To Overcome the Despair of Sin We Must Hope in God

Psalm 130

To Overcome the Despair of Sin We Must Hope in God

Bunyan, — summarize, then pg. 109-110, last and first paragraph, repectively.

So Christian and Hopeful were captured by Giant Despair and thrown into Doubting Castle to be bludgeoned by discouragement.

I think that this situation is something that we all can identify with.  The psalmist is figural of us.  You’ll notice that this is a Song of Ascents.  But what is a Song of Ascents?  It is a song that Israel would have sung as they had come out of captivity and were ascending to the temple to worship God.  And, as he is on the way to God, the Psalmist finds himself unworthy to come into the presence of God because of his iniquity.

Again, I think that we might then call him our brother.  We too have been set free from the captivity of sin by our Savior’s death and resurrection.  We have been indwelt by the Holy Spirit of our King, and He is leading us to the heavenly temple, Mount Zion.  There, Christ sits as our holy Lord and Advocate.  So we have been redeemed from sin for holiness, indwelt by the Spirit of holiness in order to increase in holiness, and we are coming to Jesus Christ, to our God, who is perfect in holiness . . . and yet we sin on the way.  We find the way to the city of God difficult to trek.  We find ourselves weakened in the flesh.  Our communion with God drys up.  God seems distant.  And sin’s opportunity then comes and an onslaught follows, and we get off the path, walk into the stile, face the floods and thunderstorms, and being too late to turn back, are captured by sin and despair.

This is not a novel reality.  It is as ancient as Adam and Eve.  Sinning, they were covered with shame.  When we sin, despair is inevitable.  But God provides precious remedies that overcome spiritual depression.  So the apostle John in the NT letter of 1 John, — having written to us that God has raised our souls from death to life by giving His Son to die and be raised, that Christ has brought us into fellowship with God, that the God with whom we have fellowship is passionate for dispelling the darkness of sin, and that if we know Him so we too are passionate for holiness, — then says, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin” (1 Jn 2.1a).  And at first, as Christians, we think, “Yes!  Holiness!”  And then, sometimes, we think, “Hmmm.  I’ve sinned.”  But John quickly offers one of those remedies to rescue us from despair.  “But if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.  He is the propitiation for our sins” (1 Jn 2.1b-2a).  So he says, “Don’t sin!”  And then he says, “If you do sin, don’t despair!  God has a precious remedy for you!”

By grace, the psalmist believes this.  As we come to see it in 130.1-2 we enter in upon his “aha” moment.  We do not know what iniquities he may have committed or how long he might have remained in his despair.  All we know is what we see here.  He is bursting forth for divine help.  It is an exemplary response for us to the despair of sin.  There are three observations or reasons for this.

First, when he says “out of the depths I cry the psalmist indicates that he knows his despair, — We must not take this for granted.  It has been said that there are many types of sinners, — bold sinners, secure sinners, stupid sinners, and insensible sinners, — and I think the worst sort would be the sinner secure in his sin.  The psalmist, however, is an awakened man who knows that he is in “the depths.”  And God be praised when you know that you are in the depths.  You are a poor soul who does not know or feel the temporary God-forsakenness of your iniquities.  Many of us sin and let it roll off our hearts like the water off of a duck’s back.  Our hearts are unfeeling and greasy.  Nothing sticks.  We do not feel the weight of sin that presses us into the depths.  And, I’m saying that that is a dangerous place to be in.  It is a deadly numbness!  That many of us ho-hum through our sins is terrible evidence against us because we recognize the depths of our despair only when we have a vibrant love for God and passion for holiness (repeat).  Knowing the despair of sin is a grace of God.  Dead people don’t know that they are six feet in the depths.  Only people buried alive know that, and they cry out mightily for rescue.  So it is that only we who have been made spiritually alive feel the depths of despair when we sin against our God.  Only those whom God has made alive cry out from the depths to God.  So the psalmists’ response is exemplary because, in God’s kindness, he knows his despair.

