I listened to my favorite preacher, Mark Dever, the pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist in Washington, D.C., this morning, and he had a good word for me. In a message on James 1, Dever said that sometimes we can see some of God’s purposes for our trials, but other times we can’t. But he said that’s ok; God doesn’t want us to trust what we can reason as good from the trial, He wants us to trust HIM — whether we can figure out the purpose for our specific trial or not!
We do know, however that in most trials, at least ONE of the things God wants to accomplish is purify us from sin. Sometimes that may be the main purpose of the trial; other times it may be just a part of His purposes. Knowing that, I have I purposefully tried to use this “down time” in my life to evaluate areas in my life which are not pleasing to God and confess sin, so that I will be ready and available for all that God wants to do with my life in the days ahead.
One of the passages where God specifically speaks to us about our sins is Psalm 19. This Psalm is a favorite for many, with its opening words that “the heavens declare the glory of God”, and then the section on the word of God in :7-10 (“The Law of the Lord is perfect”, etc.). But then we see one of the PURPOSES of the word of God in :11-14. What will the word of God do for us? :12 says it “warns” the servants of God – that is, it warns us of sin – to keep us on the right path. And then in :12-14 he refers to several different types of sin that God’s word can warn us about. If we want to see a renewal in our personal walk with God, and in our church, we must constantly seek to cleanse ourselves from sin. So let’s look at some of the sins that scripture warns us about here, that we may see revival in our personal lives, and in our church. I. “Errors”
This is an Old Testament word which refers to sins we commit “unintentionally.” Even a man of God, like David was, has “blind spots” in which he sins without perhaps realizing it. Proverbs 14:10 says, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but the end of that way is death.” We may think that something is right; we may be convinced of it in our own mind – but the truth is that many times when we think we are doing something right, we are still wrong; it was indeed a sin against God, and man, or both.
One example of that in the Old Testament was when David’s men began to move the Ark of the Covenant on an ox cart, instead of using men carrying it on poles the way the Lord had prescribed. I don’t know that any of those men “intentionally” violated God’s Law – but He had specified the way it was to be carried, and it was to be done HIS way, and not arbitrarily. And like patrol officers are fond of telling us when we didn’t know the speed limit: “Ignorance of the law is no excuse”! They SHOULD have respected God enough to know what the Law was; and they were guilty and paid the price for their sin.
In his older years, Augustine of Hippo Regius wrote a series of “Retractions” – errors that he realized he had made as a younger man. Charles Spurgeon said that if you & I were to do the same thing, our “Retractions” might make a whole library! We all have our “errors”; our “unintentional sins”; our sins of “ignorance”.
This should cause every one of us to approach our spiritual condition with a great deal of humility. Just because you think you are right in doing something does not mean that you are. Always be open to the fact that you might be in error; you might be committing an unintentional sin. We ALL make errors; we ALL have our “blind spots.” We are all totally beset with sin – known and unknown. We can get help with our “errors” or unintentional sins from a couple of sources:
A. Other people can help us see our “errors” – just like they can help you see a mole on your back that you can’t see. A couple of years ago, I had a precancerous spot removed from my back. I couldn’t see it to evaluate it, but I am grateful that others could see it, and diagnose it, for me, and help me treat it so it wouldn’t be harmful to my physical health. That is the same role that other Christians can play for us regarding our spiritual health. Each one of us has certain “blind spots” – sins, or even “errors” as Psalm 19 calls them here; areas of, perhaps “unintentional sin” that are escaping our notice. Other godly people can help us see these errors, and correct them, so that they don’t harm us and others.
BUT if this is going to happen, FIRST: we must be in CONNECTION with other Christians who will love us and lovingly point out our blind spots. We need to get back to a Biblical accountability with other believers in the church. We need to build those kinds of relationships personally; it needs to be what we are shooting for in our Sunday School classes. This spiritual accountability to each other is vital; it is part of what really makes a church a church.
SECONDLY: we must be HUMBLE enough to receive correction from others when they give it. How are you going to respond when someone corrects an error they see in you, or shows you a “blind spot” in your life? Will your “pride” be hurt? Will you get angry about it and reject it out of hand? Will you hold a grudge against that person for trying to correct you? Or will you receive it humbly, and search your heart, and see if what they are saying might be so, and repent where you need to? I pray that God will give each of us the grace to respond humbly to correction. Godly people can help us see our “errors” – but only if we build close relationships with people, and then if we are humble enough to receive correction from them.
