What God Expects From You: Psalm 15
September 17, 2007
Sermon Manuscript – August 26, 2007
This is a different kind of psalm than the ones we have looked at so far. The previous psalms have been quite emotional – we had Psalms 51 and 44, which were laments, Psalm 139, which is a psalm of praise, and Psalm 30, which is a psalm of thanksgiving. Each of these poured out the heart of the psalmist to God, before others, and each of them were loaded with feeling and emotion.
Psalm 15’s not quite like those. It’s more cerebral and less emotional. It’s actually very similar to the books of Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. It is called a wisdom psalm. It aims to offer wise, practical advice to others. It is counsel, it is words to live by.
THE QUESTION: WHO MAY DWELL WITH GOD?
Let’s start by looking at verse 1. David poses a question – just one question, stated twice, in two different ways. David asks who may sojourn, who may dwell, in the tent of the Lord, on His holy hill.
What did he mean by that? And what does it mean for us today? We’ll begin by looking at what David is talking about when he says “tent,” and “holy hill.”
There’s two meanings we could take from the word “tent,” two related subjects here, and I think David means both. Pay close attention to these two – keep both of them in mind. The first is the literal meaning – a tent, a temporary shelter. In particular, David speaks of God’s tent. Remember, the Jewish temple was built by Solomon, David’s son. God didn’t have a permanent temple in David’s time. Instead, Israel centred its worship on the “Tent of Meeting,” also called the Tabernacle. It was a very large tent where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. In David’s time, he had moved that Tabernacle to his capital city of Jerusalem, and placed it on the highest hill – Mount Zion. That’s what David means by “holy hill,” in the next phrase – what we now call the Temple Mount. It was God’s mountain, a holy mountain, set apart for His use and kept pure for His glory. This was a place of worship – God’s house of worship. This is the first thing David is talking about here, the first thing I want you to remember: who may draw near to worship God? Who is entitled to stand before this holy and awesome God and offer Him praise?
The second meaning is a little broader. In Hebrew, they often used the word “tent” as shorthand for a household. This came from the days when their ancestors lived as nomads, moving from place to place, and living in tents. The whole household would often share a large tent, and so even hundreds of years later a man’s household, the family which he led, was often called his “tent.” So here’s the second question I want you to keep in mind: David is, in addition to speaking of God’s place of worship, asking: who may live in God’s household? Who may be part of His family? Who may call God “Father?” Who, in short, may enjoy a close family relationship with this awesome God? And that’s closely related to the first, for what do the members of God’s household do? They worship Him! They belong to Him so that they may glorify Him!
Who may live in the place of constant worship? Who may enjoy life in the house of God? This, brothers and sisters, is a gospel question! What must I do to be saved? It’s the same question! David is asking, “What does a worshipper of God – a Christian – look like?”
If you believe in Christ, this is an important question, for David is going to tell us how we should now live. If you aren’t a Christian, if you haven’t trusted in Jesus Christ as your Saviour, or if you aren’t sure, then this message is vital for you. David is about to explain what a person must do to be acceptable before God, to have eternal life.
THE ANSWER: ONE WHO LIVES RIGHTEOUSLY
Who can sojourn in God’s tent, and dwell on His holy hill? Well, first, notice that even the question itself implies an answer. It’s God’s tent, for starters. It’s God’s hill. We don’t set the terms; He does. We don’t decide, as mere human beings, how one is acceptable to God – that’s God’s call to make. He sets the bar. He makes the standards. And since it’s a holy hill, we know that these standards will have something to do with holiness – that is, being set apart, pure, perfect, and spotless. Notice, too, the implication in the question: not everyone can sojourn in His tent or dwell on His hill. If they did, why ask? Not everyone meets God’s standards.
