Most people will be aware that the Americans talk about their prisons as ‘penitentiaries’. You may also be vaguely familiar with the concept of ‘penance’. In religious circles this normally means either a feeling of regret for misdeeds or some religious payment for sin. In Biblical terms the word ‘penitential’ means to ‘repent of sin and to seek forgiveness’. We are going to discover in these psalms a number of lessons about sin, the sinner and how God deals with sin.
Let me summarise them:
1. There is nothing that can be done by an individual to atone for sin;
2. God is extremely angry about our sin;
3. Sin weakens and exhausts a person morally and physically;
4. Sin has a defiling and contaminating effect in the life of the believer;
5. Sin ruins our relationship with God;
6. God alone can forgive sin;
7. God is gracious and merciful as well as holy and just;
8. There are forces against the believer that would seek their downfall (i.e. our flesh, the world and the Devil).
When reading these psalms please bear in mind that the man who is writing already has a relationship with God. This is not the story of an unbeliever but of a saint who has fallen into sin. Therefore, these psalms are essential reading for believers.
It is not the will of God that we should sin and it grieves the Holy Spirit of God when we do. Sadly, as long as we are on this earth we will be susceptible to sin.
In the New Testament epistle of Romans (Ch 7) we learn that we cannot live in a way that is pleasing to God in our own strength.
When we come to John’s first epistle (Ch 2) we discover the provision that God has made for us if we do sin.
These seven psalms describe the experiences and feelings of a man who has disgraced himself by sinning against the holy and awesome God of heaven. In addition to this they chart the way that God deals with us when we do sin. They also define the attitude that God has to sin and in essence they outline for us a process of recovery that God has made available to every soul who falls into sin.
Those of us who are believers can truly rejoice in a God who is full of mercy.