B. The Spirit of God can use His word to point out our “errors” to us.
It is significant that this section on sin in Psalm 19 follows a section which described the word of God. It is God’s word which will “restore the soul” as :7 says. “Who can discern his errors?” On our own, we can’t begin to – but when we spend time in God’s word, His Spirit will reveal our errors to us. Here is yet another reason why we need time in God’s word every day – because God will use His word to point out our sins to us – even “errors” or “unintentional” things that we hadn’t realized were sins at all. But just like with the people of God, we have to put ourselves in position for God to speak to us through His word. God will use both His people, and His word, to point out our “errors” to us. And in both cases, we need to put ourselves in position to let Him do that through His instruments.
II. “Hidden faults”
Our “errors” are those faults which we ourselves do not see. “Hidden faults” are those sins which we would seek to hide from others – and perhaps even from the Lord. The truth is, there is no such thing as a “hidden sin” – for there is no sin that is hidden from God. But there are sins that are hidden from others. These are our “hidden faults”.
I Timothy 5:24 says: “The sins of some men are quite evident, going before them to judgment; for others, their sins follow after.” In other words, there are many sins which are just very obvious – everyone sees them. But many of us commit sins that no one else knows about. And that is probably true to one extent or another for most of us: the sins that people see are but the tip of the iceberg of the sins in our lives.
Many of us have heard that expression, “the tip of the iceberg”. It refers to the fact that what you see of an iceberg, on the surface of the water, is only 1/10 of the total — or less! 90% of an iceberg is underwater – which is why we call what we see: “the tip of the iceberg.” Most of it is hidden from our sight.
So it is with our sins. You & I know very well that the sins that other people see in us – as bad as that may be – is just “the tip of the iceberg.” Many of our sins are not seen by others – either we commit them where no one can see, or when no one is watching, OR it happens in the recesses of our minds: sinful thoughts, lusts, bad attitudes, words never spoken but formulated and dwelt upon in our minds. They are “hidden” – that is, they are hidden from everyone except God!
God sees even these “hidden sins”. Psalm 139 says “O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up. You understand my THOUGHT from afar.” The Bible says that God knows everything about us, even our thoughts. God says in Jeremiah 17:10, “I the Lord search the heart; I test the mind.” God sees all of those “hidden sins”. And He especially wants to root out those things which we would hide from Him and others.
In Robert Munger’s old booklet, “My Heart Christ’s Home”, he wrote that when he invited Jesus into the “home” of his heart, he expected Him just to stay in the “living room” and spend time with Him every day in His word & prayer. But he said that Jesus went straight up to a closet on the second floor, where Munger had a few things “locked away”. He said he really didn’t want Jesus messing with those things – but He would not leave it alone. The Lord wants to rule in EVERY part of our hearts and lives. There can be no “tucked away” area of our lives that He is not allowed to be Master of.
Now, you and I are good at trying to “sidetrack” Him. We say things like: “Look, Lord, see the ‘trophy’ I just put on the mantle for you? See the person I witnessed to?” Or “Look, Lord, see how I have swept the living room carpet – I changed this particular thing for you!” But He will not be distracted by our diversions. He knows what the real issues of our lives are – and they are not usually those things we point out to Him and others. He knows those are merely diversions. He will go straight to that “locked closet” – straight to that sin that you are trying to keep from His control. If you are being honest with yourself, you know that the Lord is not satisfied with your diversions, your excuses, your attempts at justification or self-righteousness – He wants that “hidden area” of your life, and He will not leave you alone until you deal with it.
I have no doubt that He is telling some of us here tonight to deal with a “hidden fault”. It is not hidden from you – you know what it is. It may be hidden to me, or to the other church members, or maybe even to your family members – but it is not “hidden” to you – and it is not hidden from God. You can never be right with Him; you can never have real revival in your life; perhaps God will never move in our church in a powerful way – until you deal with your “hidden sins.”
III. “Presumptuous sins”
Verse 13 says “Also keep back your servant from presumptuous sins.” The word “presumptuous” here is a Hebrew word which literally means “to seethe” or “boil over”. The great old Hebrew scholars Keil & Delitzsch tell us that it means to sin “willfully, deliberately, insolently.” Unlike the “errors” or “sins of ignorance” we talked about a few minutes ago, this sin is very much committed on purpose.
Exodus 21 talks about how if a man killed someone accidentally, there was to be a city of refuge for him where he could be safe from the victim’s relatives who might want to take revenge on him. But :14 of that chapter says: “If, however, a man acts presumptuously toward his neighbor, so as to kill him craftily, you are to take him even from my altar, that he may die.” So the “presumptuous” sin is the sin a person PLANS to commit. It was not “accidental”; it was not that he just “fell into it.” It was purposefully planned and carried out.
