Theme: The Question of the Psalm
In this week’s lessons we look at the six characteristics David gives to describe someone of whom God approves.
Scripture: Psalm 15:1-5
About the time I was preparing a study of this psalm I also preached on Romans 8:4, pointing out that the end for which God saves us is not merely that we might escape from hell but that we might live righteous lives. The words of the text said that God condemned sin in Christ “in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.”
Shortly after preaching that sermon I received a note from someone, asking, “What is this righteous requirement of the law we are to meet? What exactly is required of us?” It was a good question, and I answered it as you might expect. The law is the law given to us in the Old Testament, and the righteous requirements of the law are what we normally call the moral law. The moral law is summarized in the Ten Commandments, as interpreted by the rest of the Bible, and the best summary of the moral law is by Jesus, who spoke of it in terms of the first and second great commandments. The first is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” And the second one is, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:37, 38; see Deut. 6:5 and Lev. 19:18). This is the standard to which God is leading his people. What God wants for us is that we might be like Jesus Christ.
This is the question David was also asking when he composed the fifteenth psalm: “LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill” (v. 1)? That is, what is the character of the person God approves? Or, as we could also say, how must we live to enjoy the fullness of fellowship with God?
The outline of the psalm is simple. David first asks this question in verse 1. Then he provides a series of representative answers.1
However, we have to understand a few things before we begin. First, this is a question about godly living and not a question about justification. The two are related, of course, but they are not the same question. If we ask, “How can a man or woman become right with God?” there is only one answer. It is by faith in Jesus Christ as one’s own personal Lord and Savior. The Old Testament saints looked forward to his coming, while we look back. But if we ask, “What is the character of the man or woman God approves?” the answer involves the moral law. The justified person is not made right with God by keeping the moral law; it is by the work of Christ. But if he has been justified, he will necessarily begin to keep it, moving increasingly in this direction. This is because there is never any justification apart from regeneration, and regeneration means that the Spirit of God is at work in us to bring us into increasing conformity to the character of Christ.
The second thing we need to understand is what I hinted at earlier when I said that David responds to the question of verse 1 with representative answers. This means that the items listed in verses 2-5 here are not all-inclusive. One way we know this is to compare this list with the lists provided to almost identical questions in Psalm 24:3, 4 and Isaiah 33:14-17. Psalm 24 asks, “Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place?” It answers, “He who has clean hands and a pure heart” and does not serve idols. There is some overlap with Psalm 15, but the points are not identical. In a similar way, Isaiah 33 asks, “Who of us can dwell with the consuming fire? Who of us can dwell with everlasting burning?” It replies: “He who walks righteously and speaks what is right, who rejects gain from extortion and keeps his hand from accepting bribes, who stops his ears against plots of murder and shuts his eyes against contemplating evil” (vv. 14, 15). Again, the parallels are close, but the specifics vary. Each passage supplies a representative list of character traits to work on.
Study Questions:

What is the moral law, and how does Jesus summarize it?
What is the difference between justification and godly living? How are they related?

Application: As we prepare to look at the six characteristics of upright character that David lists, read Galatians 5:22-23. In what ways do you need to improve upon any of them?
For Further Study: Justification by faith in Jesus Christ and holiness cannot be separated. But what does that mean for Old Testament saints? Download and listen for free to James Boice’s message, “Faith Credited as Righteousness.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)
1The question and answer structure of Psalm 15 has in recent years led some commentators to identify it as “entrance liturgy,” referring to what is imagined to have happened when a worshiper approached the temple. He was to have asked the priest, “Who may dwell in the sanctuary?” and to have received the answer contained in verses 2-5. No doubt, the psalm could have been used in this way from time to time, just as we might use it in the same way in a liturgical church setting today. But like so much modern work on the psalms, the supposition of such a common liturgical use is mere speculation. The Old Testament has no narrative suggestions of such procedure, and there are even elements in the psalm which are against it, most notably the fact that it is addressed to the “LORD” (v. 1) and not a priest. There is no reason why the psalm should have been used any differently in Israel’s worship than our own (cf. Peter C. Craigie, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 19, Psalms 1-50 (Waco, TX: Word, 1983), p. 150; and H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969), p. 146.

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