Should Christians Be Happy?
The obvious answer to the question, 'Should Christians be happy?', is yes. We know Christians should be happy, yet we also know that very few Christians experience happiness on a regular basis. We would be wise then, to investigate why Christians struggle to be joyful.
One of the reasons, I suspect, why Christians are not happy is that they seek happiness in the wrong things. Last Sunday, in Psalm 27, David made it clear that the best thing God could give us is Himself(Ps.27:4).
If our greatest desire is true happiness and fulfillment, then God is what we want. Power, wealth, and adulation just aren't going to cut it. As Augustine has said, 'We have a God-shaped void in our hearts, and our heart will not be happy until it finds its happiness in Him.'
The only way to be truly happy is to be happy in God. As I say that, however, I am aware that there are people who have sought God who are still not happy. How is this possible? It is possible to seek God and still be unhappy if we have sought God on our own terms (repeat). What we learn in Psalm 32 that if we are to be happy in God, we must come to God on His terms.
What we learned last week was that there can be no lasting joy without communion with God. And what we learn this week is that there can be no communion with God without forgiveness.
Before we take a closer look at Psalm 32, I think it will prove helpful to look at Psalm 51. The context of these Psalms is probably familiar to you. David has sinned grossly by committing adultery with Bathsheba and then he compounds his sin by manipulating the battle plan to have her husband, Uriah, killed.
After a confrontation with the prophet Nathan, David eventually repents of his sin and is restored in his fellowship with God. Psalm 51 is the immediate expression of this confession and restoration (Boice, Psalms, vol.1, 277).
Let me read to you some of the key verses in Psalm 51 that connect us to Psalm 32, "Do not cast me away from Thy presence, and do not take Thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation, and sustain me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors Thy ways, and sinners will return to Thee"(Ps.51:10-13).
The first thing you should notice there is David's awareness of how his sin has broken his fellowship with God, "Do not cast me from Thy presence and do not take Thy Holy Spirit from me."
The second thing you should notice is that David's sin has robbed him of his happiness, "Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation".
The third thing that should catch our attention is the promise David makes if God forgives him. If God forgives David, and if God restores David's joy, David promises to, "teach transgressors Thy ways, and sinners will return to Thee".
Why is all of this relevant? These verses in Psalm 51 are relevant because, I believe, the fulfillment of David's promise to God is Psalm 32. You will notice that Psalm 32 is given a title. The title is the Hebrew word, maskil, which means "the giving of instruction". In Psalm 51 David promised to "teach transgressors (God's) ways" and so Psalm 32 is David's promised instruction to sinners.
As you can see in verses 1and 2, David's primary instruction is that to be forgiven is a very happy condition, "Happy is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! Happy is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit!"
Now here is where we get into trouble. The average Christian reads these verses and says, 'I have been saved by Christ. I am forgiven. Therefore, I will be happy'. But, as John Calvin points out in his explanation of these verses, "(we) are grossly mistaken (if we) conceive that the pardon of sin is necessary only to the beginning of righteousness."
In other words, David is not talking simply about being pardoned once and for all. David writes Psalm 32 from the perspective of someone in God's convenant, who has sinned against God while still in the covenant and needs forgiveness.
The message of Psalm 32, therefore, is not the message of the believer to the unbeliever, but rather, the message of a restored believer to a backslidden believer. Psalm 32 is a reminder to the Christian of our daily need for forgiveness.
The other thing we should notice about the way verses 1 and 2 are written is that it implies that there are those who are not forgiven. There are those whose sin is not covered. This inference is confirmed for us in verse 10, "Many are the sorrows of the wicked". Part of our happiness in being forgiven is related to our awareness of the alternative.
At this point, some of you may be tempted to ask, "Why doesn't God, in His great love just forgive all the sin in everybody, no strings attached?". Before we answer that, we must remind ourselves of the goal of being forgiven in the first place. Forgiveness has as its goal the restoration of fellowship with God.
Every sin we commit is an insult to God's holiness and creates a barrier in our relationship with Him. Conceivably God could disregard all such insults for an eternity, but what would that accomplish? Simply overlooking our sin does nothing to restore our fellowship with God.
As John Piper has said, "The only way for God to reach the goal of glorifying His name and making His people happy is not just to overlook sins but to change sinners . . . (God) is in the business of not just covering our sins, but shaping our characters."
By now, you should be able to see a logical string of questions and answers. The first question is, 'How, or where, do we acquire true happiness?' We acquire true happiness in fellowship with God. We learned that last week in Psalm 27, verse 4. This answer begs the question, 'How do acquire fellowship with God?' We acquire fellowship with God when we are forgiven of our sin. And finally, the question that our text answers, 'How do we gain forgiveness for our sins?'
David begins to answer that question in verse 3, "When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long." If you want God to forgive you, the worst thing you could do is pretend that your sin doesn't exist. Now I admit facing our sin is not a pleasant thing. Keep in mind, however, that God wants us to face our sin, not because He wants us to feel worse about ourselves, but because He wants to forgive us.
In a day and age where people seem to struggle more frequently with self-confidence, self-esteem, and depression the subject of sin often gets overlooked. We think facing our sin will only compound the problem. Just the opposite is true! As we will soon see, facing our sin is the first step to true joy.
Have a look at the alternative to facing our sin in verse 4, "day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer." The stark reality is that God's hand is heavy on unrepentant sinners. And when God's hand is heavy upon the sinner, the sinner's vitality and energy is drained. Facing our sin may be unpleasant for the moment, but surely it is preferable to God's heavy hand upon us.
David's first lesson regarding forgiveness then is that we must acknowledge our sin, "I acknowledged my sin to Thee, and my iniquity I did not hide".
We must not stop there, however. It is not enough to simply admit one's sin. It is not enough to say, 'I have a bad temper', 'I am not patient', 'I shouldn't have said that', 'I tend to hold grudges'--it is not enough to admit our sin. Surely the devil himself could admit that his actions offend God.
David teaches us that we must not only acknowledge our sin, but in the same sentence he teaches us that we must also confess our sin, "I will confess my transgressions to the Lord; and Thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin."
Confession to God is not merely admitting our sin, but is rejecting our sin as something that is repulsive to God. This is a very important distinction. I know, in my own life, admission of sin is the easy part, confession is the hard part.
As sinners, sin does not naturally repulse us the way it repulses God. Yet, if we are to be forgiven we must learn, not only to acknowledge our sin, but to also confess our sin and to be repulsed by it.
At this I want to pause and remind you of something that you may have forgotten by this point. This is a sermon about happiness--it really is. David knows, and you should know, that any happiness gained apart from God's mercy will be superficial and fleeting. If we are to be truly happy, we must first be forgiven. And if we are to be forgiven we must acknowledge and confess our sin to God.
Imploring you to address your sin daily is not some scare tactic from a preacher who happens to love reading 17th century theology. Imploring you to address your sin daily comes from a preacher who recognizes that we will not value our pardon very highly until we fear sin and its consequences more keenly.
David knew the alternative to being forgiven. He knew what is was to have God's heavy hand upon him. David knew that, "Many are the sorrows of the wicked"(v.10). It is knowing the alternative to forgiveness that causes us to shout, "How happy is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered!"(v.1). It is knowing the alternative that causes us to exclaim with David at the end of the Psalm, "Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you righteous ones, and shout for joy, all you who are upright in heart"(v.11).
Christians should be happy. And to be happy is to be in fellowship with God. And fellowship with God requires that we be forgiven of our sins daily. Our confession, trusting in the work of the cross, makes all this possible. The cross of Christ brings God the glory and us the joy of forgiveness. Amen.