We're in a series called The Great Experiment, talking about human life with God. This is the main thrust of the Bible. God wants to be with us. We were created to walk with God. We were made for a "with God" life, but sin entered the world. We wanted to be the lord of our own lives. We convinced ourselves that if we could be God instead of letting God be God, we would be better off. So we rebelled against God. We sinned against God. We separated ourselves from God. We ran, and we hid from God.
The Bible says God never gave up on the human race. He never gave up on you. He didn't give up on me. He never gave up on this dream to be with his people. All throughout the Bible, we find this little phrase of hope: with God. God is with Abraham. God is with Isaac. God is with Moses. God is with David. Then one day we're told a baby is born. His name is Immanuel, which means "God with us." The apostle Paul says God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people's sins against them.
In other words, the great news of the gospel is that God was paving a way into his presence. In light of this truth, Paul says, "We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:20-21). Because of Jesus, it is now possible to plunge ourselves into God's love, to plunge ourselves into his grace, to plunge ourselves into his mercy, and to plunge ourselves into his presence.
We said, "If this is true, let's run an experiment. Let's test it out." Here's the experiment: How many moments of my life can I fill with conscious awareness of and full surrender to God's presence?
Today we're going to start with the ancient discipline of nakedness. We're all going to get buck naked today. Are you awake? Are you paying attention now? Some of you look worried, concerned, and afraid. Some of you look excited. We'll need to pray for you.
Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.' And you forgave the guilt of my sin. Therefore let all the faithful pray to you while you may be found; surely the rising of the mighty waters will not reach them. You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance. I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go."
"I will counsel you with my loving eyes on you. Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you. Many are the woes of the wicked, but the Lord's unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him. Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart!
The need for confession
In verse 5 the psalmist said that he did not cover up his iniquity. Instead, he said, "I will confess my transgressions to the Lord." Psalm 32 is about confession. It's one of the seven penitential psalms. Confession is a practice every branch of Christianity, every tradition in Christianity, understands. It is a foundational spiritual practice. This discipline is not even parallel to the other spiritual disciplines. It's not parallel to prayer, gratitude, service, community, and so on. Confession is the way in. It's the doorway into the presence of God. It is primary.
Look at verses 3 and 4. David says, "When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer." David is essentially saying: There's something wrong, God. I am trying to get into your presence, but I can't. What's wrong?
Verse 5 says, "Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.' And you forgave the guilt of my sin."
Everything in David's life was pointless until he dealt with his guilt and sin. He was going about his life, he was going about his duties, but his bones were wasting away. He was groaning all day long. He felt like God's hand was heavy upon him. He felt like his strength was sapped. Why is confession and repentance so significant?
I remember listening to Francis Chan, and he told a story of a prayer meeting he led with another pastor. The two of them invited people to receive prayer. They invited people who were struggling with sin to confess and receive prayer. Anyone struggling with alcoholism, drugs, pornography, living a double life, lying, and cheating was invited to confess. They said they would pray for anyone who wanted to be prayed for. And Chan was blown away. The line was out the door.
People confessed with brutal honesty. They confessed that they had been living hypocritically, that they were not who people thought they were. These people were leaders in the church. These were pastors who were coming up. These were elders and Bible study leaders and worship leaders. Some of them admitted that they hated their spouses. Some of them confessed they had bitterness towards their kids. Some of them admitted they struggled with all sorts of addictions.
Chan said, "I wonder how many of us come to church every single weekend but never deal with the real issue." Like David, in verse 3, we keep silent. We sing some songs and attend some classes. We throw money into the offering plate and we go home. Meanwhile, there are major issues in our lives that we continue to neglect. No one knows about it, but you know about it. God knows about it. We just continue to play the church game, do a few religious activities, and then we skirt the real issue.
Chan said, "If that's what we're doing, what's the point?" If we don't get real, let's just shut it all down. Let's pack it up, and let's go home. What's the point of doing some religious things if we're not going to deal with the real issues in our lives?
