The Blessedness Of
The Forgiven

Iniquities Forgiven
In a Brief Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, July 2003 to Sep 2005
Part 17a of 83

“…Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. …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” (Romans 4:1-8)

One of the most important questions that a man must ask is: How can I be right with God? Or how can I enjoy a right relationship with Him? The apostle Paul was essentially answering this question in the previous chapter. He teaches us that man must be justified by grace through faith. This is a very important doctrine. But it was a doctrine that is very difficult to accept for the unbelieving Jews and Gentiles, for the natural man has an inflated ego. He looks at himself with a magnifying glass, and sees himself as greater than he really is. And worse still, he expects God to look at him with the same magnifying glass. So he believes that if he does good works, God must accept him and bless him.

But the apostle Paul is saying: this is very wrong thinking! He tells us we can only be right or justified by faith in Christ. In chapter 3, he gives a splendid 7-point summary of this doctrine.

Now, as many of his readers were Jews, he ends the chapter by affirming that this doctrine establishes the law. The word ‘law’ in verse 31 does not refer to ‘precepts’ as in verse 21, or to ‘principle’ as in verse 27. It refers, rather, to the whole Old Testament.

Paul is not teaching something new. It has always been in the Old Testament Scriptures. To prove his point, Paul now goes back to the Old Testament. In particular, in chapter 4, we see him showing that Abraham was justified by grace through faith:

v.1—What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?

Abraham was, of course, regarded by the Jews as their forefather. What did he find out? What did he think about justification? If it can be shown that he was justified by faith, can any Jew, any more, doubt that justification is by faith in Christ?

Well, suggests Paul, there are two very strong reasons to assert that Abraham was justified by grace through faith alone.

First, it is the plain assertion of Scripture that Abraham was justified by faith rather than works. Paul puts it this way:

v. 2-3—For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. 3 For what saith the scripture?  Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.

That is, if it were true,—as many of the Jews thought,—that Abraham was counted righteous for his works, then he might glory before man. He might have a good name before men. But he could not have a good name before God. For the Scripture says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.

This is a quotation from Genesis 15:6. The Scripture, in other words, testifies that God considered Abraham righteous for his faith, not for his works. The Scripture could have said: “Abraham obeyed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” But it did not. God did not receive Abraham as righteous for his works. He received Him as righteous for his faith.

Moreover, secondly, if we think about what the Scripture asserts about Abraham, we will know that it makes sense. It is logical and consistent. Again Paul puts it this way:

v. 4-5—Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.

God had promised Abraham: “Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward” (Gen 15:1). Was God promising Abraham that He would pay him if he would do something for Him? That is unthinkable. If God had promised payment to Abraham, He would have to become a debtor to Abraham, which is unthinkable. And not only so, but it would contradict God’s gracious relationship with Abraham, and His promise to Him. No, no; Abraham was counted righteous for his faith.

Now, of course, Abraham was justified not because his act of believing was worthy. He was justified because he believed on God who “justifieth the ungodly.”  Abraham,—like all other men descending from Adam,—was ungodly and fell short of the glory of God.

If God were to reward him according to his works, he would have received punishment rather than reward. If God were to reward him, He must first give him His own righteousness. He must first declare him righteous or fit to receive a reward. Abraham must first have a stamp of approval. If you are a foreigner in Singapore, and wish to work here, you must first get a stamp of approval from the Ministry of Manpower. Otherwise whatever you earn is illegal. For Abraham, the stamp of approval (to work in the kingdom of God) is the righteousness of God. Abraham believed God and he received God’s righteousness by faith.

In other words, were it not that justification is by faith, Abraham would have received condemnation rather than reward!

But as the Scripture informs us, Abraham enjoyed God’s blessing rather than wrath. Because he was justified by faith rather than works, Abraham enjoyed a blessedness that the world does not know. We do not have a record of his experience. But the apostle Paul suggests that Abraham must have experienced what David also experienced.

This is what he is saying in verse 6 on—

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.

These words are from Psalm 32. This psalm was written by David after he was confronted by the prophet Nathan for his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah. Nathan had approached David with a parable about a rich man who killed the beloved lamb of a poor man to entertain a traveller. David had responded with anger that the rich man must pay fourfold. It was then that Nathan said: “Thou art the man!” David was immediately struck in his conscience and cried “I have sinned against the LORD” (2 Sam 12:13).

From that moment, David was under deep conviction for his sins. In the days following, David wrote two Psalms, namely Psalms 32 and 51. But it is in Psalm 32 that David spoke in particular about his experience of being forgiven by God.

David does not tell us why he felt blessed. But he uses three different verbs to describe what God did for him. And these verbs point to the fact that he was justified by faith without works. He had received a blessing of reconciliation with God that he did not deserve at all.

The three verbs used by David are (1) ‘forgiven’; (2) ‘covered’; and (3) ‘impute.’ With these three verbs David makes three important observations: Firstly, Blessed is he whose iniquities are Forgiven; Secondly, Blessed is he whose sins are Covered; Thirdly, Blessed is he whom the Lord will not Impute sin.

Let’s look at these three propositions. I think they will help us to appreciate the apostle Paul’s excitement over justification by faith in Christ alone.

1.   Blessed are They Whose
Iniquities are Forgiven

a. David says: “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven.” The word iniquities means lawlessness or sin. The word rendered forgiven (ajfivhmi, aphiēmi) literally means “send away” in Greek. This word, for example is used in Matthew 13:36, where we read that “Jesus sent the multitude away …” (Mt 13:36). A person who is forgiven has his sins sent away.

Now, when David first wrote Psalm 32, he used the word ac;n: (nasa), which means “lift up.” A person who is forgiven is one whose burden of guilt has been lifted up.

God had not only lifted up our iniquity. He has sent it completely away from us.

David says elsewhere: “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us” (Ps 103:12).

Likewise, King Hezekiah speaks of God casting all his sins behind His back (Isa 38:17). The prophet Zechariah speaks of taking off iniquity and casting it away like one would take off a filthy garment (Zec 3:4). And the Prophet Micah speaks of God taking all our sins and iniquities and casting them into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19).

What is it to be forgiven? It is to have our guilt lifted up from us and sent far away from us. It is to have the record of our crime erased or blotted from God’s eternal record. This is what David is saying when he pleaded with God in Psalm 51 to blot out all his iniquities (Ps 51:9; cf. Isa 43:25). And God says through the prophet Isaiah,

“I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins” (Isa 43:25).

b.   But God is holy and just. How can He simply remove our guilt from us? Did God simply close His eyes against David’s sin and say “You are forgiven!” No, no, for as we saw in one of our previous studies, that would be injustice! Sin must be punished. Who but an irresponsible judge will let a criminal go without punishment?

So God could not just overlook David’s sin. David’s sin had to be punished. And I am not referring to the troubles in his family that arose from his gross sin. All those sufferings would not be enough to pay for David’s transgression against the infinite and holy God.

No, no; the iniquity of David’s sin was lifted up from him, and nailed to the Cross of Calvary. David’s guilt and burden was lifted up because Christ the Greater David was lifted up on the Cross, to pay for the penalty due to his and our sin:

“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (Jn 3:14-15).

c.   “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven.

Do you, beloved brethren, know, believe and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ? If you do, your sins have been forgiven. They have been lifted up and nailed to the cross. God will not punish you for your sin again. It has already been punished.

Is this not reason to be blessed? Because of what Christ has done for me, I can behold God as a God of love rather than a God of wrath”

…to be Continued Next Issue

JJ Lim