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In the beginning of Psalm 32 David says how great it is to be someone who's sin is never counted against them:

1Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. 2Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit.

Paul quotes this and says this is true of the all saints, OT and NT:

NIV Romans 4: 1What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? 2If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. 3What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” 4Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. 5However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. 6David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: 7“Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. 8Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord will never count against them.” 9Is this blessedness only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We have been saying that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness.

But Psalm 32 seems to proceed in a way that suggests that God does indeed count/reckon sin against the believer until they confess it and forsake it:

NIV Psalm 32: 3When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.b 5Then 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.

So does God count sins against a believer or not?

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    Ezekiel 33:10-20 – Constantthin Sep 22 '17 at 12:40
  • God must count sin as sin where it remains because He is the Truth. Until it is confessed and then washed away white as snow, it is still to be counted against them. I don't understand your question: how does Paul contradict what David says? Do you think Paul taught we don't have to confess our sins--or that true faith can exist where you reject the need for confession of sins? – Sola Gratia Jul 15 '18 at 0:35
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Here the contradiction is only apparent, for the semantics of the "works" in Rom. 4:6 (let us, for a convenience call it "work 1") does not encompass the action of turning with a faith and intellectual act of repentance ("meta-noia" - repentance - means 'change of one's mind/vision', thus it is a conscious intellectual act) but just the observance of Mosaic laws that do not have a healing, a salvific, that is to say, sin-defeating and transformative power, but only a restraining function that is abolished, according to Paul, when the righteousness comes through Christ (Gal. 2:21). However, the coming of righteousness does not mean that it happens automatically and uni-directionally, but entails reciprocation and synergy of God and a human, of Christ and a Christian, and this reciprocation necessarily entails a conscientious, free, responsive initiative of a human person, this initiative being included in the semantics of "faith"; let us call this free initiative of repentance and renovation of life, this free human volitional act of outreach towards Christ "work 2".

Thus, God forgives all through His Only Begotten Son, but the forgiveness is not performed automatically without the "work 2" on the part of humans, and if humans do not perform the "work 2" after having a chance of it, but stick to the "work(s) 1", then Christ will be of no value for them (Gal. 5:2): they loose opportunity to partake of salvational work of Christ in their hearts (Col. 1:29), they loose opportunity of the second birth in Spirit (John 3:6), they loose opportunity of becoming the children of God in the totally new sense, as co-heirs of God's Only-Begotten Son (Rom. 8:17), as gods by virtue of partaking in one true God, through His divinizing/deifying activity in their hearts (Phil. 2:13).

Thus, yes, the Psalms are not contradicting Paul by intimating that God reckons sins until one acknowledges and confesses them, for also Paul agrees that salvation comes through the faith, that entails the "work 2", that is to say, a free response to, a turning in repentance and outreach towards the divine calling in Christ, who in no manner will forcefully and coercively "inject" so to say forgiveness into one's heart, the latter's free repentance-driven initiative ("work 2") being the sine qua non for Christ's starting the perfecting operation in it.

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Like many things, confusion can arise from a single word or the merest accident.

David says how great it is to be someone who's sin is never counted against them

David did not say our sins are never counted against us. He said blessed is the one whose sin is covered, so that it isn't counted against them.

When we come to Christ, when we confess our sins and turn from them to Christ, then the Lord forgives the guilt of our sins. Then He covers our sins, and then He does not count our sins against us as long as we remain in Christ.

So David speaks of how blessed it is to be freed from sin, and then tells us he became free by confessing his sin.

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The short answer is that Paul wasn't giving a teaching on Psalm 32, he was, under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, picking relevant scriptures from Psalm 32 to establish the doctrine of justification by faith.

Simply because a verse or two is cited from a specific Psalm (or chapter in the OT) doesn't demand that what's being said in a particular NT context must agree with what is said in the rest of that Psalm (OT Chapter). You can get into real trouble by going beyond the specific verses cited by NT writers in a specific NT context by attempting to impose the rest of the OT Chapter/Psalm —which the NT author did not cite— on that specific NT context.

