This message is the first of three on the subject of joy. I want to consider, each in turn, three basic challenges to a believer’s joy. The first challenge will be sin—disobedience. The second challenge will be suffering or affliction. The third challenge we will address will be melancholy, the blues, or what our generation frequently calls depression. It is important for us to avoid the easy trap of a pious assertion that personal sin must be the reason for everything bad. At the same time, let us not kid ourselves either. Sin does bring in lots of troubles.
“Make me to hear joy and gladness; That the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice . . . Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit” (Ps. 51: 10, 12).
Summary of the Text
The Bible teaches us that God chastises every son that He receives. If we do not receive discipline, then we are not true sons (Heb. 12:8). But what form does this divine spanking take? How does God deal with us when we have slipped or fallen into sin? Joy is a function of our unimpeded relationship with Him, and when our misbehavior disrupts that fellowship, the most evident thing about it is our loss of joy. We see that in David’s case here. This psalm is a great psalm of confession, where he is putting things right with God. What does he ask for in that restoration? He asks for joy and gladness (v. 10), that the spiritual bones which God has broken may be restored. He asks, not for his salvation to return, but for the joy of it to return (v. 12). Restore unto me the joy. Unrepented sin and joy cannot be companions. They don’t travel together at all.
The solution to unrepentant sin is, not surprisingly, repentance. We should take care not to over-engineer this:
“I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin” (Ps. 32:5).
“He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy” (Prov. 28:13).
“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).
The central reason we don’t do this is pride. Pride has various shifts and evasions which we will get to in a moment, but the attitude that seeks out such shifts and evasions is the attitude that does not want, under any circumstances, to humble itself. It causes no end of trouble, and is the true enemy of all joy.
Traits of True Confession
In the verse from 1 John, the word for confess is homologeo, which means to acknowledge, to “speak the same thing.” If we confess, God forgives. If we confess, God is faithful and just in His forgiveness. If we confess, God cleanses us from all unrighteousness. If we confess, God restores us in our joy. So what are the traits of true confession?
First, true confession is honest, brutally honest. The wages of spin is death. Saying the same thing that God says about it is not the same thing as saying something different from what God says. Sometimes we say “different” in a way that is harder on ourselves than God is being, but this is rare. And when it happens, it is because we are being softer on ourselves with regard to the true sin that has us tied up. So confession asks God what it should say, and then says that.
Second, true confession is not something you get to apply to the sins of others. You can confess other people’s sins all day long and your joy will not be restored. Unwillingness to forgive, reluctance to let go of resentment and bitterness, and every other form of “contextualizing” your sin, is a good way to remain joyless.
And third, true confession occurs in the present. Today if you hear His voice . . . A man can know that his sin was sin, he can know that it was not the sin of another, and yet not confess it “yet.” He can say that the time for confession is “next Sunday,” or “soon,” or “after the circumstances are better.” In other words, there is a difference between standing on the high dive, knowing what you have to do, and actually doing it.
What Becomes Visible
We tend to believe that if we confess our sins, then others will know all about the sin and will think less of us. With the exception of hidden scandalous sins (like adultery or embezzlement, say), this is usually not the case. Usually, the people we are refusing to confess sin to are the people who know all about them already.
Confession would not bring them knowledge of your sin. It would bring them knowledge of your sorrow and repentance. Are you an angry person? Petty? Inconsistent? Vain? Dictatorial? Greedy? Lustful? What on earth makes you think that other people can’t see this? If you snap at your employees, or children, or spouse, and tell God how sorry you are about it in the middle of the night, how is it that you don’t see that it is your repentance that is invisible? The sin is right out there. Repentance humbles us, but not by making the sin visible. Repentance humbles us by making the humility visible.
What God Does
Scripture teaches us that God lifts up the humble, and He opposes the proud (Jas. 4:6). Those who refuse to confess their sins are proud, and this means that God is opposing them. He trips them up. He puts obstacles in the way. He makes things go wrong. He takes away their joy. Those who confess their sins are humble, and God exalts the humble. He lifts them up. He restores them. He blesses their endeavors. And measure these things by the video, not by the snapshot.
We think (in the carnality of our hearts) that confession takes us down a peg or two. We think that our sin put us in a hole, and confession would just dig the hole deeper. But this reveals our unbelief. God says the opposite.
What has happened to all your joy? Do you remember what it was like when you were first converted? Why would God want week-old Christians to experience that, but deny it to the older Christians? The answer is that He wouldn’t.