The Moral Framework of the Universe: Psalm 15

August 27, 2017

A note to readers: Today’s post is part of a Sunday Voice Series by Dr. Timothy C. Tennent, a close friend, mentor and colleague of mine. He serves as the President of Asbury Theological Seminary among other posts he holds across the global church. This Sunday Voice Series will cover the Psalms, beginning to end, by focusing on a Psalm each Sunday. I can’t tell you how excited I am for his interest in contributing here. This will be a huge blessing to us all.

Psalm 15 (NIV)

LORD, who may dwell in your sacred tent?
Who may live on your holy mountain?

The one whose walk is blameless,
who does what is righteous,
who speaks the truth from their heart;
whose tongue utters no slander,
who does no wrong to a neighbor,
and casts no slur on others;
who despises a vile person
but honors those who fear the LORD;
who keeps an oath even when it hurts,
and does not change their mind;
who lends money to the poor without interest;
who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.

Whoever does these things
will never be shaken.

CONSIDER THIS

There is no more ultimate or fundamental question than this one: who may dwell in the presence of God? This question is raised in the opening verses of this psalm. The answer is a series of moral certitudes: the one who lives a blameless life, doing what is righteous, speaking truth from the heart, slandering no one, loving one’s neighbor, despising the vile, honoring those who fear the Lord, keeping oaths, lending money to the needy without exorbitant interest and refusing to accept bribes. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of the life of the righteous. Rather, it means to portray, in broad terms, that God is holy and that we must be holy if we are to stand in His presence.

The New Testament never relinquishes this truth: John says, “In him there is no darkness at all” (I John1:5). The book of Hebrews likewise declares, “without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). No one can read this psalm without realizing the great chasm that exists between God’s holiness and our lives. No amount of moral effort on our part, or any attempt to redefine God’s holiness by putting it within human reach will suffice. There really is a great gulf between humanity and God. This is no time to say, “Well, I’m better than the next fellow” or “God grades on a curve.” Rather, it is the time to recognize afresh our need to hear the gospel.

It would be a mistake to see this psalm as being in tension with the Christian doctrine of justification whereby we are justified by what Christ alone has done, apart from any list of righteous acts that we have done. This psalm is not about entrances, but about dwelling and abiding. It is not about justification, but about sanctification. Only Jesus Christ is truly righteous. Only Jesus Christ fully manifests the holiness of God—He is the only righteous One. Our only hope is to cast ourselves upon His righteousness and to “be found in him, not having a righteousness” of our own, “but that which is through faith in Christ” (Phil. 3:9).

The great miracle of the gospel is that, in Christ, not only are we declared righteous (an alien righteousness), but through the power of the Holy Spirit we are empowered to live righteously in ways which we could never do in our own strength or determination. Christ alone has ascended to the mount of God. To abide in Christ, we not only receive His righteousness, but we allow him to transform and change us to be like him. Being “in Christ” is what enables us to dwell in the presence of God.

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Timothy C. Tennent is the President of Asbury Theological Seminary and a Professor of Global Christianity. His works include Invitation to World Missions: A Trinitarian Missiology for the Twenty-first Century and Theology in the Context of World Christianity: How the Global Church Is Influencing the Way We Think about and Discuss Theology. He blogs at timothytennent.com and can be followed on twitter @TimTennent.

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