There was a special reason why David prayed that God would keep him back from presumptuous sins. In the Old Testament, there WAS NO atonement for presumptuous sins. Numbers 15:28-30 says:
“The priest shall make atonement before the Lord for the person who goes astray when he sins unintentionally … But the person who does anything defiantly, whether he is native or an alien, that one is blaspheming the Lord; and that person shall be cut off from among his people.”
In other words, there WAS NO forgiveness for purposeful, intentional sin in the Old Testament. The punishment for that was death. Presumptuous sin is a serious matter to God – and it should be to us as well.
Charles Spurgeon said that people look at the incident in the Old Testament where a man was put to death for gathering firewood on the Sabbath, and question why God would punish like that. Spurgeon said that the man was not put to death merely for gathering sticks. He was put to death because he KNEW what God had said and blatantly and blasphemously disobeyed to His face. It wasn’t the sticks; it was the purposeful disobedience. It was a “presumptuous sin.” And that passage shows how serious that is in the eyes of God.
Our son Michael has always been a very compliant child. In fact, the only spanking I ever specifically remember giving him came after he went into a room in the parsonage which we had told him repeatedly that he was not to enter by himself. But one day he did it anyway – and when he did, he broke something in there. I subsequently gave him a spanking. But before I did, I made sure to let him know that his spanking was NOT because he broke something — it was because he KNEW not to go into that room, and he did it anyway. He was punished for purposeful, blatant disobedience.
That’s what the “presumptuous” sin is. It’s the kind of sin people commit when they say: “I know this is wrong, but I am going to do it anyway.” Or even worse, when they say: “I know this is wrong, but God will forgive me.” They are PRESUMING on the grace of God. It is a presumptuous sin.
The old Jewish literature of Ecclesiasticus 5:4 said: “Do not be so confident of atonement that you add sin to sin.” In other words, the ancient Jews were saying that when you presume on the grace of God, you are treading on dangerous ground.
We can be grateful that under Christ there IS provision made for EVERY sin – even presumptuous ones. Unlike the Old Testament, there is no “unforgiveable sin” for us. ANY sin we confess can be forgiven, according to I John 1:9. But you must be very careful about flippantly engaging in a sin when you KNOW it is wrong, thinking that God “will just forgive me anyway.” It demonstrates that you are not taking your sin seriously – and worse, you are not taking GOD seriously; you are not taking the sacrifice that Jesus made for your sin on the cross seriously. It is a dangerous, dangerous place to be. That is why David prays: “Keep me from presumptuous sins.”
But the truth is, undoubtedly, some of us right here tonight are involved in presumptuous sins. There is something you are doing which you know is wrong; you know what God’s word says about it, and yet you are doing it anyway. Or maybe you have not done it yet – but you are planning on it – despite what you know God says. Pray David’s prayer tonight – ask God to help you turn away from your presumptuous sin.
IV. “The words of my mouth”
:14 says “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Your sight.” Some of our most common sins are those related to our words.
The Book of James has a lot to say about those sins. James 3:6 says: “The tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.” And that same chapter goes on to say: “No one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil, and full of deadly poison.” The tongue is indeed FULL of deadly poison; there are SO many different ways we can sin with our words:
– lying — boasting — gossiping about people
– flattering other people (someone said that gossiping is saying behind someone’s back what you wouldn’t say to their face; flattery is saying to someone’s face what you wouldn’t say behind their back!) both are condemned in scripture!
– cursing, swearing, yelling in anger — telling off-color jokes
– harming others with your words, in a variety of ways. Proverbs 15:4 literally says that with your words you can either “heal” or “crush.” Too many of us as husbands, fathers, wives, mothers, business owners or supervisors, have “crushed” other people with our words. We need to consider before we speak: will this heal, or will it crush?
– leaving false impressions about ourselves or others with our words
– becoming entangled in unnecessary, divisive arguments with other people
– thoughtlessly saying foolish things, or more than needs to be said
And we could go on and on. There are SO many ways of sinning with our words. Ephesians 4:29 says “Let no unwholesome word proceed out of your mouth, but only those which are good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear.” In other words, anything you say which is not good, which is not helpful, is a sin.
Jesus said in Matthew 12:36-37, “But I tell you that every careless word that men shall speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” The word for “careless” there is the Greek word “argos”, which is used to describe a person who is “idle” or “unemployed” or “lazy”. In other words, Jesus is saying that you are responsible to God for every lazy, thoughtless word you say! Every word!
We have all heard the expression from the Miranda rights, which are read to people who have been arrested: “Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.” That is true not just when we are arrested, but all of the time – and our accountability is not to an earthly enforcement officer, but to God Himself. Everything you say is being scrutinized by God. “Every idle word you speak”, Jesus said, you will give account for it in the Day of Judgment.
