Summary: Sin is one of those things we don't want to talk about or face. But it is the central problem facing us every day. There is a solution, but it starts with facing sin head on.
In Psalm 38, David is greatly afflicted from sin. I think this psalm really reveals to us how deeply David felt about sin—and it offers hope for us who also feel that guilt deep in our souls—that God our Savior is always there to forgive the humble in heart.
1 – 2
Here in verse 1 we see a picture of God many people don’t want to talk about today. It is the God of anger and wrath. We don’t like to think of God being angry at sin and punishing sin. We don’t like to talk about sin at all it seems. What we’re simply seeing here are the two sides of God—mercy and justice. God is merciful and loving, but God is also pure and just. Anything that is not like God is sin. If He didn’t punish sin He would not be just. Does God get angry at sin? You bet He does. But it is a righteous anger. God hates sin, and He should—and you should too.
The problem with us humans is that we are so bound up in sin that we cannot free ourselves from it. Only God can. But first He has to give us the awareness of the fact that we have acted in a way that is not like God—and that’s what He is doing for David. In David’s heart he realizes he has done something offensive to God. And in the next 8 verses he describes how that awareness affects him mentally, emotionally, physically, and even relationally.
3 – 14
In these verses David describes how the consequences of his sin have caused a great sickness in his body. He describes physical symptoms like festering wounds and burning. He describes emotional symptoms like feeling overwhelmed (like he is drowning). He also describes relational symptoms like the fact that his friends and relatives avoid him.
Notice in verse 3 that there is a connection between God’s reaction to sin (“indignation”) and the sin itself. We don’t know we are acting in a way that is not like God until we sense His reaction. The more we are changed into His image the faster that realization comes until we are realizing it before we act and can actually stop sin from happening!
In verse 5 David is not shifting the blame to anyone else but himself. It was his foolishness. And indeed, sin is foolish.
Verse 6: David goes about in mourning. How much do we mourn our sin?
Further, when David is weak in all of these ways, his enemies are seeking to take advantage. In verse 13 David describes himself as unable to listen to or respond to their accusations—he is in such pain and anguish.
But in all of this, David knows where to turn:
15 – 17
David is on the brink of disaster, but he knows to place his trust, not in himself and his own abilities, but on God. And how does that rescue come about? Confession and repentance.
18 – 22
He confesses his guilt and has a right attitude about his sin: anxiety. We should never really be at peace as long as there is unconfessed sin in our lives. But even in that, his enemies don’t give him a break—they still pursue him. And when you confess your sins to God, the enemy will only try to make you feel worse.
He finishes by saying “Hurry to help me, Lord, my Savior.” That should be our hearts cry too.
What is our attitude when the awareness of sin comes into our lives? We can deny it, justify it, or ignore it. God wants us to confess it. “Confess” just means to say it. God already knows your sin. He just wants you to admit it to him. The second part of it is that anxiety. Some translations say “I will be sorry.” It means anxiety, but also sorrow. Telling God what you’ve done is one thing—but if you aren’t sorry what good is it?
Don’t let things get as bad as David did here. Know the character of God and know your own motives, thoughts, words, and actions. When you do something that God would not do, admit it to Him, be sorry, and ask for Him to forgive and change you by the power of His Holy Spirit.
That forgiveness comes as the result, not of your sorrow, but of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on your behalf. God punished Jesus for all the things you have done and are going to do that are not like God. Be sorrowful, but also rejoice in that your sins have been washed away!
One of the questions we have in reading this psalm is—can sin make us sick and does God cause that sickness? The answer is yes on both counts—but not always. You all know this happens—if you are an alcoholic you will eventually destroy your liver and die. Certain sexual sins can lead to devastating diseases and death. And, sometimes, God brings in sickness to get our attention. James Chapter 5 tells us to pray for the sick and “if” they have sinned it will be forgiven. There is a tie between sin and sickness sometimes. Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:30 talks about those who misuse communion as a time to party hardy—how it made them sick and some died. But we need to understand that it’s not punishment as much as it is an attention getter.