Second, the psalmist cries out to God, “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!  O Lord hear my voice!”, — despair is to strong for us.  By ourselves we cannot overcome it.  Only God who is the pure and sovereign joy can deliver us from the swoon of our sin.  Sin is like a strong man who binds us with the chains of despair.  But by Christ, God has delivered the death blow to the strong man and broken his chains.  And this freedom is joy in our Deliverer.  There is no other balm for despair other than cries and pleadings to God.

Third, the psalmist pleads for mercy, “Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy”, — A Christian is one who cries for help.  When we sin, we are all like a man fallen into a deep and darkened water well who after many days and many attempts has discovered that he cannot rescue himself, and he cries out in hope that someone above, someone who is able to rescue him from his depth might hear him and lift him up to life.  Such cries are fundamental to the Christian life.  “God be merciful to me, the sinner” is the cry of one who has been awakened to the only hope for deliverance.  And as our life in Christ begins, so it also progresses unto glory by cries to God for mercy.  Pleadings to God for mercy ought to be like breathing for the Christian.  The psalmist inhales his condition and exhales, “Help!  O God, let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!”

So, by God’s grace, our brother gives to us an exemplary response to the despair of sin.  Recognizing his spiritual depression, he cries out to God for mercy, –

Which brings us to the main point that the psalmist makes for us this morning.  His main point and the subject of this sermon is, “To overcome the despair of sin, you must hope in God!”

If despair is the flower, then sin is its root; but God alone cuts out the root!  The psalmist teaches us of three precious remedies found in God that conquer the despair of sin, — (1) The forgiveness of God, remember it.  (2) The fear of God, live in it.  (3) The Word of God, persistently hope in it.  And, again, to what ultimate end but hope in God!

Now, you might say, “why can’t I just hope in God?  Why do I have to do these things?”  I would answer “The enjoyment of God is a blazing fire, and it is hard to look at what is bright when our eyes are accustomed to the darkness of the depths.”  We need time for our eyes to adjust.  We need fodder for the fire.  When we are in despair we need sweet and holy gasoline to be poured on the faintly burning wick our hearts.  We don’t just “Boom!” “I’m hoping in God!”  God knows we are weak, and that we need food that lifts our souls to Him (2 Pet 1.4).  So, He reminds us of forgiveness, of a life of gospel fear, and of persistent hoping in the Bible.  So, let’s take them one at a time, and then we’ll apply the passage.

First, when you are in despair, “remember the gospel promise of forgiveness,” (130.3-4a).  “If you, O Lord, should mark inquities, O Lord, who could stand?  But with you there is forgiveness.”

Bunyan, — pg. 114, last paragraph.

So Bunyan says, “when you are in despair, realize that you have the key of promise in your heart.”  How many are the precious promises of God in Scripture which are yes and amen for you in Christ Jesus?  “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8.28).  “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1.9).  And here, “with you there is forgiveness.”  Now the psalmist intends to make this dazzle like the North Star against a pitch black night.

So he says first in 130.3, “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord who could stand?”  In this we hear the root issue that has caused the psalmists’ despair.  Iniquities!  Personal sins! so that there are two things that weigh in upon him, — not only his sins, but the diligent justice of God.  We need to feel that question mark, “who could stand?”  There is little more terrifying than what our brother Job says, “If I sin, you watch me” (10.14).  And, Solomon preaches to us, “there is no one who does not sin” (1 Kngs 8.46).  And, God is not a man that He should only see the outward appearance of man, but He beholds the heart.  Intentions, motivations, desires, — these are laid bare before God’s eyes.  The apostle John said of our Lord Jesus, “he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man” (Jn 2.24-25).  One issue of iniquity is enough to condemn us before Him.  But Isaiah says that unbelieving peoples draw iniquity as with cords of falsehood (5.18).  So the question is rhetorical.  No one! no one apart from Christ can stand before God!

Now, this is meant to make that word “but” the most beautiful preposition in all the world.  We are hopelessly condemned by a just and holy God, “but with God there is forgiveness.”  My wife, Jenny, has a ring polishing machine, and periodically she will take off her engagement ring and give it a whirl and that diamond comes out gleaming with all the colors of light.  So also the holy justice of God in 130.3 is like a polish that makes the jewel of forgiveness radiantly sparkle in our hearts.  The gospel promise of forgiveness is like the sun that brightly passes through the thunder clouds of God’s righteous scrutiny.  “But with you there is forgiveness!”