He used this analogy: Imagine this stage is your living room. Here on the stage I actually have a big pile of horse manure. It's real. Does anybody want to come up here and smell it to see if it's real? Imagine you have guests coming over and that you have this big pile of horse poop in the middle of your living room. But you ignore it when you clean the room. You dust the furniture around it. You vacuum around it. You're dusting when you need to grab a shovel. Chan says this happens all the time. It's happening right now. Every Sunday, in churches all across the world, Christians are dusting. We're listening to sermons, we're nodding our heads, we're learning a few theological truths, but there is a big pile of crap in our lives. If that's the case, what's the point?
Church ought to be a place where we can be real, where we can receive help and healing. For some of you, the Holy Spirit is bringing to mind things you need to confess. Don't neglect that. The Holy Spirit is saying that if you do not deal with this, it will destroy you.
Some of us are tempted to think, This message, this psalm, is not for me. I'm not guilty of the big, terrible things Kevin is talking about. Be careful. Small sins are actually the most dangerous. More people have died from tiny viruses than from mountain lions and bears. Small sins—the ones you don't notice, or the ones you think you can manage—are the most deadly.
C. S. Lewis talks about this in his book The Screwtape Letters. This book is about a senior devil named Screwtape who gives advice to a junior devil named Wormwood on how to tempt people, how to lead them astray from God. In one of the chapters, Screwtape advises Wormwood not to just tempt people into the big sins but to understand the power of little sins. Screwtape says:
You will say that these are very small sins; and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness. But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy [God]. It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed, the safest road to hell is a gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.
Beware of small sins.
We have piles of this stuff sitting in our hearts, and God wants us to deal with them. When I told said, "Kevin, why would you bring something as disgusting and offensive as horse manure into our sanctuary? It's our sanctuary. It's pristine. It's beautiful. It's sacred." But so is your heart. Do you think God is more offended by the crap on this stage or the sin in your heart? This is the problem with sin and guilt, and it's unavoidable. It's my problem; it's your problem. It is unavoidable. Everyone has to deal with it. But we deal with it by covering it. We shift the blame: "It's not really my fault." We rationalize: "It's all relative. It's not that bad." We medicate: We go on vacations, and we distract ourselves. We achieve: "I went to Stanford University." We try to cover our sin.
The theology of nakedness
But covering our sin doesn't work. So what works? Nakedness: confession and repentance. Confession does not work if you only learn about it and don't practice it.
Perhaps you'll listen to this sermon, but by the time you hit the parking lot you're going to be distracted. You're going to be redirected. You're going to forget. So take a moment and write down what sort of action you need to take. Don't forget.
Look at verse 1: "Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit." Verse 5 says, "Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity." There is a difference between our covering and God's covering. Our covering is a cover-up, but the covering in verse 1 is different. When David says, "Blessed is the one whose … sins are covered" by God, he means that sin is lifted up, removed.
So here's how it works. David says in verse 5, "I uncovered my sin." In verse 1, God says, "I covered it." I uncovered my sin (verse 5). Verse 1, God covered it. That, my friends, is the power of confession. When you uncover your sins before God, God will cover them. He will remove them. When David talks about covering, he is alluding to Genesis 3 and expounding the theology of nakedness.
Here is the theology of nakedness in a nutshell: We were naked, but we were covered in righteousness and moral beauty. When we sinned, we lost our covering and we couldn't stand being naked. We made coverings for ourselves so we wouldn't be naked, but it didn't work. God saw that and said: If you uncover yourselves and get naked, I will come and cover you.
God created Adam and Eve. Every night he met them to be with them. They were naked. They were uncovered, and it was okay. One night God showed up, and they dove into the bushes. They hid. God asked what was wrong. Adam and Eve said they hid because they were naked. That's a silly but true theological statement. It's silly because God could have said, "But Adam, every night you're naked. You've always been naked. If you're hiding because you're naked, why haven't you hidden before? It can't just be that you're naked. Something else is going on. What's going on?"
