Who not How (Psalm 24)

“The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1).

The God of Israel is the God of all, and His majesty exceeds His domain, for His domain is finite, but His glory infinite. And thus the question,

“Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD?
And who shall stand in his holy place?” (Psalm 24:3).

Does the answer of the psalmist distress you?

“He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false
and does not swear deceitfully” (Psalm 23:4).

What of grace and justification by faith alone? Note that the question is not how, but who—same three letters, very different meanings. The grounds upon which the saints come before the Holy One ever remains Christ and Christ alone. But here we do not have an explanation of how we come before God, but of who comes before God.

The hill of Yahweh is Jerusalem and His holy place is the Tabernacle. God dwelt in the midst of His covenant people who He had redeemed by the blood of the lamb. Before bringing them into the promised land He brought them to Sinai to receive His law so that they might be holy as He is holy. The people of God are a holy people because the God of their salvation is a holy God. The saved are saints. We are not fit for His presence, but He is making us so.

Make no mistake about this, if you would see God, you must be holy. Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:3). Elsewhere we are instructed to “strive…for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). J.C. Ryle warns,

“Most men hope to go to heaven when they die; but few, it may be feared, take the trouble to consider whether they would enjoy heaven if they got there. Heaven is essentially a holy place; its inhabitants are all holy; its occupations are all holy. To be really happy in heaven it is clear and plain that we must be somewhat trained and made ready for heaven while we are on earth.”

He continues,

“The favorite idea of many, that dying men need nothing except absolution and forgiveness of sins to fit them for their great change, is a profound delusion. We need the work of the Holy Spirit as well as the work of Christ; we need renewal of the heart as well as the atoning blood; we need to be sanctified as well as to be justified. …What could an unsanctified man do in heaven, if by any chance he got there? Let that question be fairly looked in the face, and fairly answered. No man can possibly be happy in a place where he is not in his element, and where all around him is not congenial to his tastes, habits, and character. When an eagle is happy in an iron cage, when a sheep is happy in the water, when an owl is happy in the blaze of noonday sun, when a fish is happy on the dry land—then, and not till then, will I admit that the unsanctified man could be happy in heaven.”

God saves none but sinners, but every sinner saved is a saint being sanctified. Sinners who come with open hands, claiming no righteousness of their own, will find those hands cleansed by the God they come to in the blood of the Lamb who is their righteousness.

The August Theologian: Tested by Fire

For as the same fire causes gold to glow brightly, and chaff to smoke ; and under the same flail the straw is beaten small, while the grain is cleansed ; and as the lees are not mixed with the oil, though squeezed out of the vat by the same pressure, so the same violence of affliction proves, purges, clarifies the good, but damns, ruins, exterminates the wicked. And thus it is that in the same affliction the wicked detest God and blaspheme, while the good pray and praise. So material a difference does it make, not what ills are suffered, but what kind of man suffers them. For, stirred up with the same movement, mud exhales a horrible stench, and ointment emits a fragrant odour. —Augustine, The City of God

The August Theologian: Grant What You Command

“My entire hope is exclusively in your very great mercy. Grant what you command, and command what you will. You require continence. A certain writer has said (Wisd. 8: 21): ‘As I knew that no one can be continent except God grants it, and this very thing is part of wisdom, to know whose gift this is.’ By continence we are collected together and brought to the unity from which we disintegrated into multiplicity. He loves you less who together with you loves something which he does not love for your sake. O love, you ever burn and are never extinguished. O charity, my God, set me on fire. You command continence; grant what you command, and command what you will.” —Augustine, Confessions

These because of Those (2 Peter 1:5–11)

“For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love” (2 Peter 1:5–7 ESV).

Before you deal with these, you must remember those. These because of those is a fundamental principle. Before you make every effort, you must see the reason why you should do so, namely, the two grants mentioned in vv. 3–4.

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire (ESV).”

You are not to make every effort to gain the grants; you are to make every effort because you have the grants.

Many churches are thick on command and thin on promise, which means they get neither. If you don’t understand the promises of vv. 3–4, you can carry out the command of vv. 5–7. Paradoxically to some, it is that church that is soft doctrinally that is more about law than grace. Show me a church that is atheological and I will show you one that is anti-promise. To teach the promises of Scripture you must teach doctrine. Doctrines like election, calling, substitution, propitiation, redemption, and covenant are essential to understanding God’s promises. You don’t need any doctrine at all to teach five steps to a better marriage. You don’t even need God’s law. Because we don’t teach God’s promises, we don’t teach God’s law either. We’ve substituted those of man in both instances. Thus it is that we get neither grace nor law.

When God gives His law to His people it comes as grace on top of grace. This means that there must be grace for the law to come on top of. If there is no foundational grace, then the only kind of grace the law conveys is not constructive but destructive as it shows us our need of Christ. But to those redeemed by the blood of the Passover Lamb, God prefaces His law in this way, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:1–3).

Peter is writing to those who stand righteous by faith in Christ (1:1). The Christ in whom they stand has granted them all things that pertain to life and godliness (v. 3). He has granted his great and precious promises through which they partake of the divine nature (v. 4). For the reason of those two grants, we are to make every effort at these virtues. All our effort then is an expression of faith in Christ. Before you make every effort at these virtues, make sure there is a faith to supplement first, faith in the Christ of those promises.

Those Who Have All and Those Who Have Not (2 Peter 1:3–4)

Fill in the blank. 

The pastor announces, “Hey church, Jesus has given us everything we need for ____________!”