Who can sojourn in God’s tent, and dwell on His holy hill? There’s quite a list here. One of the first things we can draw from this is that a true worshipper values what is right. The worshipper “speaks truth in his heart” – he values the truth on the inside, not just on the outside. Honesty, truthfulness, integrity – they all arise from the heart and soul of this person. He or she knows God’s truth, and he clings to it at the very centre of his being and orders his entire life around it.
And not only does he, positively, value God’s truth – he also, negatively, despises what God rejects. In his eyes – in his perspective, from his point of view, in his opinion – a vile man is despised, David says. The word translated “vile” here refers to something spoiled, and thrown away – there’s a strong sense that the person is cast aside, rejected by God. So it’s not just any sinner, for everyone is a sinner. We’re talking about someone who is hardened in their sins, knowingly and flagrantly living in a vile and lawless manner. And so this despising of the vile person is not a personal thing – we haven’t rejected them; God has rejected them and the way that they live, and we must treat them accordingly until they turn away from that lifestyle and back to God. Yes, we are to love our enemies, and in this case love is tough – it calls evil “evil” and behaves accordingly until there is a change. This is the natural result of aligning one’s values with God. When we do, we love the things God loves – like this man, who honours and respects and loves the person who fears the Lord – and hate the things God hates.
So the worshipper of God values what is right. Second, a true worshipper does what is right. Indeed, most of this section speaks about outward behaviour, especially our behaviour toward others. The worshipper refrains from what is wrong, avoids what is evil. He does not slander with his tongue – saying false and hurtful things about others. No, he speaks the truth, in love. He does not do evil to his neighbor. No, he loves his neighbor as himself! He does not take up a reproach against his friend – that is, he throws no slurs, neither does he rejoice when others are insulted.
One of the points needs explaining. David says that the worshipper does not “lend out his money at interest.” This sounds odd to us. Our entire economy is built on credit – buying even a small house requires a mortgage and interest. Back in David’s day, often a person in great debt would consider selling himself into slavery to pay it back, and often the only alternative available to him was to ask someone for a loan to avoid slavery. This loan would have to be paid back, and in the ancient Middle East interest rates on such loans in such desperate circumstances were often around fifty percent! This practice of charging high interest in taking advantage of a person’s misfortune was called usury, and it was illegal under the Law of Moses. A modern equivalent might be the astronomical kind of interest rates we have seen recently in the payday loan industry, where people have been caught charging up to 1300% interest on short-term loans. The Law forbade Jews from taking advantage of one another in this way. God didn’t forbid fair payment for services, which would include the much more manageable interest we might pay on a mortgage. So a true worshipper does not take advantage of those in need.
The worshipper is honest even to his own hurt. When he swears an oath – when he makes a promise – he keeps it, regardless of how badly he is damaged by it. He does not change – he is a rock others can cling to, he is consistent in his beliefs and in his behaviour, and he treats everyone fairly. He takes no bribe against the innocent – even when doing the wrong thing results in great financial reward, he refuses. Like God, he will clear the innocent.
So David is saying that the worshipper of God will not do these things – that he will treat those who are in trouble with compassion and care.
GOD DEMANDS PERFECTION
Taken all together, David is describing a man righteous – fair, just – in all his ways. In fact, we can sum up his whole discussion with the first phrase of his response: “He who walks blamelessly.”
There’s the standard. That is the level of performance God expects from those who would be His people. That’s the qualification for residence in God’s household. 100% on the exam of life. Blamelessness. Perfection. Holiness.
