Although Psalms 66:18 says, "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear," there are those who teach that this verse is now obsolete. Under new covenant grace, they claim that God will always hear us and answer our prayers, whether we cherish sin in our hearts or not! Needless to say, they flatly reject Isaiah's words as well,
But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear. (Isa. 59:2)
James is a new covenant man, so what does he say about this?
You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.(Jas. 4:3)
James says that if our prayers miss the mark, God won't answer them! Now, what about Peter? He is a new covenant believer too. What does he have to say about this? Peter says that God will never answer a husband's prayers if he mistreats his wife.
Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.
(1 Pet. 3:7 NIV)
From an unused root perhaps meaning properly to pant (hence to exert oneself, usually in vain; to come to naught); strictly nothingness; also trouble, vanity, wickedness; specifically an idol: - affliction, evil, false, idol, iniquity, mischief, mourners (-ing), naught, sorrow, unjust, unrighteous, vain, vanity, wicked (-ness.)
The usual meaning ascribed to iniquity is sin or wickedness but notice that the root meaning listed is actually “pant” or to exert oneself, usually in vain; to come to nought. The Amplified Bible gives us a clue as to what this iniquity is in Job 36:21 - “ Take heed, turn not to iniquity, for this [the iniquity of complaining against God] you have chosen rather than [submission in] affliction.”
The Amplified Bible refers to this iniquity as the iniquity of complaining against God. What did Job complain to God about? Job suffered loss of wealth, health, family and friends, and he felt that he suffered all this “affliction” without just cause.
Job 13:3, 18, 23 and 33:9 (KJV)
3Surely I would speak to the Almighty, and I desire to reason with God.
18Behold now, I have ordered my cause; I know that I shall be justified.
23How many are mine iniquities and sins? make me to know my transgression and my sin.
9I am clean without transgression, I am innocent; neither is there iniquity in me.
Why was Job so angry with God that he wanted to challenge God directly? Job felt that he had not committed any sin and therefore was righteous (Job 13:23, Job 33:9) and did not deserve all the affliction he was suffering. This is in fact the crux of the issue; this is the iniquity - self-righteousness. Job felt that he had done all the right things and therefore he was righteous but he did not understand that man’s own righteousness, in the eyes of God, is like filthy rags - Isaiah 64:6a (KJV) - "But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags;"
Going back to Psalm 66, if we read Psalm 66 starting only from verse 18, the natural conclusion when reading verse 19 “But verily God hath heard me;” is that God heard me because I did not regard iniquity in my heart, and based on traditional interpretation of verse 18, it means that I did not cherish sin in my heart and therefore God heard me.
Let’s take a look at Psalm 66 (KJV) to see verse 18 in context:
1Make a joyful noise unto God, all ye lands:
2Sing forth the honour of his name: make his praise glorious.
3Say unto God, How terrible art thou in thy works! through the greatness of thy power shall thine enemies submit themselves unto thee.
4All the earth shall worship thee, and shall sing unto thee; they shall sing to thy name. Selah.
5Come and see the works of God: he is terrible in his doing toward the children of men.
6He turned the sea into dry land: they went through the flood on foot: there did we rejoice in him.
7He ruleth by his power for ever; his eyes behold the nations: let not the rebellious exalt themselves. Selah.
8O bless our God, ye people, and make the voice of his praise to be heard:
9Which holdeth our soul in life, and suffereth not our feet to be moved.
10For thou, O God, hast proved us: thou hast tried us, as silver is tried.
11Thou broughtest us into the net; thou laidst affliction upon our loins.
12Thou hast caused men to ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water: but thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place.
13I will go into thy house with burnt offerings: I will pay thee my vows,
14Which my lips have uttered, and my mouth hath spoken, when I was in trouble.
15I will offer unto thee burnt sacrifices of fatlings, with the incense of rams; I will offer bullocks with goats. Selah.
16Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul.
17I cried unto him with my mouth, and he was extolled with my tongue.
18If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me:
19But verily God hath heard me; he hath attended to the voice of my prayer.
20Blessed be God, which hath not turned away my prayer, nor his mercy from me.
This is a psalm of praise - v1 “Make a joyful noise unto God, all ye lands:” - extolling the greatness of God’s power and great works of God (v6).
David in vv10-12 says that God has tried and tested the Israelites and laid affliction on them BUT God brought them out into a wealthy place.
David says that he will go into the house of God with burnt offerings (v13), he will “offer unto thee burnt sacrifices of fatlings, with the incense of rams; I will offer bullocks with goats” (v15), and he will declare what God has done for his soul (v16).
How did David talk to God when he was in trouble and afflicted? Verse 17 is the key:
“I cried unto him with my mouth, and he was extolled with my tongue.” David praised God! David did not follow Job’s example and challenged God and asked him what sins he had committed to deserve all this affliction. David did not “regard iniquity” like what Job did. That is why God heard David (v19-20).
I submit that “regard iniquity” in Psalm 66:18 is not talking about cherishing sin but rather about self-righteousness, complaining to God that you don’t deserve to suffer affliction because of your own righteousness.
Contrast Job's attitude (Job 13, 33) with David's in Psalm 103:10-14.
10He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
Job thinks that God's actions - His justice and goodness is dependent on his (Job's) actions and since he (Job) thinks he has not sinned (Job 33:9), God should not have heaped those afflictions upon him (although in actual fact, it was the devil and not God who did it). However, Job's reasoning is based on his own estimation of his sin, not God's estimation. This is our human pride at work.
David understands God's estimation is totally different from ours, hence our righteousness is nothing in God's eyes for we are but dust (v14). Therefore whatever affliction he's facing, David knows that it is not from God for “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy”.
Compare Psalm 66:18 with Job 35:12 - why does God not hear?
12 And when they cry out, God does not answer because of their pride.
However, take note that Job and David were before the cross. Job himself spoke in Job 9:33 of how he wished he had a mediator to stand between him and God. Today, we have that mediator who will speak up for us and God will definitely listen (1 John 2:1); today, we have Christ Jesus.
Because we are now in Christ, unlike Job, we can now approach God not based on our own righteousness but the righteousness of Christ. Today, we can “approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need”. (Heb 4:16)
In any case, does sin in any way hinder God's actions? NO, because sin has evil consequences only for yourself. Then does good works move God? NO, because good works benefit only your fellow men.
6 If you sin, how does that affect God?
Even if you sin again and again,
what effect will it have on him?
7 If you are good, is this some great gift to him?
What could you possibly give him?
8 No, your sins affect only people like yourself,
and your good deeds also affect only humans.
If sin restricts God, then how could God have sent His only Son, Jesus, to die for us? For Christ died for us while we were yet sinners! (Rom 5:8)