But, you say, “How does this gospel promise work to remedy the despair of sin?”  It reminds us that God has overcome the root of despair.  The main problem for us is not the despair of sin, but the sin that causes our despair.  Sin is the root and despair the fruit.  When you cut out a tree by its root, its fruit steadily withers and dies.  The life source has been destroyed.  When we remember that God has decisively dealt with our sins in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we remember that  “this sin shall not always find a place with me.  Even now I know that Christ’s blood has bought a full forgiveness for me, and that sin’s reign is broken with me.”  Knowing that forgivness is with the God who is for you in Christ Jesus gives you the assurance that the life source of your despair is dead and dying.  Realize this, if you have believed upon Christ Jesus, all of your iniquities as God knows them have been and are forgiven, and this promise is fodder that turns our despair into joy.

{It is for you who are in Christ that David writes, “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever.  He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.  For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.  As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him” (Ps 103.8-13).}

We must learn then, when in despair, to climb up into the pulpits of our souls and preach this gospel promise to our hearts, “Though my iniquities would have justly swallowed me whole, yet with God there is forgiveness of these very things.  Arise, oh my soul, to joy in God!  God has cut the root by Christ and you, despair, are to wither before His brightness!  A new root has been planted, a new life has been granted, and holy joy is my everlasting song.  With God there is forgiveness!”

Oh, with what joy did the paralytic take his steps?  His friends, you’ll remember, brought him to Jesus so that he may be healed.  But seeing their faith, our Lord said to him, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.”  And the scribes and Pharisees accused him of blasphemy saying, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?”  When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he raised the stakes for them, “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?  But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” and then there is a crucial pause that gives us a chance to gather the mind of the paralytic.  He has just heard, “Your sins are forgiven,” then from the Pharisees to  Jesus, “You can’t do that,” then Jesus to the Pharisees, “I’ll prove to you that this man’s sins are forgiven by healing his paralysis also,” and then a pause.  So he has to be anxiously thinking, “Am I going to feel something, anything! in my legs, because if so, my sins are forgiven!”  The forgiveness of his sins rests on a twitch of his toes!  And Jesus looks at him and says, “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” “And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God.  What blessed assurance against his future moments of despair.  Every itch of his foot, every step out of the bed, every tweak of pain as he jogged was a continual reminder to him, “With God there is forgiveness!”  What joy!  And, so with every breath you take you have this sermon to preach to yourselves when in the despair of sin.  Remember the gospel promise of divine forgiveness.

Second, when in despair “remember to live by the fear of God,” (130.4b).  “But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.”

It is impossible that we should have forgiveness from God and not have the fear of God.  The psalmist teaches us that forgiveness results in or is accompanied by the fear of God.  Divine forgiveness is the fertile soil in which the fear of God is grown, — which is why we can’t just say, “Well, with God there is forgiveness, so I can just continue in sin.”  You see how backwards that is to the intention of this psalm.  Sin is the cause of the despair.  He wants to get rid of despair.  He wants to be rid of sin.  Forgiveness doesn’t give rise to more sinning.  Forgiveness comes with a new affection for the supremacy of God in your heart and this is called the fear of God.  So, what is the fear of God? and how does it remedy the despair of sin?

The fear of God is the Godward affection of the heart that governs what or whom we prize and how we live (repeat).  It is an affection for God that grows from our heart’s comprehension of full and free forgiveness.  In full view of those thunder clouds of God’s former fury against us, and of that in-breaking sun of mercy and forgiveness that has assured us of his love for us, the fear of God thrives.  It is essentially a trembling faith in and a governing love for God.  It is a Godward affection of the heart.  If you get this, you know the answer to the next question, –

