Sr. Pastor Mark Stafford
In Psalm 15, David seeks to answer the most important question of all. He is asking, “What type of people go to heaven?” David knew that a person didn’t go to heaven just because they were part of a certain people group. Although the Israelites were God’s “chosen people,” there was no guarantee that a man or woman was right with God just because they happened to be born in Israel. In this psalm, David is offering a description of a God-follower and he calls us to ‘test our faith.’ David knew that the God who radically saves people also radically changes them.
Just like I can give my children more privileges as they obey the rules in our house, God’s people receive greater blessing as they follow God’s commands. When they ignore His commands, they can’t expect continued blessing. Today in our teaching, we’ll look at a few ways to test the authenticity of a person’s faith based upon the change God uniquely produces.
Proposition: The God who radically saves people, also radically changes them.
Last week, we began our series in Psalms by looking at the man who is blessed by God and we concluded in Psalm 1 that a person who is blessed by God is one who delights himself in Christ and His Word and meditates upon it.
It brings up the question: What does it mean to be blessed by God?
Does God’s blessing refer to a nice family or an unexpected bonus or a successful medical procedure or good friends or money? If blessing did come in only those kinds of packages, then why does the scripture talk about blessing when friends, family, money and health are in decline? Can someone be blessed by God in difficult times when money, health or family are not going so well?
The Bible seems to indicate that the difficult times are exactly when God’s blessing is felt the most. Suffering and trials may not be blessings in themselves, but they are all channels for God’s grace to be made manifest in our lives. Consider these New Testament passages:
- Jesus started out the Sermon on the Mount by saying,
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted….
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” – Matthew 5:3-34, 10-12
- Paul quotes David and says in Romans 4:7, “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
and whose sins are covered”
- A few weeks ago, we saw in our study of James that he said, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” – James 1:12
- In Revelation, the Spirit led John to write, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” – Rev. 14:13
In every passage I just read, there is absolutely no hint of a prosperity being linked to these blessings. The blessings came in the midst of terrible and tragic circumstances. Friends, family, money and health were not mentioned at all, but the blessing was tied to a connection to Jesus in the midst of the trial. These New Testament believers were blessed because their satisfaction didn’t come from their friends, family, money or health, but their blessing came from being satisfied in Jesus.
Blessing is an increasing satisfaction in God.
Scripture makes it clear that a blessing is anything that makes us more satisfied in Him! As our minds turn back to Psalm 15, the nature of God’s blessing sheds a new insight on the first two lines. The psalm begins by asking these two questions: O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill?
Before we move on with David to answer the “who” question, we need to first answer the “what” questions and the “why” question. What is the Lord’s Tent, what is a holy hill and why would we want to go there?
As we read the psalms it should be clear that we are dealing with language that is clearly poetic and figurative. In other words, we are not literally trying to travel to the Lord’s campsite. During this period of history, the Lord was worshipped in a tabernacle made out of a tent. It’s true that the Lord was present in a special way there, but He is also present everywhere else too. Let me take a minute to explain the difference between God’s presence to sustain, God’s presence to judge and God’s presence to bless.
David would later write in Psalm 139:7, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?” and imply that He was unable to escape God’s presence. If God exists, it would be logical to conclude that He has to exist somewhere. According to the Scripture, He does not just exist somewhere; HE EXISTS EVERYWHERE! In our natural thinking, we often figure that God is like us in that He is present in some places and absent in others. The Bible teaches something totally different about God. The Bible makes it clear God dwells in every part of His creation simultaneously as a sustaining presence.
It’s not that God is just big. He’s more mind boggling than a giant. God is without a defined size, without limit and He extends beyond boundaries. He is an infinite being who does not have dimensions. He created space and does not need room in space in order to exist. If He had not created space, He would still be infinite and fully present. God relates to size and presence in a way that is far different than we relate to it. At the end of our series in Psalms, I plan to unpack a bit more about God’s all-present existence when we look at Psalm 139 in depth.
The Bible also explains that in addition to being present everywhere, God can be present in different ways or He sometimes acts differently in different places within His creation.
