Sorrow for sin.
Long ago somebody designated psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143 as the seven “Penitential Psalms.”
Although sorrow over sin is a precious commodity, unfortunately unsaved religious people love these psalms and use them as a substitute for receiving forgiveness by Jesus Christ alone.
Many sacred hymns have been composed from these psalms:
Psalm 6 “O LORD, rebuke me not in thine anger, neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure,” and Psalm 38 “O lord, rebuke me not in thy wrath: neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure.”
Latin: Domine ne in furore tuo
Psalm 32 “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.”
Latin: Beati Quorum Via
Psalm 51 “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.”
Latin: “Miserere Mei Deus”
Psalm 130 “Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O LORD.”
Latin: “De profundis clamavi ad te Domine”
Sound doctrine for today?
These psalms all have a timeless spiritual application of expressing contrition over sin. That is a requirement for salvation – it is called repentance. They also all express a longing for God’s forgiveness – another requirement for salvation (“repentance toward God … ” Acts 20:21).
However, they were all composed in the Old Testament period when God had still not provided any means for the forgiveness of intentional sins. The doctrine of obtaining forgiveness for intentional sins was still unclear and awaited the advent of Jesus Christ whose death paid the price for those sins. (“repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.“ Acts 20:21).
These Old Testament psalms all involve pleading for God’s forgiveness without mentioning the fact that forgiveness is now freely available by the Lord Jesus Christ who died on the cross to save sinners. (“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” 1 Timothy 1:15).
Forgiveness versus Redemption.
So God provisionally remitted the sins of the Old Testament saints on the basis of their own faith and works according to their piety and sincerity: but because nobody actually paid for their sins yet, they could not go to heaven. The Old Testament saints who died in their own righteousness were forgiven, but their souls waited in a quiet realm of death (called “paradise” or “Abraham’s bosom”) until Jesus Christ redeemed them. The Old Testament saints had been forgiven during their lives, but now they could be released from death because by Christ’s atoning death all their previously forgiven sins were now actually paid for in full before God.
“Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;” Romans 3:25.
Unsaved religion people today think they can reject Jesus Christ and yet still be forgiven of all their sins by their own piety and religious sincerity. This is not possible because one sin remains that damns them: they rejected the commandment to receive God’s only begotten son who died for their sins.
“He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” Mark 16:16.
“Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?” Hebrews 10:29
When Jesus Christ died for sinners, his innocent blood was shed as a sacrifice on our behalf. He bought eternal redemption for man and the forgiveness of sins.
(“For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” 2 Corinthians 5:21; “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;” Ephesians 1:7).
Today the contrite sinner must recognize that Christ died for his sins on the cross and receive Jesus Christ as his personal saviour; thus the sinner obtains God’s forgiveness by means of the ransom that Jesus Christ paid on his behalf.
Christians need to repent too.
The saved man who has trusted Jesus Christ is quite apt to sin again because he still has his natural human body. What he experienced when he trusted Christ gave him only a spiritual new birth: his soul was cleansed and forgiven and sealed by the Holy Ghost. Because his soul is sealed as a part of Christ’s spiritual body by the Holy Ghost, the soul is eternally saved and predestinated to eternal glory with Christ. But the saved man’s natural body of flesh is still unsaved, awaiting its transformation into a sinless new body when Christ returns. (“Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” 1 John 3:2). In the meantime, regrettably, the natural body of the Christian can, and often will, still sin.
Although they are not doctrinally applicable to explain New Testament forgiveness, the penitential psalms are spiritually useful because they express the sorrow and loss of joy that the Christian experiences when he sins and thereby has a break in his walking in “fellowship” with God:
“If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:” 1 John 1:6.
But when he confesses his sin to God and pleads the blood of Christ, he is forgiven and his fellowship is restored:
“…the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin…. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:7,9.
These cleansings from sin apply to the flesh, not the soul. The soul is already saved. Jesus Christ likened it to just needing to have the feet washed, even though the body is already clean:
“Jesus saith to him, He that is washed needeth not save to wash his feet, but is clean every whit: and ye are clean, but not all.” John 13:10.
Of course, “not all” refers to the lost disciple who betrayed Christ: Judas Iscariot. Washing Judas’ feet didn’t help him out at all because he remained an unsaved devil on the inside.
And so it is with confessing sin to God and praying the “Penitential Pslams” by unsaved religious do-gooders. They have not trusted in the finished work of Christ who died for their sins. They are trying to obtain salvation by their own works, and begging and pleading and making a big show of contrition is just part of their religious act. Trying to feel good about yourself through your own extravagance of repentance is a form of self-righteousness – it won’t save you. No amount of repentance can pay for your sins: Jesus paid when he died on your behalf. Your job is to trust him and thank him.
And then live for him.
You can only get forgiveness now at the foot of the cross.
Repent of your sins and believe the Church-age saving gospel: that Jesus Christ died for your sins and rose again.
“…Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures…“ 1 Corinthians 15:3-4.