This week’s Questions @ Riverview post comes from the our summer series at Riverview on the Psalms. We covered Psalm 15 on Sunday, June 14. You can listen to that sermon here. As always, feel free to submit comments and questions on the sermon or the text to firstname.lastname@example.org or submit a question or comment on the blue slip during the service.
If God can’t live with sin, how can he live with us?
Psalm 15 is all about moral requirements for those who would go before God in worship. In the Old Testament, believers were to keep God’s law in order to dwell with him, including but not limited to the requirements found in Psalm 15. But since they weren’t able to do that perfectly, God developed a system of animal sacrifices that would cover the sins of the people, allowing them to approach him in worship. God can’t dwell with sin or sinners, so in order for him to live with them, there had to be something that took care of their sin. But we don’t offer animal sacrifices today in order to come before God. So how can God live with us – sinners?
Sinful human beings still come before God through a sacrifice, but not an animal sacrifice. Instead, the sacrifice made on our behalf was God’s own Son. And since Jesus was fully God, and since he perfectly kept all of God’s laws, he has eternal access to God. The mystery of the gospel is that God, by grace through faith, applies the perfection of Christ to those who will trust in him for salvation. And the sacrifice of Christ for sin is sufficient to allow the believer access to God. So now, there is no longer a separation of sin between believers and God – we have full access to him not on our own merit, but because of what Christ has done by perfectly keeping God’s law and offering himself as a sufficient sacrifice.
Again, back in Old Testament times, sacrifices had to be made regularly because people sinned regularly. Animal sacrifices weren’t once-for-all sacrifices. But Jesus’ sacrifice is different. His sacrifice is sufficient and applicable for all eternity. How is that possible? Because Jesus is God, and is himself eternal. Therefore he intercedes on behalf of those trusting in him for all time.
Verse 5 of Psalm 15 says: “He who does these things [the list of requirements in the psalm] shall never be moved.” You and I don’t have any hope of doing these things perfectly. But we do have hope that Jesus has done them perfectly. And since his righteousness is eternal, a Christian’s ability to live with God is also eternal. It’s not as though we need to fear being separated from God if we fail and sin in one area or another, because Jesus is always interceding for us (see Hebrews 7.25).
If Jesus kept God’s law perfectly for us, then why do we need to keep it?
The Bible teaches that no one is good, and that it is impossible to keep God’s law perfectly. But, as has been already stated, Jesus kept God’s law perfectly. In this sense, we don’t “need” to keep God’s law in order to gain God’s favor – in fact, we can’t. And if we’re trying to keep God’s law as a means of earning grace and/or salvation from him, we’ll be sorely disappointed. If that’s all true, then what good does it to us to keep God’s law?
First, Jesus said he did not come to do away with the law, but to fulfill it. Paul said that although God’s law shows us our sin, it is not evil, and is in fact worthy of being kept. Why is that? Because God’s law is a reflection of his character and nature. In other words, God’s law shows us what he is like, and what his will is. Those who have been saved by God are being transformed into the image of Jesus. What did Jesus do? Obeyed God perfectly. That should be our goal and desire as well. Not because it will gain us salvation, but as a response to our knowledge of who God is and what he has done for us. An ever-increasing desire to obey God’s commands demonstrates that God’s power is at work within a believer. In this sense, we don’t have to keep God’s law, but we want to keep God’s law because we want to be like God in his righteousness and holiness.
Do we have to meet the requirements listed in Psalm 15? No, at least not as a means of being able to dwell with God. But a true Christian wants to keep those requirements, because the behaviors and attitudes listed in Psalm 15 are behaviors and attitudes that please God. So we should absolutely aspire to walk blamelessly and do what is right, speak the truth in our hearts, avoid slander, be fair and generous, etc. Old Testament believers used Psalm 15 as a way to examine themselves as they prepared for worship: have I spoken truth? Have I walked uprightly? Have I dealt fairly with people? Have loved and given sacrificially? We can use the psalm in the same way in our day – as a means of examining ourselves before we go to worship and correcting our course as necessary.