This passage is hardly unique. In fact, God everywhere in the Bible demands spotless perfection from His people. The sacrifices they brought had to be unblemished – no spots, no wounds, no injuries. Any sin, no matter how small, is a capital offence in God’s eyes. Ezekiel warned Israel, “The soul that sins shall die.” Paul said in Romans, “The wages of sin is death.” Jesus Christ told His disciples in the Sermon on the Mount, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Why is the bar so high? Why can’t God give us a handicap, make allowances for our imperfection? Because we’re talking about His holy hill. Because the worship in His tent is to be holy. Because He is a holy God. Absolutely perfect. Totally set apart. Completely spotless. Listen: no other characteristic of God is spoken of by the Bible the way it speaks of His holiness. Not love, not compassion, not mercy, not anything else. The Bible says repeatedly that God is holy, holy, holy – stressing it three times, the highest emphasis possible in the Biblical languages. God is absolutely perfect and holy, and wants nothing less from us, His people. We bear His image, we represent Him on the earth, we are the crown of His creation. So, for God to expect any less than perfection from us would be to violate Himself. So this list, in a way, is “law”– it lays out God’s expectations, and if we fail to keep them, we sin and fall short of the mark.
THE WORSHIP GOD REQUIRES
Remember, we’ve already seen that this psalm is talking about two related subjects. David began with the question of God’s tent – the two things I asked you to keep in mind: not just how to be accepted into God’s household, but also how one is to offer worship to God. Let’s discuss worship first. This is the application for the people of God, for those who already belong to Him. This is the application for believers. Here it is: worship is not a “come-as-you-are” affair. To God, worship is a VERY serious matter. What kind of worship do you think a perfect God, who expects perfection from His people, wants? There’s a song that we all know, and one of the lines in the song reads, “Come – just as you are – to worship.” Yes, it’s a popular song, but it’s wrong. Worship is most definitely NOT something you just “come just as you are” to do.
Worship is a deliberate thing. It is serious business. If you had an important meeting – like, say, a job interview – what would you do? Would you just wander in “as you are,” in dirty clothes, without rehearsing or going over the interview ahead of time in your mind, without finding out a little about the company and the job first, without taking the time to prepare a resume beforehand? How much more important than a job interview is the call to worship our God? We were made for His glory! Our whole purpose in life is to worship Him! Read this psalm – it’s not talking about dressing in tuxedos to worship. God’s concerned with your character, with the state of your heart, and it had better be right. Worship, more than anything else, requires that you take some time to examine yourself. It means recognizing the sin in your life, confessing it and asking for forgiveness. It means asking God to soften our rebellious hearts so they can receive instruction. It means we seek to be cleansed by God’s grace so that the worship we offer is acceptable to Him.
That’s the first application, the one for believers. Look over this list David gives, and it says this: this is the kind of worshipper God desires. Don’t come to worship just as you are.
THE PRICE OF ADMISSION
Now the second application is for believers and for those who do not yet believe. How is one accepted into God’s household? How do we attain to eternal life? Eternal life requires a perfect life. That’s God’s standard. That is the price of admission to God’s house.
Yet no one can be perfect! We all fail to meet this standard! The Apostle John baldly stated that “if we say we have no sin, we lie, and the truth is not in us.” As Paul says, “All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.” We are “sinful from birth, sinful from when” our mothers conceived us, David says. Jeremiah reminds us that our hearts are “desperately wicked, and deceitful beyond cure.”
How are we supposed to get right with God, then? What if we just stop sinning? What if we do good works to make up for it? That won’t work. Even if we were to somehow straighten up our act, and go forth and sin no more, ever again, we would not be blameless – for we all still have a sinful past. And good works cannot cover our sins, the Bible tells us again and again. God’s holiness and honour require that sin be punished. He cannot and will not tolerate any person standing before Him stained with sin.
Let’s sum up this list. Who can sojourn in God’s tent, and dwell on His holy hill? Only a perfect person can be accepted by God. Only perfect righteousness, a spotless life, will please God.
THE ONLY ONE WHO QUALIFIES
Only one person in human history ever perfectly kept God’s law. Only one man was blameless, did no evil, perfectly loved His neighbor, truly and consistently valued the things of God, whose character was not only beyond any reproach, but never changed – and never changes. What we could not do, Jesus Christ did. He met and exceeded the standard God set. And in doing so, He earned the right to stand before God the Father. And more than that – more than a perfect life and a spotless record – He died the death that we all deserve for our sins. He took the place of sinners on His cross. He was pierced for our transgressions. Crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brings us peace was laid on Him. God the Father laid on His own Son, Jesus Christ, the sins of us all.
