Being a parent and experiencing first-hand the hard work it involves often gives us a renewed sense of appreciation for our own parents; our hearts are enlarged with love as the ‘penny drops’ and we see how much they have done for us with sharper focus.
As we come to Psalm 103, David’s heart is enlarged with love and gratitude as he recalls just how much God has done for him. It’s my hope that, as we look at just a portion of this Psalm today, our hearts can be like his, as we recall with him, the grace of God.
What is the grace of God? Grace is God’s favour, through Christ, to people who deserve his disfavour.
1. What do I deserve from God?
Often in life we feel hard-done by, that we deserve to be treated better by our spouse, employer, children and so on. However, were I to come to God, and say: ‘If only God gave me what I deserve’, I would be in deep trouble. And that’s because I have broken God’s commandments again and again and again.
‘… He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.’ (verse 10)
The truth is that without Jesus we are spiritually bankrupt. Because we have rebelled against God so many times, we have a serious debt we own God, and we’ve nothing to pay that debt with. We have failed with God, as we’ve not kept his ways, nor have we loved him as we ought to have.
Here is God’s assessment of us in Romans 3: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.’ (Romans 3:11-12)
Jerry Bridges: “Consider a particular territory in a country rebelling against the central government of the nation (and in Bridges’ illustration, the central government is totally just and fair).
The citizens of that territory may be generally decent people, basically upright and caring in their dealings with one another. But all their goodness among themselves is totally irrelevant to central government.
To those authorities there is only one issue: the state of rebellion. Until that issue is resolved, nothing else matters…
Sin, in the final analysis, is rebellion against the Sovereign Creator, Ruler, and Judge of the universe. It resists the rightful prerogative of a sovereign Ruler to command obedience from his subjects. It says to an absolutely hold and righteous God, that his moral laws, which are a reflection of his own nature, are not worthy of our wholehearted obedience.”
What Bridges is saying is this: this is God’s world, he made it and he made us, and he is rightfully in charge of us. If we ignore him, and do our own thing, and go our own way, it is incredibly serious.
David’s heart is bursting with love for God, because of the wonder of the fact that we’ve not got what we deserve. (Verse 10)
I don’t know if you ever talk to yourself. Most of us probably do when no one else is around! That’s what David is doing in this Psalm. He’s talking to himself, telling himself that we mustn’t forget the grace of God, as we all have a propensity to do.
This Psalm is like a catalogue of reasons why we should be so full of praise as we come to church.
We will just look at a section of it (verses 7-12), focusing on God’s grace.
2. What is God like?
When we ask the question, what is God like, here’s a wonderful summary. ‘The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.’ (verse 8) These words are also found in Nehemiah 9, Joel 2, Psalm 86, Psalm 145 and Jonah 4. However, they first appear in Exodus chapter 34, and the context of that passage make them all the more precious, because in Exodus 32 the Israelites had just been worshipping a golden calf.
The Lord had been so good to them, freeing them from slavery in Egypt, bringing them across the Red Sea, proving them with water and with manna and quail, helping them defeat the Amalekites who had attacked them, and leading them to the promised land. And yet, what did God’s people do? The made an idol of gold to worship. They did their own thing. What did they deserve? Did they deserve to be God’s people at all?
Amazing grace! The Lord restrains his just anger. He is slow to anger. He meets his people with grace. He doesn’t treat them as they deserve. This is the character of God. Derek Kidner says that these words are God’s ‘self-portrait’. That’s a great way of putting it. God is painting a picture of himself for us, saying, ‘This is what I am like – slow to anger and abounding in love.’
If God is a just and fair God (and he is) then how can he ignore our sin? As New Testament Christians, we know the answer with far more insight than King David had; we are not treated as our sins deserve, because Jesus is! The punishment that brought us peace was upon him. (Isaiah 53 v5)
Can we ever measure such love? The measure of love is seen by how much it gives. The Father has given us everything, and so the measure of his love it infinite. It is incalculable. David captures this beautifully by saying: ‘For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him.’ (Verse 11)
3. What we receive from God
We receive total forgiveness from God. His forgive is comprehensive. It’s as if we’d never sinned! And only because Jesus Christ has paid our debt of sin in full. It’s expressed so clearly. ‘As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.’ (verse 12)
You cannot get any further apart than as far as east is from the west! So often we say we forgive someone, but secretly we hold on to what has happened. We might even pull it out in the future and say: ‘Remember that time when you did that to me….?’ God never does this. He never brings it up again. Our sins have been removed.
‘Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation…’ (Colossians 1:21-22)
Is that how you see yourself in God’s sight? Free from accusation? Satan will accuse you. And you still sin. But when we live under grace we say, ‘I am free. I’m free from accusations. I’m free from the wrath of God. And Jesus has set me free.’
May our hearts be enlarged with a growing love for God, and we grasp more fully what we deserve, and what we receive from his gracious hand.