In an earlier Psalm King David had asked Yahweh to “judge him as his righteousness and integrity deserved” (Ps7:8). That could only be referring to his OWN righteousness: but in Psalm 32, almost certainly penned after his grievous sin against Uriah to gain his wife Bathsheba, he wrote “I confessed my offence to Yahweh and He took away my guilt and forgave my sin” (v5). He continued: “For blessed is the man to whom Yahweh IMPUTES no guilt AND in whose spirit is no deceit”(v2). God had forgiven his sin, accepted him as righteous or vindicated him because he confessed it from a pure heart, although he was punished through the death of Bathsheba’s son (2Sam12:14) which caused him great grief. That is the only sense in which righteousness can be imputed (cf. Rom4:11+22); it is not God’s own Righteousness but His declaration that an individual or group are vindicated and accepted by Him, or in the formulation of the Psalmist God no longer imputes guilt to them for a specific offence. This is affirmed by the fact that before that sin was brought to his attention by Nathan the prophet, David WAS guilty in God’s sight of murder (2Sam12:9) and liable for punishment even as God’s servant. Had David not confessed such a mortal sin, his spirit would have been tainted; his guilt would have remained as would his broken communion with His Lord and the Spirit that he enjoyed as anointed king.
The good news for David and God’s chosen people today is that “IF we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”(1Jn1:9). Forgiveness whether human or divine is effectively an imputing of righteousness – treating someone as if they had not committed a particular offence, which God is willing to do providing sins are confessed from a pure heart like David. But as Jesus makes abundantly clear throughout His ministry it will be a person’s own character and legacy that will determine their future estate. Paul affirms as much in one of the more straight forward passages of his Magnus Opus (Rom2:6-11) where he is definitively referring to final judgement as opposed to his references to “justification” in the context of acceptance within covenant or the marking out of God’s chosen people, and the fact that this was now be through faith in Christ, not Torah observance (circumcision and other such “works of the Law”) that infiltrating Judaisers were insisting upon; an area I cover in detail in my book that no doubt will feature in future posts.