Who can sojourn in God’s tent, and dwell on His holy hill? The one who recognizes their failure to do all these things David describes, and realizes that they have no hope of eternal life, of pleasing God, on their own. The only way you can hope to stand before God and not be immediately destroyed is Christ. You must recognize that you are a sinner, and that sin makes you filthy and unacceptable in God’s sight. You must repent of that sin – that means, you must turn away from things that don’t please God. You must abandon all trust in your own efforts to save yourself. The world says, “believe in yourself – you can do it.” The Bible says NO. You can’t. You must give up any lingering hope that you will somehow earn your place before God, that you might be able to impress Him enough to let you off. You must abandon all hope in yourself and hope in what Christ did instead. You must trust in Jesus Christ to be your Saviour, trusting that in His mercy He will keep you safe from God’s wrath. You believe in the spotless life that He lived – trust that this life, this righteousness of His, will be counted as yours by God. And you must put your faith in what He did on His Cross – trusting that your sins were punished completely, all of them, and that therefore no reason remains for God to condemn you to hell.
That’s the Gospel – that’s the good news. That though we could never be blameless, though we could never hope to be worthy of staying in God’s tent or living on His holy hill, Jesus Christ was. And by trusting in Him, we are joined to Christ by faith, and once again have fellowship with God. We may now stand on that hill, in that tent, to praise and glorify God.
If this isn’t you, if you haven’t yet put your faith in Christ for your salvation, don’t wait. Only God knows how long you still have! Cry out to God – ask Him for mercy. God will not wait forever. He will punish sinners.
And for we who have been saved, who do believe and trust in Jesus Christ, here is the challenge: As we read David’s description of a true worshipper, do our lives look like this? Are we really blameless in the way we behave and act? Do we value God’s truth and treat others with love and compassion? And – do we do this consistently? Do we always do this?
If not – why not? We have the Spirit of Christ! God never allows us to be tempted beyond what we can bear! We have no one and nothing to blame for our failure, for we have the Spirit and He enables us to obey. Don’t accept excuses from yourself. Ask God for help, and live like you were born to worship!
WE CANNOT BE SHAKEN!
David closes his psalm with a promise: “He who does these things will never be shaken.” The idea is that such a man, who is blameless, who does what is right, he cannot be moved. He cannot fall, or be dislodged – he is secure, safe and sound.
But again, we fall short of this standard. We don’t do these things David describes. Even those of us who believe find it a struggle to be righteous, and fall short all too often. What about the promise, then? Again – if we can’t meet the standard, then we don’t get the blessing, either, right? But – Christ did. He did all these things. He lived a spotless life! What does that mean, then? Christ can never be moved! Christ cannot be shaken!
What kind of Saviour would He be, if He could? If Christ could be shaken, then how could we trust Him? He might stumble. He might be shaken. He might lose His grip on us. We might lose our salvation. We may fail to be saved, might be lost from Christ’s hand.
But that’s not right! Christ once declared, “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day… I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” Christ cannot be defeated! He cannot be frustrated. He cannot fail to do God’s will! He is God! What kind of God fails?
Christ lived a perfect life, and God promises that a perfect life cannot be shaken. Jesus was perfect – and that is our assurance. That is our security. That is our hope.
And we, who are joined to Him by faith? We will not be shaken, either. We hope in Christ. God is our foundation and our assurance. Nothing in this life, no powers or persecutions or storms or swords, can ever shake us – for Christ holds us in His hand! They can’t shake us, because they can’t shake Him! Death can’t even shake us – because it’s only the door to Christ!
We can’t do it ourselves – and that’s the very reason why we’re safe! What an awesome God! What wonderful salvation! And what amazing grace!
– Jeff Jones