Put another way, if Paul says that sin is not counted against the believer then it is not, irregardless of what the rest of Psalm 32 might or might not say.

"So does God count sins against a believer or not?"

It depends on what you mean by "count sins".

If you mean in the sense of determining eternal destiny (heaven), then no. In the given context (Romans 4) Paul is establishing the doctrine of justification by faith, which is salvation from the penalty of sin (Romans 5:1, 9; John 5:24, Galatians 2:16, Galatians 2:21 Titus 3:7).

When anyone believes the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:3-4, 11) his sins are forgiven (Ephesians 1:7, Colossians 1:14) and he ceases to be an object of God's wrath (Romans 5:1). As such, he is no longer subject to the penalty of sin. So, sins are no longer counted again him insofar as determining his eternal destiny is concerned.

Since the believer is now a child of God (John 1:12, Galatians 4:5-7) he, as would a child in a family, has certain boundaries set for him and if he crosses those boundaries it creates discord in his relationship with God as it would a disobedient child in a family. That's called sin. When we are disobedient, when we sin, that creates discord in our relationship with God and we must take responsibility for our sin, confess it to God, and ask for forgiveness (1 John 1:9). That is a relational issue, however, not a judicial one.

Jesus Christ suffered the penalty for our sins on the cross (1 Corinthians 15:3). Once we believe that, the judicial issue is settled, our sins can no longer subject us to that penalty/punishment.

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If you write out the converse of Psalm 32:1-2, you have something that looks like this:

1 Cursed is the one whose transgressions are not forgiven, whose sins are not covered. 2 Cursed is the one whose sin the Lord counts against them and in whose spirit exists deceit.

Now, why would such things be a curse? Becauses the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), and death is the greatest curse of all, going all the way back to Adam and Eve. So, if God would sovereignly choose not to forgive someone, and if He would not cover someone's sin, so that He might count them against that one, and do so, ostensibly, because deceit existed within the heart of such a one, the immediate response would be death, without hope of repentance, redemption, or chance to make it right with God ever again.

What a dreadful curse that would be! And on some, it befell (Onan, for example, but others as well).

So, all David and Paul are describing is, how happy is the man whom the Lord does not immediately slay when he commits sin, compared to the man whom God destroys the moment he commits an act of wickedness.

This is the central theme of justification by faith, that is, what Abraham discovered (Romans 4:1), which is salvation by election, not of worth or merit, or of works (even circumcision, as in Abraham's case), but rather, righteousness imputed to one's account through faith, just as Abraham believed God (with no other action undertaken, merely an inward conviction that the promise of God to make him a father of many nations was a valid, reliable promise), God imputed righteousness to him, only giving him the sign of circumcision after the effect as a token of the covenant and of his saving faith.

Conversely, had God wanted to, He could have killed Abraham at any time as punishment for whatever various moral failures existed in Abraham's life up until that point. The same is true of King David, up until the writing of Psalm 32. King David realized he was blessed because God sovereignly chose not to destroy him for his many moral failures, but instead, that the election and promise of the Messiah might stand, God forgave and released King David from the punishment otherwise due Him, which was death.

And that's why King David knew by the Holy Spirit that whenever God does such things for whomever, the person on the receiving end of such grace and mercy is blessed and not cursed. Paul knew it, too, since God similarly spared him, so that he might believe and be saved.

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After having the opportunity to consider the answers given and to do some meditation on my own I have come up with a different answer that might not sit well with some but I think is correct.

David does not contradict Paul, in fact he and Paul both make the same assertion:

Rom 4:6  Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works,  Rom 4:7  Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.  Rom 4:8  Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.

To answer the question: Sins are not counted outside of the law. So they are counted for Jews (who are under the law) but they are not counted for anyone else.