Mark Dever said in a sermon a couple of weeks ago, that for many Christians, keeping our words under control is “The most pitched battleground spiritually of any area of our lives”. Some of you here tonight might say that is true for you. Undoubtedly you can think of words you have spoken even today – maybe at home; maybe in the car; maybe on the phone; perhaps even in the halls or classrooms of this house of worship – which were not acceptable in God’s sight. Some of us have gotten in the habit of saying such words on a regular basis. And tonight, God is calling you to be accountable to Him regarding the words of your mouth. Ask Him to forgive you for your unwholesome speech, and to help you speak only those words which are “acceptable in (His) sight.”
V. “The meditations of my heart”
Jesus said “the mouth speaks from that which fills the heart,” and the truth is, there is much more evil in our hearts than what our mouths even speak! We spoke of “hidden faults” a few minutes ago — this is where many of our “hidden faults” are – they are “hidden” in our hearts and minds. Since we spoke of those “hidden faults” a moment ago, we will not spend as much time here, but let us make sure we understand that this concept condemns every one of us before God. It is not only the deeds of our hands for which we are accountable to God. It is not only “the words of our mouths” which we are to keep right before Him. The “meditations of our heart” are also being evaluated by the Lord. And that condemns every one of us before God.
– Some of you can claim that you have never committed murder. But how many of you can claim that you were never angry, or harbored bitterness towards another person?
– Some of you can claim that you have never committed adultery. But how many of you men can claim that you have never have lusted after a woman, or how many of you women can say you have never wished in your heart that you were married to another?
– Some of you can claim that you have not stolen – but how many can claim that you have never coveted what God had not granted you to have? In fact I would submit to you, that if there were no other of the 10 Commandments than the very last one, it would still be enough to condemn every one of us before God: “Thou Shalt Not Covet”! It tells us that even the attitudes of our hearts are being judged by God – just like this verse tells us: “the meditations of my heart” are to be acceptable to God.
This means that it is not enough for you to be acceptable in the sight of other people. People may think that you are “good enough.” People may think that you are “acceptable.” People may even think that you are “above average” or “holy”, or call you a “person of integrity.” But they don’t really know, do they?
I didn’t get to go to the Southern Baptist Convention this year, but I was able to watch it on streaming video. During one of the introductions, I heard a man refer to someone as “a real man of integrity.” When he said that, I thought: How do you know? You do not know his thoughts! You do not know his secret desires, and you have not searched his inward, hidden parts. Only God does that!
But God DOES do that indeed. He searches hearts and tests minds. Not only the words of our mouths but also the meditations of our hearts. And this Psalm reminds us that it is HE to whom we are accountable. It is not good enough for me if YOU think “the meditations of my heart” are “acceptable.” You don’t know! And I don’t truly know about YOU either! That is why David reminds us here that our accountability is to GOD. The words of our mouths and the very thoughts of our hearts must be acceptable in the sight of GOD! And quite honestly, that is a standard we can never live up to!
The truth of this Psalm should cast every one of us on God’s grace and forgiveness every day. Who among us can live up to this? Who among us can say that we have not sinned ignorantly, or willfully, or with our words – or especially in our thoughts? It condemns us all! “ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” If you have been trying to be “good enough” to make yourself righteous in God’s sight – you need to give up on it right now. The only hope you have is found in the very last words of this Psalm, where David calls the Lord: “My Rock & My Redeemer.” How poignant that despite all that has been said about the different kinds of sin in these verses, that David does not see God as his accuser – but as his Redeemer! Thank God that He is a Redeemer. Thank God that He has provided for forgiveness of our sins through the death of Jesus on the cross for whoever would repent of their sins and call on Him. Thank God that “whosoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”. And thank God that even as a Christian, you can claim that promise: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Years ago, Charles Spurgeon made an interesting comment on these verses of Psalm 19. He said, “If we had eyes like those of God, we would think very differently of ourselves.” He said this about our sins: he was saying if we could see all that God sees of our deeds, our errors, our words – and even our thoughts! — how differently many of us would think of ourselves.
But I think we can also look at it another way. If we will be willing to confess those sins — then if we had eyes like the eyes of God, many of us who are so weighed down with guilt and shame for our sins, would think very differently of ourselves too! If we could then see ourselves with His eyes – clothed now with the righteousness of Jesus Christ, who died to wash away EVERY sin of those who would call upon His name!
The question is: have you brought your sins to Him? Does God see you still walking in your sin? Or will He see you turning from them tonight, that you might be forgiven, and cleansed, and changed? I hope that each one of us will make the words of this Psalm our prayer tonight: “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in Your sight, my Rock and My Redeemer.”