6 Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works,
7 Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.
8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.
1901 ASV Translation:
6 Even as David also pronounceth blessing upon the man, unto whom God reckoneth righteousness apart from works,
7 saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, And whose sins are covered.
8 Blessed is the man to whom, the Lord will not reckon sin.
I. Paul's Appeal to David.
A. Paul first appealed to "our forefather Abraham" because of the primacy of the Abrahamic Covenant in the plan of God.
B. Then he appealed directly to the record of Abraham's justification by faith as opposed to justification by legal evaluation.
C. And on the heels of his appeal to the Scripture regarding Abraham, he turns to the biblical record of David's declaration found in the Septuagint at Psalm 31:1-2, which is in our Bibles in Psalm 32:1-2.
1. The quote is an exact record of the Septuagint translation in Psalm 31:1-2 (Psalm 32 in the English bibles).
2. The Psalm is a record of David's understanding after a very significant failure in his own personal life.
a. The declaration of blessedness is enormously significant in light of the reality of David's own sin.
1) To believe that Yahweh "will not charge iniquity" is one thing; to believe it when one has been guilty of enormous iniquity is quite another thing.
2) That "blessedness" is what Yahweh seeks for man is both fundamental to theology and an enormous challenge to the thinking of the vast majority of humanity. That the God Who sees all, knows all, and understands all would grant a man who has sinned a standing in His eyes of perfect purity is beyond both the capacity of most men to believe and, thus, the hope of most men in their daily living. And the greater the sin is in the eyes of a man, the more difficult it is to believe that God would treat it as having never happened as far as His willingness to relate to the man is concerned.
a) There is no declaration that Yahweh's actions ignore the sin and its downline impact (no man sins with impunity with respect to consequences) through all eternity. As Paul said in another place: God is not mocked; whatsoever a man sows, that he will reap. Every action generates reaction. Sin generates on-going, downline consequences. That judgment is coming for every man is a clear signal that there are downline consequences to actions taken. But, Paul's thesis is that there is no condemnation of the man in the judgment to come; there is only a legitimate final establishment of the man in the condition determined by the judgment.
b) The declaration is that Yahweh's attitude toward the man is one of complete harmony and acceptance. The absence of antagonism and the presence of acceptance does not signify the absence of a suitable response. It does, however, mean that the response is suited both to the actions of the man as well as the on-going relationship between Yahweh and the man in light of the ultimate intention of enhancing Life for the man. In other words, the actions Yahweh takes are not "retributive", but "disciplinary". It is this that explains why the same action generates different consequences for different men. What a man needs in terms of discipline is often very different from what he deserves in terms of retribution. One man may desperately need an embrace in the face of his guilt; another may need a trip to the woodshed. Because Yahweh does not reckon sin to the "justified", He is free to do what is needed rather than what is deserved. How blessed in the man who finds himself in this relationship with God.
b. The declaration of blessedness is enormously significant to Paul's theological grasp of the single issue of how a man is settled into a permanent position of being free of all condemnation.
1) The issue, as Paul has developed it, is the issue of being subject to retribution.
a) The concept of retribution is both a legal concept and the essence of the idea of "the wrath of God". The "Day of Wrath" is a day of retribution and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.
b) The danger of retribution is indescribable because of the reality of man's sin against the Infinite: retribution has to include infinity and, thus, defies every attempt to specifically define it beyond generalities. Infinity cannot be described except in general terms because mystery is always a part of inifinity in the minds of the finite.
2) The issue of being free of all condemnation is, therefore, the issue of being free from retribution.
3) Paul's declaration is that a decision on God's part to "justify" is a decision to remove a man from the possibilities of retribution.
4) Paul's declaration is that God's decision is made on the basis of a "reckoning" in regard to "faith", not on the basis of a "reckoning" in regard to "legal evaluation".
a) We must not ever lose sight of the fact that "faith" has a specific content regarding the satisfaction of the requirements of Justice -- for if we do we will be significantly confused about the way God is treating us.
b) We are not objectively justified by faith: we are objectively justified by the substitutionary atonement of the death of Jesus the Christ.
c) We are subjectively justified by faith: it is faith in the content of the means of the satisfaction of the Justice of God that allows relationship on the basis of that objective accomplishment by Jesus. It is in this sense that one is "justified by faith".
D. Paul's use of David's words...
1. Paul first says that his focus is upon David's words about how God "reckons righteousness apart from works".
2. He then defines that meaning by exclusively addressing...
a. The "forgiveness" of iniquities, ...
b. The "covering" of sins, ...
c. And the refusal of the Lord to reckon sin to a man.
3. These defining terms are all about the Lord's attitude regarding sin and not one word about "reckoning righteousness".
a. This means that Paul is focused upon the sin-issues involved in "justification", not the more "positive" issue of the determination of God to treat a man as sinless.
b. With Abraham, Paul was using a very positive example of a man who "believed God"; with David, Paul was using a contrasting example of a man who had grievously sinned and been forgiven.
1) David's words were clearly "post-justification" by many years as his sin with Uriah's wife was many years after his "justifying faith" in the Lord.
2) Paul's use of David's words "fit" his argument as they come from the perspective of a long-time believer whose failure(s) are handled on the foundations of the concept of "faith-unto-justification" -- i.e., "faith" brings forgiveness, not "compensatory works".
a) The issue of "forgiveness" is deeply involved in the "works/faith debate" in that whatever will bring forgiveness obviously brings "treatment as though the sin had not occurrred". Forgiveness is not forgiveness if the relationship continues to be hindered by the barriers erected by sin.
b) What brings "forgiveness"? Is it the promise to adjust the behavior, or is it the confession of the reality of the fault in the person that produced the behavior?
i. With men, "forgiveness" is very often tied to the idea of "Ok, I will forgive you this time, but it had better not happen again".
ii. With God, "forgiveness" is never tied to any notion that the human will not fail again. It is tied only to the twin issues of pride and despair that are intrinsically involved in repentance.
iii. The real difference between these two approaches has to do with the fact that God seeks humble confidence from the sinner while men seek the cessation of troubling behavior. Man's pride posits the belief that he can cease from sin; thus, he demands of others that they do also.