God that when he would ascend the tall stairs into his pulpit there in Dundee, Scotland his congregants would begin to weep, because they sensed the holiness of this man who had been in the presence of God.
Now, I read M’Cheyne not because I’m like him, but because I want to be like him, and I read that and it motivates me and it stirs me and it helps me see the kinds of things that I need to do to help keep my own conscience clear and to deal with my sin. I encourage that for you as well; the practice of confession, to recognize that you have sinned, and that in order to stay in fellowship with God you need to confess those sins and bring them to the Lord.
So the practice of confession; that’s number one.
2. The Basis of Forgiveness
What I want you to see here is that when we confess our sins, when we do this, when we pray, when we come to the Lord, we have reason to have confidence in the Lord’s forgiveness—humble confidence, to be sure. This isn’t brash boldness, it’s humble confidence, but it’s confidence that God will forgive our sins. I want you to see that the basis of this confidence is not in ourselves; the basis of this confidence is in God’s character, in his mercy.
You see this first of all in verses 6-7. Just notice as I read these verses three times David uses the word “remember.” “Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.” He means the eternal mercies and the steadfast or covenant love of God. Again, as I mentioned last week, that language of mercy and steadfast love reaches back to Exodus 33-34 and God’s revelation of his name to Moses, and how God would therefore be merciful to the children of Israel in spite of their sin. “Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.”
Verse 7, “Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions,” and then, “according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O Lord.”
Three times he says “remember.” “Remember your mercy, remember not my sins, and remember me.”
I think the same idea is expressed in verse 11 when he says, “For your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great.”
What is this showing us? It’s showing us the basis of our appeal to God for forgiveness and for pardon is not in ourselves. We are not saying, “Forgive me, Lord, because I’m trying to do what’s right.” Or, “Forgive me, Lord, because most of the time I do the right thing; I just messed up this once.” Or, “Forgive me, Lord, because you know how much I serve you.” That’s not it at all! In fact, he says, “O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great.” If anything, the only argument he has to bring from his own situation is the magnitude of my sin. It’s like a person who goes to the doctor and says, “Doctor, I really need your help, because I’m really, really sick.” That’s where David is.
What is he appealing to? Not to anything in himself, because all he has to bring is his sin. He’s appealing to God. He’s saying, “Remember your mercy and your steadfast love, and remember me for your goodness’ sake, and pardon me for your name’s sake.”
It means that the basis of our forgiveness is not in ourselves, it’s in God! “Pardon my for your name’s sake.” He doesn’t pardon us mainly for our sake, but for his sake.
One of the most influential things I read probably 20 years ago was Jonathan Edwards’ Dissertation Concerning The End for Which God Created the World. Edwards just looks across the whole breadth of Scripture to ask, “Why did God create the world in the first place, and why does God do what God does?”
The basic answer was he does it all for the sake of his name. He does it for his glory. He created us for his glory, he redeems us for his glory, he governs our world for his glory. You see it right here: “For your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great.” He does it for his glory.
You might say, “Well, that sounds kind of self-serving on God’s part.” Well, it’s not, and here’s one reason why it’s not: because at the very heart of God is his self-giving mercy and grace and love. The reason this is good news for sinners is because it means that the measure of God’s forgiveness is not our worth, it’s his worth. It means that the measure of his commitment to forgive repentant sinners of their sins is not based on what they do, it’s based on his own commitment to the glory of his name. So it’s good news. That’s really, really good news for us.
It shows us that great sins are not an argument against our forgiveness, bur rather show our need for forgiveness and how God’s grace can be glorified in forgiving us.
Romans 5:20 says, “Where sin abounded, grace abounded all the more,” or, as we were singing this morning, “Our sins, they are many; his mercy is more.” Therefore this gives us great confidence.
Dale Ralph Davis has written a number of little commentaries on the Old Testament—really expositions—and he’s written some on the Psalms. In his exposition of Psalm 25 he tells the story of a woman in a town in the Philippines who seemed to really know the Lord, had this intimate walk with God, at least that’s what people said. A local priest decided he would test her. He wanted to see, “Does this woman really know the Lord?”
So he challenged her one day. He said, “I want you, next time you’re in prayer, I want you to ask the Lord a question. I want you to ask him what sin I committed when I was in seminary. If you really know God, you should be able to come back and tell me.”
