The title of this message is “How to Fight Sin,” but maybe the more complete title would be something like “How to fight that sin that keeps coming back and scaring you.” I’m thinking here about the occasional angry outburst, a significant lustful collapse, drunkenness, or emotional meltdowns. Where do those sins come from and what can be done to actually defeat them?
“Who can understand his errors? Cleanse thou me from secret faults. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression. Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer” (Ps. 19:12-14).
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
The psalmist asks a very relevant question for all times: Who can understand why we sin (Ps. 19:12)? Why do we do those things that in our sane moments we really don’t want to do? What follows is David’s answer to that question, and his answer is that generally speaking there is a three step process that consists of secret faults, presumptuous sins, and great transgressions (Ps. 19:12-13). The psalm ends asking for particular deliverance for the first two: secret sins of the heart and presumptuous sins of the mouth, looking to the Lord as His rock and redeemer (Ps. 19:14).
People do not generally get up one more when the sky is blue and the birds are singing and decide to ruin their lives. Great transgressions do not come out of nowhere. Adultery, murder, grand theft auto all generally take some warming up to. And David says that the warm up is secret faults and presumptuous sins. If great transgressions are the overgrown garden, it takes some diligent ignoring of secret faults and presumptuous sins to get there. In Romans 1 it says that God gives people over to uncleanness and vile affections because they were not thankful for God their Creator (secret faults) and began worshiping parts of creation rather than the Creator (presumptuous sins). Likewise, it says in Proverbs 22:14: “The mouth of strange women is a deep pit: he that is abhorred of the LORD shall fall therein.” Putting this together: it is not the case that a man can be walking faithfully with God and one day (out of the blue) fall into adultery. Nor is it merely the case that you shouldn’t commit adultery merely because then you would likely fall under God’s judgment; rather, you fall into great transgressions because you are already under God’s judgment. Adultery and homosexuality are the judgments of God.
But many Christians find themselves sometimes coming right up to what seems like the very precipice of great transgressions. Maybe you struggle with angry outbursts from time to time, or drunkenness, or lust, or lies, or emotional melt down, and by God’s grace you are caught or you are convicted and repent, but then you look at yourself in the mirror and you wonder: how did I get here (again)? And you really hate the sin and you do well for a while and then (what feels like) out of the blue, you stumble and fall into it again. Where does that come from? The Bible says it comes from being lax about your secret faults and presumptuous sins.
SECRET FAULTS & PRESUMPTUOUS SINS
Secret faults may be sins you are sincerely completely unaware of: “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23-24). We are sinful people, and even after conversion, it’s still in our flesh and we need to ask God to continue cleansing us. But secret faults are also more commonly secret in the sense that they are in our heart and mind and virtually unnoticeable to anyone else. These may be wrathful thoughts or feelings or words under our breath, envy or covetousness or lust, resentment or bitterness, or anxiety or worry or fear. And the key thing here is these thoughts going unconfessed.
Presumptuous sins are words or actions that are sinful that you make peace with. Usually you make peace with these sins because they are socially acceptable (everyone does it), or at least they are common enough for people to assume the best. This may be complaining about homework or inflation or your kids or your parents. This may be biting or harsh criticism or correction of family members. This may be foul language or cursing or lax entertainment standards (music, movies, shows). And David’s prayer is specifically that these presumptuous sins might not have dominion over him. When they begin to rule in a person’s life – that is, go unconfessed, you are walking in pride, and that kind of pride goes before a fall (Prov. 16:18).
CONCLUSIONS & APPLICATIONS
The Bible is extremely clear that the way to kill sin is by confessing it: “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 one of the most wonderful parts of that promise is the word “all.” We confess the sins we know about, and God cleanses us from all unrighteousness, including all the secret faults we don’t know about. But this confession must be to God and to whomever else we have sinned against. This is how you kill sin.
The message of these verses in Ps. 19 is that if you want to stop coming up to the edge of great transgressions, kill the secret faults and presumptuous sins when they are little and rare. If you want a clean garden and clean heart, confess your sins when they are tiny specks of green poking out of the ground, rather than waiting for them to be giant spikey poison weeds.
It’s striking that David closes this meditation with a prayer that God would make his words and meditations pleasing in God’s sight in the name of the Lord His “rock and redeemer.” Rock is clear enough: it refers to strength, a foundation, a fortress, a defense. But you should not miss that the word here for “redeemer” is the same word used for the redeemer who would avenge murder or who might buy a relative’s freedom who had been sold into slavery for debts, or who most famously, like Boaz, married and provided for Ruth, her kinsman-redeemer.
David’s ultimate trust is in God who is both our rock and nearest relative, closest friend. And we who know Jesus have come to know this even more truly. Jesus, what a friend for sinners.