So they are in violent agreement. But how? I've come to the following conclusions:

  • there is a difference between sin/sinning from a transgression/transgressing
  • it is possible to sin without transgressing
  • Paul and David are saying/agreeing that "sin is not counted where there is no law"
  • the "not counted" part is when one sins but without transgressing a law. The only sins that are counted are ones that involve a transgression of law
  • the law was given to the Jews to turn their sins into transgressions:

Rom 4:15  Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression. 

Gal_3:19  Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.

  • since gentiles are not under the law, they don't transgress.

So before Moses, sins were not counted for anyone but since Moses the Jews are running up a tally:

Rom 5:13  (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 

So because of Adam's single transgression against the command not to eat the fruit death passed through to all men. No one since has had the opportunity to repeat that transgression. So "original sin" is an invention to solve a problem that doesn't exist in scripture. So is the whole "Federal Head" notion. No one needs to repeat or participate in Adam's transgression in order to be subject to death:

Rom 5:14  Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.  Rom 5:15  But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.  Rom 5:16  And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification.  Rom 5:17  For if by one man's offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.)  Rom 5:18  Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.  Rom 5:19  For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.  Rom 5:20  Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound:  Rom 5:21  That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.

So it is the transgression of Adam that reigns in death, not the transgressions of many. "Original sin" is bogus and unnecessary. What counts is "Original Transgression". ONLY ADAM has that counted against him. Gentiles are not transgressors. But they are STILL SUBJECT TO DEATH.

Jews have their own transgressions as well. They are not guilty of Adam's sins but are still any more than the gentiles are but by transgressing the law they need those transgressions dealt with. David is not living in the age of the gospel he is predicting and describes their (age of grace/gospel age) with wonder.

KJV unless otherwise noted

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It is a myth that either Paul or David mentions a wrongful justice, or false forgiveness where he is observing the injustice of impropriety and deceit in forgiveness where the person is forgiven without sanctification and repentance, and is free to live in sin. Forgiveness and righteousness are conditional. The thought of God committing injustice, impropriety, is akin to a logical contradiction like a married bachelor or a square circle. God would have no basis to command justice and holiness, if he himself becomes an abomination; in other words, the moral law for man is directly grounded upon the holy perfect nature of God. Where did the thought begin, that says God will never count our sins, or he has forsaken his justice for the sake of mercy, and all past, present, future sins are forgiven in advance, thus legalizing sins?

[ESV Psalms 10:13] Why does the wicked renounce God and say in his heart, “You will not call to account”? NLT "... They think, "God will never call us to account."

[ESV Prov 17:15] He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the LORD.

[ESV Prov 24:23-24] These also are sayings of the wise. Partiality in judging is not good. Whoever says to the wicked, “You are in the right,” will be cursed by peoples, abhorred by nations,

[ESV Prov 11:20-21] Those of crooked heart are an abomination to the LORD, but those of blameless ways are his delight. ​Be assured, an evil person will not go unpunished, but the offspring of the righteous will be delivered.

[ESV Exod 23:7] Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent and righteous, for I will not acquit the wicked.

[ESV Exod 34:7] keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

Jude 4 For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Rom 3:25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.

[ESV 2Pet 1:8-10] For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.

Consider this:

[ESV Ezek 18:20-32] The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself. “But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? But when a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice and does the same abominations that the wicked person does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds that he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, for them he shall die. “Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? When a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it; for the injustice that he has done he shall die. Again, when a wicked person turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he shall save his life. Because he considered and turned away from all the transgressions that he had committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die. Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ O house of Israel, are my ways not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord GOD. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.”

So does God count sins against a believer or not? Yes certainly, start with the parables and teachings of Jesus. God will judge each according to his works, without partiality. See Rom 2:6-16, Heb 10:26. When reading any verse about forgiveness, we need to pay attention to the context and must read with the harmony of the scripture, rather than ignoring the whole Bible based on a misinterpretation of one verse. (Matt 5:29-30; 2Pet 3:16-17)

[ESV Rev 22:11-12] Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.” “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done.

[ESV 1Pet 1:15-17] but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile,

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