Psalm 15: Living Up to God’s Standard

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 neighbour,
    and casts no slur on others;
who despises a vile person
    but honours 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.

– Psalm 15

Psalm 15 is difficult. In October, we saw the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation and Luther’s rediscovery of the gospel of God’s grace. Verses 2–5 sound exactly like the sort of thing that Luther and his contemporaries would have railed against, a works-based righteousness approach to God which maximises human effort and downplays the need for God’s grace. An approach which says you need to do x, y, and z before God accepts you. Luther infamously had little time for the New Testament book of James: I wonder what he would have made of this?

At the very least the Psalm is a reminder that God has certain expectations, that he actually does want us to live in a certain way, that God is not indifferent to the way we treat one another. God accepts us as we are but he doesn’t want us to stay as we are, rather by the presence of his Spirit he wants us to be renewed and transformed, to show the fruit of his Spirit in our lives (Galatians 5:22–23).

The life of those who want to live in God’s presence is a life marked by integrity (v. 4), generosity towards the poor and a concern for justice (v. 5).

Of course, when you try to live that way you will realise quickly enough that you fall way short of those standards. There’s none of us who have perfectly loved God with all our hearts or loved our neighbours as ourselves.

Except there was one. One whose life was blameless, in whom there was no sin (1 Peter 2:22) but just unwavering trust in and obedience to his heavenly Father. By faith we are united to him so that our identity is now ‘in Christ’. He is our righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30), through him we may dwell in the presence of God our heavenly Father forever and begin to live for righteousness even now (1 Peter 2:24).