For the last few weeks I’ve found myself dwelling in the Psalms. I love how this particular book of the Bible stirs my emotions and thoughts for the Lord. My default method in reading the Bible is that of an academic; that is, I read the Bible for proper theology and doctrine, think about what it says philosophically, and marvel over its coherency. However, the Bible is a book about our Lord that teaches us who He is, what He expects, and how we relate to Him. Bearing this in mind, the Bible works on our emotions as much as it does our minds. Nothing reminds me more of this than the book of Psalms. Proper doctrine is excellent, but a proper relationship with our Lord is the goal of Scripture. With this in view, I want to invite you to join me in a meditation upon the first section of Psalm 119.
1 Blessed are those whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the Lord!
2 Blessed are those who keep his testimonies,
who seek him with their whole heart,
3 who also do no wrong,
but walk in his ways!
These first three verses illuminate a significant concept… those who keep the word of God with their whole heart keep themselves from wrongdoing—they live innocently. This is a massive and complex concept. Following the word of God does not make us sinless, but it does keep us from sin. So many Christians question the value of obeying scripture. We forget that obedience from a whole heart to the word of God keeps us from sin. When we avoid sin, we avoid the consequences wrought by sin. Even more, obedience opens the door for God’s lavish blessings to fall upon us (blessed = happy). The psalmist states that obedience brings happiness! Since we all desire happiness—and happiness is found through obedience—we should desire to obey God.
One additional thought (or clarification), obedience to the law cannot remove sin because only Jesus’ atoning work can remove our sin. Obedience to the law of God keeps us from accruing more sin, but present and future obedience cannot pay for or undo past sins. Why? Obedience is required. Meaning, when we obey God we are not “going above and beyond” and somehow living as awesome Christians; instead, obedience is merely doing what was expected from us to begin with. When we sin (disobey God), we infract upon God in such a way that our sin must be judged and punished. Jesus died in our place to pay the penalty of our sins, we obey the Lord to walk in and enjoy the freedom from wrath that Jesus purchased for us.
The Charge and Desire
4 You have commanded your precepts
to be kept diligently.
5 Oh that my ways may be steadfast
in keeping your statutes!
Though there are immense blessings and pleasures found in obeying the Lord, the psalmist does not lose his proper focus that obedience should stem from the reality that God is the sovereign ruler. A subtle shift in our motivation to obey God can have disastrous results. God is king, and as king He alone establishes the laws we follow. We obey because our King has decreed what He expects from us. However, should we obey God primarily because of the blessings we desire, we open ourselves us to a subtle but dangerous deception. How so? When the motivation to obey God stems from a desire to get something from God instead of honoring God, we demonstrate that our heart desires something more than God. When our desire to obey God stems from a proper perspective of God and a desire to honor God, we see that God is our true desire. One pursuit is idolatrous, and one pursuit is worship of God. The psalmist declares that he desires to obey God because God has commanded obedience and honoring God is his heart’s desire.
6 Then I shall not be put to shame,
having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.
When we desire to honor God because He alone is God and worthy of praise, we find that we are without shame. Why? Shame results from doing what you are forbidden to do, or not doing what you are commanded to do. When we obey the word of God, we do what we are supposed to do and do not do what we are forbidden to do. Such behavior keeps us from experiencing shame. Not only is there great happiness (blessings) found in the Lord, there is also a freedom from shame and dread!
The Declared Response
7 I will praise you with an upright heart,
when I learn your righteous rules.
8 I will keep your statutes;
do not utterly forsake me!
With the understanding that obedience produces joy, honors the Lord, and keeps us from shame, the psalmist declares that he will praise God. He praises God because God’s word has worked wondrous blessings within him and created a deeper longing for God. For many Christians, obedience is a detestable and odious thing. On the other hand, the psalmist views obedience as the pinnacle of happiness and as a prompt within his soul to desire more of the presence of God!
Where are you on this spectrum?
Psalm 119 reveals to us the prize of obedience—we are able to request and enjoy the presence of the Lord. Jesus’ obedience brought about our salvation. Our obedience to the Lord allows us to enjoy that salvation.
WHAT IS THE DEPTH OF YOUR EXPERIENCE OF JOY IN CHRIST?