But how does it remedy the despair of sin?  It is a governing love.  Sin and holiness, despair and joy are matters of what you love most at any given moment.  And the fear of God is an affection for God that makes God the supreme love and desire of your life.  It says, “Love God the most all of the time!”  The reason that we sin and fall into despair as Christians is because we bite down on the line of temptation that says, “sexual immorality, pornography, lust, covetousness, sloth, gossip, sports, beautiful people, money, what you think, what you want is more worthy of your affections than God.”  And nothing can be further from the truth!  God wants you to be supremely joyful, and He wants that joy to be in nothing but Himself supremely, and He is right in so wanting!  And this is what the fear of God is!, — an affection given by God that says yes to God, that sets our desires upon what is pleasing to God.  And, as it makes the love of God radiant, it dulls the fading pleasantries of sin.  And this is how it remedies the despair of sin.  Notice what Joshua says after preaching to Israel about God’s free grace and mercy to them, “Now therefore fear the Lord and serve Him in sincerity and in faithfulness.  Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord” (24.14).  So the fear of God is that treasuring of God that overcomes sin.  So when in despair we must remember to live by the fear of God.

Third, when in despair “persistently hope in the Word of God,” (130.5-6).  “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.

The psalmist has remembered the gospel of promise of forgiveness.  He has remembered the holy help of gospel fear.  And now, he comes to persistently hoping in the Word of God.  I have said that the fear of God is that chief affection of the soul for God, and here we see it on display.  He waits for God!  He expects God to show up!  But where and how?  By persistency and earnestness in the Word of God!  Do you see it?  “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope.”  Hope for what?  For the Lord! upon whom his soul earnestly waits.

Waiting and hoping then are defined for us in terms of spiritual activity.  You want God to show up, get in His Word!  Hope in His Word!  What does the Word of God reveal to us but God!  Typically, I think, we think of waiting as sitting back and sipping our pina coladas.  When we are spiritually depressed, tired or worn, we turn on the television, take a nap, or waste time, but seldom do we gird up the loins of our hearts and say, “I will not be moved from God’s Word until my exceeding joy comes!”  Listen, church!  Waiting for God to deliver you from your despair is not ethereal, or strictly emotional, or psychological, or even subjective and feely.  Waiting for God is an earnest and active hoping in His objective, authoritative Word!  Our waiting is an earnest reading of Holy Scripture!  It is a setting of our elbows on either side of the Bible and being earnest there, even as he says twice, “more than watchmen for the morning!”  This is what it is to hunger for God!  You don’t close your eyes from His Word until you see God your exceeding joy on the horizon, bringing His light and warmth into your depths!

This is why we must be stayed upon God’s unchangeable, inerrant, joy-producing rock instead of goose bumps.  Goose bumps have no lasting foundation.  They are like a bridge suspended over a canyon covered in fog with a sign that says “maybe God is on the other side but who knows.”  You go walking into the fog not knowing the planks are out and you fall deeper into despair.  You never get to God by goose bumps.  On the other hand, persistent hoping in God’s Word, though often difficult, lays up everlasting streets of gold in your heart that straighten you to God.  So, the waiting of your soul for the Lord must be a hoping in His Word, — doubly earnest reading, studing, meditating, and memorizing the Bible.

This fodder ultimately leads to the blazing fire of joy in God for the psalmist.  In 130.7, we know that he did in fact commune with God.  And so we come again, full circle to the main subject of this sermon, “To overcome the despair of sin, we must hope in God!”  He has remembered the gospel promise of forgiveness, remembered the good government of the fear of God, sought God in His Word and, as a result, come into communion with Him, — and so he exhorts the despairing soul this morning, “Hope in God!” “O Israel, hope in the Lord!”

God is the ultimate remedy to the despair of sin.  As he has communed with God in prayer, in pleadings, in meditations, and in His Word, God has taught Him two truths, — first, “With me alone is everything essential for turning your despair into joy, — mercy, forgiveness, governing affections, divine words, and as we are about to see, steadfast love, plentiful redemption, and glory, precious remedies indeed,” and so secondly, “As these are inseparable from Me and with no other, I am your exceeding Joy (Ps 43.4b)!  Hope in Me!”, –

Which brings us to our main point of application, — By these remedies we must strive not to stay too long in the despair of sin.  And, there is a reason for this in 130.7-8.  “O Israel, hope in the Lord!  For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption.  And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.”  Here he turns to exhortation, to preaching!  The reason why we must strive by mercy not to stay too long in the despair of sin is because you are given the privilege of exhorting your despairing brothers and sisters to hope in the Lord.  Joy in God, overcoming despair, must not be confined to self, but proclaimed to those beside you who are in the depths.  In fact, joy in God supernaturally overflows to others.