What's going on is that when Adam and Eve sinned, they could not bear transparency. They could not stand their nakedness. Nakedness is when you don't control what people see. Nakedness is when you cannot manage perception. Nakedness is when people see all the way in. Until you sin, there's no problem with that. Why was it that Adam and Eve suddenly couldn't stand being looked at? Why was it that they suddenly had to control what God saw and what each other saw? Why was it that they suddenly had to hide? Why was it that they suddenly had to cover up?
When they sinned, theologians say, they lost the covering or the clothing they had before—original righteousness, moral beauty. Originally, Adam and Eve didn't mind what God saw. They didn't mind what each other saw. Originally, they were clothed, covered, with moral beauty. They knew they were beautiful. They knew they were perfect. So they didn't mind being seen. But they were stained the minute they lost their righteousness, and they couldn't stand being seen.
What did they do? They sewed fig leaves. They began to cover themselves. One of the most profound things you can do is understand your life in light of Genesis 3. Look at your life. Ask yourself, "Why are some of us perfectionists? Why are some of us workaholics? Why are some of us so worried about our bodies and how we look? Why are some of us working ourselves to death in order to achieve?" Some of us are starving ourselves to death in order to be beautiful. Why is that? You're covering your nakedness. You're trying to patch up your own righteousness and beauty to make up for that lost sense of righteousness and beauty. We all are hiding, every one of us.
God says to Adam and Eve, and to us: If you cover yourself, I will never be able to cover you. But if you are willing to uncover yourself, if you're willing to be naked in front of me again, if you're willing to show me your sin and stop making excuses, then I can truly cover you once again in beauty and in righteousness.
The promise of Christ's covering
This is an incredible promise. God says that no matter what your sin is—no matter how ugly, how deep, how big or small—if you confess and uncover and repent, he will cover you. The Bible is filled with metaphors and allusions to being covered and clothed by God.
For example, Isaiah 61:10 says, "I rejoice for you have clothed me in the garments of salvation and wrapped me with robes of righteousness." That's a direct reference to Genesis 3. Also, Zechariah 3: "Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, 'Take off his filthy clothes.' Then he said to Joshua, 'See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.'"
You don't have to try to cover yourself. You can't. If you open yourself to God, if you are honest and transparent, if you lay bare your heart, he will cover you. He will make you beautiful again.
To the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: "Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them."
God can do this because his covering is not a cover-up. God actually puts them somewhere. He accounts them to someone else. Where? Who? The Bible says Jesus was clothed, in a sense, with our sin. He was stripped naked.
Why is it important they cast lots for his garment? Why is it important that his garments were removed? It's to show us that he was made naked so that you and I could be clothed. He was put to shame so that we could be clothed by his blood in grace with the righteousness of God. That's the truth. Confession and repentance are powerful because, through the blood of Christ, we're covered by his grace. You can be forgiven. You can be healed. You can be freed.
How do we confess? How do we uncover ourselves? Here's how to get naked.
The process of uncovering our sin
First, we uncover our sins by being honest. Don't deceive yourself anymore. Don't deceive others. Ask God to help you. Pray Psalm 139 to God. Ask God to search your heart. Ask him to test you, to know your anxious thoughts, and to see if there is any offensive way in you. Then ask him to lead you into the way everlasting. Be honest.
Second, you need to uncover your motivations. Confession and repentance is more than just admitting sinful behavior. It is not enough to say, "God, I did wrong." You have to dig deep and ask why you do the things you do. The answer always is not simply that you broke a rule. The answer always is that you are looking to something else for covering.
For example, if you lie, don't just say, "God, I lied. I'm sorry for lying. Please help me." Find out why you lied. You lied because, in that moment, something else became more important to you than God. Someone else's approval was more important to you than the approval of God. Something else became your covering. Something else became your hiding place.