Sure enough, the next time he met the woman he asked her, “Did you speak with God?”
She said, “Yes, I dd.”
“Did you ask him what sin I committed in seminary?”
She said, “Yes, I did.”
He said, “Well, what did God say?”
She said, “The Lord says, ‘I don’t remember.’”
Now, I’m not advising that approach to trying to determine whether somebody knows God or not. That’s not a great approach. But that woman I think did know the Lord, because she knows that at the heart of God’s mercy is his commitment to remember our sins no more. Our sins are buried in divine oblivion.
Do you remember Corrie Ten Boom, that woman who suffered so much at the hands of the Nazis during the Holocaust, simply for hiding the Jews? Her sister died in the prison camps. You remember that when she was finally released in the 1940s, she was then travelling through Germany, and she was preaching the message of God’s forgiveness. She used to reference this passage from Micah 7:19, “You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” She used to go around saying this: “God casts our sins into the depths of the sea and he posts a sign that says, ‘No fishing allowed.’”
Brothers and sisters, that’s really good news for sinners. It means that we can have confidence that God really does forgive us. Now, this is humble confidence. It’s humble because it is not based on self-trust. It’s not trusting in ourselves, it’s not trusting in our goodness, it’s not trusting in our merit; it’s looking to God for mercy.
It’s confident because it takes God at his word, confident in God’s promise. We need both of those things; we need humility.
Listen, humility without confidence is really kind of a pseudo-humility. This is the person who’s always doubting, but not believing. They’re not trusting in the promises of God. On the other hand, confidence without humility is brash boldness; it’s a rashness. It’s someone who presumes on God’s forgiveness without humbling themselves and asking and without seeking for his mercy and his grace. We have all the reason in the world to believe that God will be faithful to his promise.
Of course, the cross of Jesus Christ is right at the heart of his confidence that we have. Once again, Robert Murray M’Cheyne modeled this. In his “Personal Reformation,” when he’s confessing his sins he references the cross. This is what he says. He says, “I ought to see the stripe that was made on the back of Jesus for each of my sins. I ought to see the infinite pang thrill through the soul of Jesus, equal to an eternity of hell for my sins. For every omission in self I may find a divinely perfect obedience ready for me in Christ, and for every sin of commission in self I may find not only a stripe or a wound in Christ but a perfect rendering of the opposite obedience in my place, so that the law is magnified, its curse more than carried, its demand more than answered.”
That is a beautiful understanding of how the righteousness of Christ, our justification through Christ, Christ’s work on our behalf, applies to our conscience. Where I have failed, he has obeyed. Where I have sinned, he has suffered. Therefore, I can be confident in God’s mercy and forgiveness.
But listen, you can’t pray like that sincerely and be glib about it, and you can’t trust in the mercy of God, the goodness of God, the faithfulness of God in his promise of forgiveness without trusting in God’s character all the way through. If you do trust God’s character, if you trust God’s goodness, that’s going to lead to the third thing, which I think is necessary in dealing with sin, and that is the heart of repentance.
3. The Heart of Repentance
It’s not only the practice of forgiveness with this humble confidence in the basis of God’s forgiveness, in his mercy and in his grace; but there’s also, with this, a heart of repentance expressed in prayer for God’s instruction.
I want you to see that these two things go together. In the same breath, in the same psalm, David is saying, “Forgive me for my sins, and lead me, teach me, guide me.” You see that? Look at verses 4-5. He says, “Make me to know your ways,” or, “Show me your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation. For you I wait all the day long.”
Spurgeon said, “Four times over in these two verses he applies for a scholarship in the college of grace. ‘Show me, teach me, lead me, teach me.’” That’s the right heart. This is somebody who is confident that God is good, and that confidence in God’s goodness means not only that I trust in his goodness to forgive me, but I also trust in his goodness to lead me, to teach me, to instruct me, to guide me. I trust that God is good not only in forgiving my sin, but he’s also good in teaching me how I ought to live, so that I am no longer living in sin, I’m not continuing to live in sin. This is the kind of guidance that he’s asking for. He’s asking for guidance in the will of God, in the ways of God. “Teach me your paths, teach my your ways and your paths.” What does he mean by that? He’s saying, “Show me how to live. Show me how to walk.” You see he is here submitting himself to the instruction of God.