Sometimes the Bible speaks of His presence in a way that simply means that he is actively present to sustain his creation. Theologians sometimes refer to His omnipresence as His ‘presence to sustain.’ Speaking of Jesus being God, the writer of Hebrews makes the following statement about Jesus’ presence to sustain, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” (Heb 1:3a)
A few times in scripture, God’s presence is spoken of in a negative way because He is present to bring judgement on those who are working against Him. (Amos 9:1-4 is one example) Theologians called this type of presence His ‘presence to judge.’ When God is ‘present to judge,’ it is a type of presence that we want to avoid at all costs.
However, most of the other times in the Bible where it speaks about God’s presence, it is referring to “God’s ‘presence to bless.’” God was present in the tabernacle in a special way and the Israelites were blessed when they worshipped there. God was present with the Ark of the Covenant in a special way and His people were blessed whenever they near to Ark. Most of the time when the Bible talks about the Lord’s presence, it is speaking about the Lord’s blessing as a result of that presence.
When David is asking the question, “O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent?,” he is expressing a desire to be in the Lord’s ‘presence to bless.’ The word translated “sojourn” in the ESV describes a visit to receive the hospitality of a tent-dwelling host (or nomad or Bedouin). This verse needs to be understood in light of the customs and settings in the ancient Far East.
The ancient eastern tent dwellers were known for their gracious hospitality. If a person were in trouble, these nomads were known for taking them in. They would shelter their guest from harm and meet all their needs.
This passage implies that the God-follower who “sojourns in His tent” is safe. They can claim asylum from every foe and share in all the provision available in the Lord’s presence. In other words, you would want to “sojourn to the Lord’s tent” because in His presence, you would find blessing and joy right now. One chapter over in Psalm 16:11b, David wrote, “…in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” It is good to be in the Lord’s ‘presence to bless!’
Sojourning to the Lord’s tent implies that it is immediate but also carries with it a temporary connotation. The next line, has a different implication. The second question David asks is, “Who shall dwell on your holy hill?” The word “dwell” in Hebrew means to settle down, to reside or to abide. It is asking, “Who will be able to take up a long-term residency in the presence of the Lord?” (or more simply, “Who goes to heaven?”)
God’s people in the OT thought of God’s ‘presence to bless’ to be centralized at the temple or in the tabernacle which was located a holy hill. The people were responsible for preparing themselves to meet with God during various pilgrimages made to the hill during certain festivals throughout the year. Before entering into the temple or tabernacle, they would take time to examine themselves.
This psalm could be used to examine a person’s life before one of these religious celebrations. BUT…the application of this Psalm is meant to be wider than just an examination before entering the temple. David is asking, “who shall dwell on your Holy Hill” for all of eternity future? Who is a part of the eternal family of God? What kind of people go to heaven forever?”
Honestly, when I first read Psalm 15 I was discouraged because I quickly realized that on my own, I’m disqualified. I fall short of God’s standards. There is nobody who lives up to these standards perfectly other than Jesus.
It also brought me to a new appreciation that it’s only because of Jesus and his righteous covering that I have any hope of being with the Lord for eternity. Psalm 15 does not describe how to get to heaven, but it describes the reaction to God’s grace in the person who has been covered by the righteousness of the Messiah.
Psalm 15 is categorized as a wisdom psalm because it asks God’s people to examine their lives to see if they are living a life of holiness, justice and righteousness before the Lord. The God who radically saves people, also radically changes them. This Psalm could be seen as a test of Faith. It seeks to give a spiritual exam to an individual to see if they look like a child of God.
So what does a child of God look like? To begin with, a child of God has radically different behavior from the behavior of the world.