So, you have cried out for mercy from God.  You have remembered the promise of forgiveness with God.  You have remembered what it is to live by the fear of God.  You have toiled day and night in the Word of God, and what did God illumine for you?  A sermon that has so filled your heart with joy that you are compelled to preach it to despairing souls.

Your main exhortation, then, is “Hope in the Lord!”  And, you have three reasons for this sermon, — God has exclusive rights to steadfast love, plentiful redemption and the hope of glorification.  Now listen here!  Each of these reasons is an answer to the three most pressing questions that the soul of your despairing brother and sister is asking.

Question #1, — I’ve sinned, God must not love me, I am unworthy of being loved.  Has his love for me ceased?  No, never! 130.7b!  With the Lord there is steadfast love.  But what does steadfast mean?  It means God’s love for you, His despairing child, is everlasting.  So David writes, “the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him” (Ps 103.17).  Indeed, God has given His Son for you such that nothing in all creation can separate you from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (cf. Rom 8.28-39).

Question #2, — I might as well have sinned the sin unto death.  I must be the chief of sinners!  I have committed a horrible sin.  Surely my sin exceeds God’s willingness and power to redeem.  Is my sin beyond the bounds of His redemption?  No!  Think again, despairing soul!  130.7c!  With Him is plentiful redemption.  There is no sin of yours, dear brother, dear sister, for which He did not give His Son to die, and to be raised as a sure word to you that every sin for which He died was plentifully paid for so that you may not stay long in despair but hope in God.

Question #3, — Oh, I will never be rid of my sin.  Will it always torment me and bring me into despair?  No, dear friends!  130.8!  He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.  You say, “But Brian, we are not Israel but Gentiles.”  But Paul says, “Not all Israel is Israel.”  There is the ethnic people of God and the saved people of God.  Only those who hoped in the promise of the coming Messiah were the true people of God.  And by faith in the Messiah, Jesus Christ our Savior, we have been grafted into the people of God and thus into the promise of glory.  It is from sin that God Himself has promised to deliver you!  It is Christ also who intercedes for you now to save you to the uttermost.  You will not always strive against sin, dear friends.  If you have trusted in Christ, He is bringing you to heaven, and there are none but perfected saints in heaven.  Glorious rest, everlasting joy and perfect holiness await you.  Brothers and sisters, “Hope in God!”

By preaching these glorious remedies of God to yourselves and others, and of hope and joy in God, you will keep yourselves from falling into and, when need be, deliver yourselves from the hands of Giant Despair.  Let us, then, church, “Hope in the Lord!”

Kevin DeYoung on “Thinking Theologically About Memorial Day”

“While patriotism can be good, the church is not a good place for patriotism.”

Read post here.

Letting Herself Go

It is an interesting question: Does God want a woman to seek to remain attractive to her husband even while she grows older?

Tim Challies answer.

What do you think?

10 Things “Submission” is Not

Submission is a cultural cuss word cutting against the grain of American and self-deceptive independence.  But, God has designed it, authored it, and called us to observe it for His glory and our joy in Him.  Go here to read 10 things submission is not.

The Amazing Testimony of the Blanco’s

Ernie and Lisa Blanco now live in Tuscon, Arizona.  It was not too long ago that they lived in Louisville, KY, Ernie attending The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Lisa, Boyce College.  They were our neighbors, a part of our church family and care group.  They are our brother and sister in the Lord.  Recently, their son, Haddon, passed away after being born prematurely at 33 weeks.  Lisa has written an article about the goodness of God in their darkest night.  It has been posted at The Gospel Coalition.  I exhort your heart to read.  Ernie, Lisa, — I thank God for  you and for your work of faith, labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.  We love you.

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