So what’s rattling in your noggin? I bet most Evangelicals would have answers related to either evangelism and growth or finances and buildings. Jesus has given us everything we need to be BIG. I think many responses would indicate just how deeply the prosperity heresy has infiltrated the ranks. Of course, she is dressed up as a sexy spy rather than gaudily made up—prosperity soft rather than prosperity over-the-top. That said, how few would answer godliness?

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Peter 2:3–4).

All we need for life and godliness, Christ has granted us by His divine power. If you’re checking the Scriptures for an exchange policy, hoping for some measurable bigness instead, I’m afraid you’ll find you don’t have an authentic receipt. You’ve received no grant from Christ at all. You don’t have to make godliness attractive to the saints.

Still, though the saints rejoice at this promise, godliness remains one of those words we throw around but seldom pause to define. Our text speaks of “life and godliness.” The pairing links them together as one. Godliness is a way of life. Godliness is life. As sin is death, so godliness is life. In this way we see that godliness is akin to holiness and righteousness. It is a way of looking at the same thing from a different angle. 

What particular aspect is brought to the fore by speaking of godliness? The original could be translated as “piety” or “devotion.” The reason godliness is such a good translation is that these are the words used to define what godliness means. Unfortunately, we think of a pious person as one who puts on a show of religious devotion. Though the hypocrite is devoted, it is only to the religion of self. But true piety is godliness—a life devoted to God. The only alternative to piety then is idolatry. Calvin defined true piety in this way: 

“I call ‘piety’ that reverence joined with love of God which the knowledge of his benefits induces. For until men recognize that they owe everything to God, that they are nourished by his fatherly care, that he is the Author of their every good, that they should seek nothing beyond him—they will never yield him willing service. Nay, unless they establish their complete happiness in him, they will never give themselves truly and sincerely to him.”

The verity of Calvin’s definition is born out by this text. True piety is the result of God’s goodness, not the cause of it. This motive distinguishes true piety from false. Godliness is a gift, not an attempt to garner God’s gifts. Here we have gospel-godliness—a godliness that flows from the grace of God in Christ our Savior.

You can never be more devoted to Jesus than Jesus is to you. Any devotion you demonstrate to God is a gift. You can never out give Jesus, for all your giving is a gift. We are like toddlers trying to splash our dad more than he splashes us. Our hands are so tiny and his are so large. God gives oceans and we return thimbles which we have filled from His oceans.

Jesus gives us everything needed for life and godliness. An earthly and benevolent king may desire to give his subjects many things, peace and safety chiefly, but no matter how great his power, he is limited. There are always threats. Jesus divine power grants and there are no threats nor thresholds. A good father may promise a good thing to his daughter that is well within his ability, yet a thousand evil may prevent him still. But the one who gives what is requisite for godliness is God incarnate. Limitless power grants you limitless resources—everything you need for life and godliness.

This promise thrills the saints and outs the ain’ts. If this promise doesn’t thrill you, then the promise of a new heaven and a new earth, everything true and beautiful you are seeking in your prosperity-soft harlot minus the lies, is not for you. As J.C. Ryle so clearly put it:

“Most men hope to go to heaven when they die; but few, it may be feared, take the trouble to consider whether they would enjoy heaven if they got there. Heaven is essentially a holy place; its inhabitants are all holy; its occupations are all holy. To be really happy in heaven, it is clear and plain that we must be somewhat trained and made ready for heaven while we are on earth.”

The Exegetical Systematician: The Law of Growth

“The law of growth applies, therefore, in the realm of the Christian life. God is pleased to work through the process, and to fail to take account of this principle in the sanctification of the people of God is to frustrate both the wisdom and the grace of God. The child who acts as a man is a monstrosity; the man who acts as a child is a tragedy.  If this is true in nature, how much more in Christian Behavior. There are babes in Christ; there are young men, and there are old men. And what monstrosities and tragedies have marred the witness of eh church by failure to take account of the law of growth!” —John Murray, “Progressive Sanctification”

The Fruit of Salvation is Grown in a Community Garden (Colossians 3:12–17)

12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” —Colossians 3:12–13 (ESV)

Growth in Christ, or sanctification, has two parts, mortification and vivification. If mortification is an odd cat, vivification is an extraterrestrial green alien. The word is rare, the reality likewise. To mortify is to kill, to vivify, to enliven.

One reason that vivification is rare is that it requires community. Solo spirituality cannot sanctify. The virtues of Paul’s vivify list all deal with people and they assume people are something to deal with. Just as you must kill the old, know that your brother is doing likewise. He has to deal with you and you with him. If you want to kill the old man, you must do so in community. False spirituality is an individual sport where you get to show your best. The Christian faith is a team sport. We see one another at our best and at our worst, and we admonish and teach one another for the good of the whole.

Too many pick a community where there is no need for this. They don’t really know anyone and they come together on the basis of secondary issues. Hobby churches, instead of carrying a byline like, “est. 2010,” need to be honest and say “dividing the church since 2010.” The unifying factor of the church becomes Jesus plus. Jesus plus bikes. Jesus plus cowboy culture. Jesus plus hipster culture. Jesus plus music preference. Michael Horton warns:

“It is not my church to shape into my image, according to my own cultural preferences, ethnic background, politics, or socioeconomic location. It is Christ’s community—and he is the location that we all share together. He is the demographic niche and the political rallying point of this kingdom. I still belong to other groups based on my cultural affinities, but my family is not something I choose; it is something I am chosen for.”

Get in a church that is centered on Jesus so that it crucifies your flesh, so that you center on Jesus. Get in a place where you have to put on love; a love that has its roots in Christ.

Sanctification is communal. We are not simply to put on the new man, we are to put on the new humanity, a new humanity comprised of Jew and Gentile, black and white, cowboy and biker, hipster and boomer, all because Christ is all and in all (Colossians 3:11).