#1 God radically changes the behavior of His people – Psalm 15:1-3, 1 John 1:5-6
2 He who walks blamelessly and does what is right
and speaks truth in his heart;
3 who does not slander with his tongue
and does no evil to his neighbor,
nor takes up a reproach against his friend;
Looking at this text from an Old Covenant perspective, there were certain kinds of blessings that God extended to His people simply for following the Law. Now, people in the Old Testament were not saved by the Law, but God’s people in the Old Testament would always strive to follow it. One reform theologian rightly said, “Faith alone saves, but a faith that saves is never alone.” (Calvin) God’s people in the Old Testament expected to be blessed when they observed the Law and they needed to be reminded that they could not expect God’s blessing if they ignored the Law.
Psalm 15 is not a prescription for being saved, but it is a description of God’s people. It explains that when God’s people follow His law, they are blessed and when they don’t act like believers they feel His correction instead of His blessing. Under the new covenant, David’s reflection on the Law is still true in this sense: the behavior displayed in a person’ life is a reflection of the depth of their relationship with God because the God who radically saves people, also radically changes people.
There are a lot of people who are looking for fellowship with God on easy terms. Some people are content with knowing about God without actually living according to Biblical ethics. There are many professing Christians who want to approach God on their terms and who take God’s commands too lightly. God’s Word is telling us that those who ignore the Bible’s ethical standards cannot expect God’s ‘presence to bless’ in their lives.
Some professing believers are trying to live in two worlds. They want to live in a way that God can bless and they also want a little bit of the pleasure of worldliness. The apostle John refers to worldliness as “darkness” and the sacred things of God as “light.” Listen to what he says about mixing those 2 worlds together. 1 John 1:5-6 says, “5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.”
Worldliness and godliness are at war with each other, so people who try to keep a foot in each camp often find themselves in the middle of a spiritual battle. Like throwing a match into a can of gasoline, it’s an explosive combination. There is a measure of pleasure that come from worldliness, but when a Christian tries to find pleasure in wordiness, they’ll find themselves disciplined by God (as He is working to get them to turn from their sin) as well as bound and oppressed by the sin itself. The small amount of pleasure that worldliness provides is masked by the bondage of sin and the correction of God. It is a miserable way to live and it robs believers of blessing and joy.
If we claim to be believers, then our new position with the Lord leads to blamelessness. Psalm 15:1-2 says,
“O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent?
Who shall dwell on your holy hill?
2 He who walks blamelessly and does what is right
and speaks truth in his heart;”
Being blameless in this context doesn’t mean that they are sinless. It is referring to a person defined by integrity. The direction of their life is one that is going increasingly towards the Lord. Since the God who radically saves people, also radically changes them, it is increasingly clear in the life of a God-follower that they are no longer part of the fellowship of the world, but they are part of the fellowship of the redeemed. The have a new King and they find joy in serving Him:
- Their blessing and reward come from an increasing satisfaction with God Himself
- They are excited about pleasing Him because He is so valuable to them.
The blameless man is not sinless, but striving. He may not live his life perfectly, but he is increasingly like Jesus more and more every day. As this blameless man grows in the Lord, he knows even more of the Lord’s blessing. He strives to honor the Lord in every aspect of his life. David says that he:
“…speaks truth in his heart;
3 who does not slander with his tongue
and does no evil to his neighbor,
nor takes up a reproach against his friend;”
This person acts on what they believe. They do not seek to harm people, but to help them. They rejoice in the truth and don’t participate in gossip. A life that strives to follow and obey God’s commands is blessed by God and displays evidence of the Lord’s saving power. The God who radically saves people, also radically changes them, so the life of those who are saved is always characterized by ethical standards and by a genuine distaste for worldliness.
#2 God radically changes the desires of His people – Psalm 15:4-5, Ephesians 2:2-3, Romans 6:20
In verses 4-5a it says, “4 in whose eyes a vile person is despised,
but who honors those who fear the Lord;
who swears to his own hurt and does not change;
5 who does not put out his money at interest
and does not take a bribe against the innocent…”
God is weighty to the righteous. The Hebrew word for “honors” in verse 4 can mean “to be heavy.” God’s people don’t take him lightly, but He is heavy and glorious and honorable to them. David described a vile person as one who doesn’t fear the Lord. They take the Lord lightly and make a big deal out of themselves. They seek to promote themselves even on the backs of the destitute. Ancient Jews did not have bankruptcy laws. So, if they got into debt, they had three choices:
- Go to jail until the debt could be repaid
- Sell themselves and possibly their family into slavery
- Borrow money
So if we place the passage into its historical context, it is not speaking about lending money to a business at interest. Rather, it is talking about lending money to a desperately poor person at interest and making them even poorer in the process. David is calling it a vile practice to take advantage of those who are poor.