Uncover your motivations and repent. Attached to repentance is a fierce determination not to sin because you're submitting your will to God. You're saying, "God, I want you to reign in me." If you don't desire that, then desire to desire that. Uncover your motivations.
Third, uncover your pride. The Book of James talks about the power of confessing your sins to one another so they can pray for you so that you can be healed. A family came to the Ash Wednesday service here at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church. They had a six-year-old son, and they explained to him the practice of confession. They all grabbed a sheet of paper and started writing down their confessions. He did the same. Remember, he is only six, so he is probably still using block letters. He turned his letters around. When the family finished writing their confessions—they didn't right their names on their papers—they folded up their papers and pinned them to the cross. I asked his parents if I could use it. This is his confession: "God, I'm sorry because I lie." But he signed his name, and he didn't fold it up. He pinned it to the front of the cross. His parents asked him, "Why did you put your name on it? Don't you want to fold it up so no one can see?" Then he said, "I wrote my name on it because I want everyone to see it. If they know it was me, maybe they can help me stop."
And a little child shall lead them. This six-year-old understood what Bonhoeffer says:
In confession there occurs a breakthrough to the Cross. The root of all my sin is pride. Therefore, confession in the presence of another believer is the most profound kind of humiliation. It hurts. It makes one feel small. It deals a terrible blow to one's pride. To stand there before another Christian as a sinner is an almost unbearable disgrace. But by confessing actual sins, the old self dies a painful humiliating death before the eyes of another Christian.
Bonhoeffer says that when you confess your sins to another believer, you are crucifying that old self that wants to cover your sins. You are crucifying that old self that wants to hide. You are putting to death that old, sick, sinful, weak self who would rather live with crap in their lives than experience the fullness of God.
Bonhoeffer continues: "It is nothing else but the fellowship with Jesus Christ that leads us to the disgraceful dying that comes in confession so we may truly share in the Cross. The Cross of Jesus shatters all pride." This is important. We cannot find the Cross of Jesus if we are afraid of going to the place where Jesus can be found to the public death of the sinner. Uncover your sins. Uncover your motivations. Uncover your pride.
Fourth, put on Christ. It is frightening to get naked and confess to another believer, but there is no reason to fear if you understand that God is your hiding place. God is the one who will protect you from trouble. I don't have to try to protect myself. God will surround you with songs of deliverance and hope and salvation. Do you really believe the promise that his grace is enough for you? Do you believe his Word, when he says that if we confess our sins, he is faithful and he is merciful and he is compassionate and he is just and he will forgive your sins? He will forgive you and he will purify you from all unrighteousness.
Do you believe his truth? Do you believe he loves you? Do you believe he can save you, heal you, cleanse you, restore you, redeem you, and cover you? He covers you. God talks about his heart and how he relates to his people in Ezekiel 16. At the root of his heart is the desire to show mercy and compassion. At the root of his heart is the desire to save, cleanse, heal, cover, and make you beautiful. God says,
On the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to make you clean, nor were you rubbed with salt or wrapped in cloths. No one looked on you with pity or had compassion enough to do any of these things for you. Rather, you were thrown out into the open field, for on the day you were born you were despised.
Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, and as you lay there in your blood I said to you, "Live!" … I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your naked body. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign Lord, and you became mine.
I bathed you with water and washed the blood from you and put ointments on you. I clothed you with an embroidered dress and put sandals of fine leather on you. I dressed you in fine linen and covered you with costly garments. I adorned you with jewelry: I put bracelets on your arms and a necklace around your neck, and I put a ring on your nose, earrings on your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. So you were adorned with gold and silver; your clothes were of fine linen and costly fabric and embroidered cloth. Your food was honey, olive oil and the finest flour. You became very beautiful and rose to be a queen. And your fame spread among the nations on account of your beauty, because the splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect, declares the Sovereign Lord (Ezekiel 16:4-6, 8-14).
We are covered in Christ.
Kevin Kim is a teaching pastor at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in Menlo Park, California, and campus minister at Menlo's San Mateo site.