Psalm 32: The Importance of Confession and the Christ Who Forgives

“Dad, I need to talk to you.” My oldest son and I went into his room to talk, where he confessed some sin. During our conversation, he said something that he had never said before. He mentioned that since he had been keeping this sin inside, his chest was hurting him. I told him that the pain was coming from the conviction of the Holy Spirit. I assured him it was good to have this experience because it meant he had the opportunity to bring his guilt to the Lord. 

Sin is one of the most important and challenging things through which we shepherd our students. Since we live in a fallen world, it’s inevitable that at some point, our students will wrestle with sin. Some students might be blind to their sin. Some may deal with painful consequences from their sin. Others may be trying to hide or suppress unconfessed sin. 

Next time you are shepherding a student through a particular sin struggle, Psalm 32 is a helpful guide. There is much to learn about repentance, and forgiveness in this Psalm of David, a man who was no stranger to sin.

We don’t know what sins in particular David was confessing when he wrote Psalm 32, but it is clear that he took his sin seriously. David knew the only place to go for true forgiveness was to the God who alone is able to forgive. We can shepherd our students through their sin by pointing them to the forgiveness offered by the death of Jesus on the cross, the one who took their sins on himself. 

The Spiritual and Physical Consequences of Sin                                                              

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.

vv. 3-4

David describes the physical consequences of his unrepentant sin: his bones waste away and he groans. He describes spiritual consequences as well: God’s hand is heavy on him and his strength fails him.

When we sin against the Lord and others, the guilt and shame we experience will have tangible effects on us; things we feel and can describe, like my son’s chest hurting. 

Psalm 32 teaches our students that guilt and shame can impact them physically, just like excitement for a game or anxiety for a test can keep us up at night. We must be careful not to make our students think that a particular sin means they will necessarily have a specific physical response. Rather, we can show them the connection between how the spiritual can express itself in the physical.

Like David, if our students keep silent, these feelings will continue. Psalm 32 reveals that David didn’t regain his strength, confidence, and hope by keeping quiet. Instead, he came to the Lord in confession. The words of Psalm 32 invite our students to do the same. 

The Necessity of Confession                                                                                             

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.

v. 5

God already knew David’s past and future sins. Therefore, David’s confession is not bringing new information to God. He must lay out all the specific and ugly details of his sin, acknowledging it before God. Just as David acknowledges sin in Psalm 32, we need to acknowledge our sin in the presence of the Lord in order to be released from the guilt and shame that comes with our sin. 

We see in Psalm 32 that is good for students to name their sins before God. When my sons seek forgiveness after they have sinned against one of their brothers, I require them to name what they are apologizing for. They acknowledge this isn’t some general “sorry.” They spell out how what they did specifically hurt their brother and then learn from it.

In youth group, students will inevitably sin against each other, especially when they are in small groups or on retreats or mission trips together. In this context, we want to ensure our students live out Jesus’ words to be reconciled to one another before coming in worship (Mat. 5:23-24). 

Just as David experienced freedom from his sin in light of his confession to the Lord, Psalm 32 invites our students to experience the freedom of forgiveness— both with God and with their neighbor. 

The Freedom of Forgiveness                                                                                   

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.

vv. 1-2

When a student confesses sin, remind him or her that God “is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Our students can experience the same joy that David describes in these first couple of verses because of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Colossians 2:13-15 tells us, 

“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (NIV). 

When Jesus died on the cross, he bore the punishment for the sins we have committed, are committing, and will commit. The cross shows us that we could not save ourselves. Our debt has been paid, and now, no sin can keep us from being God’s children when we are in Christ Jesus. All our sin has been defeated, so we are invited to come to God and confess. We won’t surprise him or turn him away. Instead, we will find grace, forgiveness, and new life in Jesus.

About an hour after my son confessed his sin and asked God and myself for forgiveness, he told me that it was so nice that his chest didn’t hurt anymore. While I knew the pain he experienced was good, I was even more grateful that because of God’s forgiveness, he had relief from the physical and spiritual pain he experienced.

May we lean on this psalm to shepherd our students through their sin, guilt, and their shame until they experience the power and joy of the forgiveness of God.  

If you’re interested in learning more about gospel-centered youth ministry, we hope you’ll consider joining us for our Rooted 2024 Conference in Dallas, TX.

Kyle Bjerga serves as the Pastor of Discipleship and Family Ministries at Cityview Community Church in Elmhurst, IL. Kyle is married to Jackie and they have three boys. He is a lifelong resident of the Chicago suburbs and enjoys everything Chicago, including his beloved Cubs. He is passionate about the church and home partnering in the discipleship of the next generation.  

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