In a similar way, the court system at this time was corrupt as well. Judges were not paid well (if they were paid at all). They were easily bought and often ruled in favor of the party who gave the largest bribe. Again, David is calling this a vile practice and encourages the man of God to fear the Lord, keep his word and to help those in need.
Despising the corruption of the system and the vileness in another person doesn’t begin with other people but it begins with a hatred of those kinds of sins within ourselves. Before Jesus came into my life, I loved worldliness too! Ephesians (2:2-3) says that before I met Christ, I was
- “following the course of this world,
- [I was] following the prince of the power of the air…
- [I lived in the] passions of [my] flesh,
- [I was] carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and
- [I was] by nature [a child] of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
- (Romans 6:20 says that) I was a slave to sin and by my nature I was sinful and I sinned all the time.
In my condition before Jesus, I’d be prone to take advantage of others if I gained something from it. When Jesus came into my life, He made it clear that His blessings are far better than anything I might gain from worldliness. Hating sin in our own lives and turning away from it is something Christians call ‘repentance.’ To repent, we have to first come to grips with the reality of our sin and say:
- I’m done with everything that can rob me of God’s blessing
- I don’t want to live in my sin anymore. I want to live the kind of life that God can bless!
- Most of all, I want more of Jesus in my life!
Now this change of desire is something that only Jesus can do.
Application: The only way change happens is through Jesus.
Jesus was the only person who perfectly loved God and perfectly loved others. On our own, some form of worldliness will often look better to us than having more of Jesus and being more like Him. He need help! The Bible explains that we can only ever hope to live up to God’s perfect standards if God is not looking at our history of good works, but if God is looking at Christ and His perfection instead of at us. Jesus offers his righteousness to any person who would call on Him as Savior and strive to follow Him as Lord.
Once a person has received the free offer of eternal life and the gracious covering of Christ’s righteousness, they also receive the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Listen to what Paul write about faith and works in Ephesians 2:8-10,
“8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Through the power of the Holy Spirit, a person who was heading in the direction of darkness, death and destruction can change course so they can know God’s blessing now and look forward to an eternity dwelling in God’s presence.
The God who radically saves people, always radically changes them too. That means that if someone consistantly loves worldliness more than Jesus, then they are clearly not a believer.
- We need these tests of faith in our lives so that we know for sure if we are right with God.
- We need to know if we are part of the fellowship of the redeemed or if we are heading to an eternity separated from the pleasures and blessings of God.
David did not strive to offer a comprehensive description of the law in the psalm, but he has given us a few ways to test the authenticity of our faith. There is good evidence that you are a Child of God if your life is characterized by things like:
- Right living
- An authentic, practical love for others
- A heavy respect for the things of God
- Genuine belief in Jesus that results in actions
If Psalm 15 is not a prescription for being saved, but a description of a child of God, then I have to ask this question: Does it describe you? Is the indwelling Holy Spirit moving you closer to these qualities? Have you become more Christ-like in this last year?
The God who radically saves people, also radically changes them. The last line of Psalm 15 says of the blameless, “He who does these things shall never be moved.” He’s not easily moved because he has allowed Christ to live through Him. Those who are not easily moved can look forward to both God’s blessing here on earth and God’s blessing for an eternity in heaven.
God Saves and Changes | Psalm 15
The God who radically saves people, also radically changes them.
#1 God radically changes the behavior of His people – Psalm 15:1-3, 1 John 1:5-6
#2 God radically changes the desires of His people – Psalm 15:4-5a, Ephesians 2:2-3, Romans 6:20
Application: The only way change happens is through Jesus. – Psalm 15:5b, Ephesians 2:8-9