Once again, it’s rooted in God’s character. Look at verse 8. “Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.”
Then you see that the truly penitent person, who’s both humble and who fears the Lord, is the person who receives this instruction. Look at verse 9: “He leads the humble in what is right; he teaches the humble his way.”
Verse 12, “Who is the man who fears the Lord? Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose.”
What I want you to see, brothers and sisters, is this, that the real test of genuine repentance and faith is that when you confess your sins, you’re not just trying to get off the hook for doing bad things, but that you genuinely desire to turn from the sin and to do what is right, and you’re asking God to show you how, you’re asking God to instruct you and to teach you and to put you on the right path again.
One of the things this means is that right at the heart of the two great errors that we tend to commit in the Christian life is the same basic sin. The two errors are legalism on one hand and license on the other. Legalism says, “I have to be good enough. I have to be good enough or God will not love me.” That’s legalism.
But license basically turns grace into a license for sin and says, “Well, since grace abounded where sin abounded, let’s just keep on sinning so that we’ll get more and more grace.” It takes the grace for granted.
Sinclair Ferguson wrote the wonderful book called The Whole Christ. He said that these two errors, legalism and license (or antinomianism is the theological word for it), “are non-identical twins that are born from the same womb of unbelief.” Legalism, thinking I have to prove myself good enough in order for God to love me, is born from the unbelief in God’s mercy; and license, thinking that I can just sin all I want and that God’s ways are not really the way that I live, they’re constraining and restrictive, that’s really born from unbelief in the goodness of God, in what he teaches us and how he instructs us. When we really trust him in our heart of hearts, we will both seek his forgiveness and we will seek his guidance, and we’ll ask him, “Show me how I should live.”
Let me ask you this morning, where are you in your relationship with God? First of all, do you have a clean conscience? Have you bathed recently? Are you clean before the Lord? If not, this is the opportunity! That’s one reason we gather for public worship, is so we can confess our sins, we can receive a fresh assurance of God’s forgiveness. It’s one reason we come to the Lord’s table. It’s the ongoing sacrament of repentance and of fellowship with God. We come to the table, not because we have it all together but because we don’t have it together. We come confessing our sins, we come asking the Lord to forgive us, and then the bread and the juice is the sign and the seal of those new covenant mercies, to show us what Jesus has done for us.
How are you in relationship with God? Are you close? Are you in fellowship? Is your conscience clean? If not, this morning, confess your sins.
How are you in turning from sin and learning to walk in the way of righteousness? Are you asking God to teach you and to instruct you and to show you the way you should go? Are you learning the steps to take to start walking in the way of obedience? That’s part of it. That’s the heart of repentance; it’s the genuine desire to walk in the way that God chooses.
How are you in your humble confidence in God’s mercy and grace given to us through the cross of Christ? If you believe the gospel, that Jesus died for your sins, if you believe that, then you will believe that God is a merciful God, that he is good in his heart to the very core, and therefore everything that he says to do is also good. I hope you’ll trust in him this morning. Let’s pray together.
Lord, there’s not a single one of us this morning who doesn’t have work to do in repentance and in prayer and in seeking your face. I think the sad reality for us is that all to often we are content to live too far removed from your fellowship, to live at a distance from you, so that maybe we believe in our heads and at times we’ve known the sweetness of your fellowship, but we’re not living close and we’re not dealing with sin. We are like someone going days without a bath, and just because we don’t see dirt on our face doesn’t mean that we’re clean.
Lord, my prayer this morning is not that we would walk away feeling guilty and burdened; far from it. My prayer, Lord, is that we would humbly but confidently come into your presence before the throne of grace, and that this morning, right now, we would confess our need for your forgiveness, that we would look to your mercy, that we would trust in what you have done through your Son Jesus Christ on the cross, and that we would humble our hearts and submit ourselves to your teaching, and that we would learn to walk in the way that is good and right and true and holy.
We pray that, like M’Cheyne, you would make us as holy as saved sinners can be. Lord, we all have a long way to go; I know that I do. So would you help us this morning? Help us see that you’re good, that you’re gracious, and help us break through whatever we need to do in repentance and in faith. So draw near to us as we come to the Lord’s table. We pray this in Jesus’ name and for his sake, amen.