A Study in the Book of Psalms-Lesson One: January 7, 2018 Written by Ben Emerson
Title: Moral Fitness for the New Year
Scripture: Psalm 24
Lesson Goal: To learn what God expects from us and devote this New Year to living for Him.
Introduction: Happy New Year! I hope you are expecting a great 2018. Every new year brings new (or old) resolutions. “This year I am going to lose weight.” “This year I am going to go hiking.” This year I am going to quit watching The Bachelor.”
Question: What are some resolutions you have made for the new year?
Each resolution we usually make is to bring about a better version of ourselves. Which is not always a bad thing. What if this year, along with getting healthy and actually watching entertaining TV shows that do not have the title “The Bachelor or Bachelorette, we decide to get morally fit? What is moral fitness? One defini- tion of fitness is “the quality of being suitable to fulfill a particular role or task.”
Question: What is the moral task or role we should be trying to fulfill?
Psalm 24 says, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters. Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false. He will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God his Savior. Such is the genera- tion of those who seek him, who seek your face, O God of Jacob.”
The question we find in this passage is one of the most important questions we could ever ask. What does God require of me? If God exists (and He does) and Heaven is real (and it is), what do I need to do to get there? This is a question everyone has had, and a question everyone must answer. The danger with the really big questions of life, of course, is that we seldom stop to think about them. We can live our lives at ninety miles an hour without ever stopping to ask if we are going in the right direction. If you get on I-65N thinking you are going to the beach, it does not matter how fast your drive, you will not make it to the beach.
With Psalm 24, God has brought us to a place where we need to stop and think about this ultimate issue of what God expects from us. No other question or concern is more important right now than that great question of where we will spend eternity after we die.
Question: Have you ever designed or created something that you were proud of only to have someone who was not there during the creation process tell you how it should have been done?
Question: How would you feel if that happened?
God has the right to ask what He wants of you and me because He created us. Since He made us, He owns us. Psalm 24 begins:
“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters (verses 1 and 2).
God owns the world and everything in it. He created everything. He designed everything. He knows exactly how it works and its purpose. Personally, you and I belong to God. This is where we start in order to under- stand how to live in God’s world.
Some of use think that God no longer has a claim on our lives. Worse yet, maybe you think He could not pos- sibly want you any longer. Or maybe you have turned away from God and said, “this is my life, I am going to do what I want.”
God created you in His own image, and nothing you can do will ever change that. God made us with a pur- pose. With that in mind, we have to ask what does God want from us.
David asks that very question: “Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place?” (Psalm 24:3).
In other words, who can come before God? What kind of men and women will He admit into His presence in Heaven?
God is a Holy God; He is absolutely pure. Those who come into His presence must be holy and pure also. The scriptures say that “The Lord your God is a consuming fire.” (Deuteronomy 4:24).
What does this mean? If you are at a cookout and spill barbecue sauce on the middle of your white shirt (thank you, Tim McGraw), it will stain. Your shirt is no longer clean. God’s holiness, on the other hand, is active, like fire. What happens when that same barbecue sauce drops off a piece of meat onto the coals? Do the coals get dirty? No, the fire burns up the barbecue sauce.
In the same way, when sin and impurity comes into God’s presence, does God get dirty, like your shirt? No, His holiness consumes sin like fire. Those who come into God’s presence must be holy for their own protec- tion. We must be clean and pure to come before Him, or His holiness will consume us in our sin.
David describes the sort of person who can come before God. “He who has (1) clean hands and (2) a pure heart, who (3) does not lift up his soul to an idol or (4) swear by what is false.” (24:4).
These four qualifications should make us more than a little uncomfortable. First, those who come before God must have clean hands. This speaks of our actions. We cannot come into God’s presence with hands stained by wrong things we have done. Along with clean hands, we must have a pure heart. It is not enough to be clean on the outside; we must be clean inside as well. Our thoughts, intentions, and motives must be pure.
Imagine if people could read your thoughts. What if everything you were thinking were broadcast for every- one to see? Yet God does see each thought that passes through our minds. He knows what we are really thinking. And this holy God who owns us and made us requires that we be pure inside!
The first two qualifications focus on purity, and the third and fourth qualifications focus on truthfulness. We must not lift up our soul to what is false. This has to do with out hearts. The expression “lift up his soul” basi- cally means to trust in something. This is what it means at the beginning of the next Psalm. Psalm 25:1 and 2 says, “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust.” When we “lift up our soul to what is
exaggeration, and yes, outright lying. This includes our spoken words, our written words, our texted words, our emailed words. God requires that those who enter His holy place be truthful.
Question: Where in your life have you trusted in lies? Question: Where in your life have you not been truthful?
When we look at these four qualifications, how do we measure up? Who could dare to say that they do not have the slightest stain of sin on their hands, that their thoughts are always pure, that they have never trusted a lie to protect them, and that they always tell the truth? These qualifications, if we take them seriously, show us that we have a huge problem.
Question: Do you feel qualified to enter Heaven?
If we are believers, we should never allow ourselves to forget our own sinfulness and the fact that we once stood guilty before God. Years ago I read a quote by John Stott that I have never forgotten. He said, “Until we see the cross as something done by us, we will never see it as something done for us.”
I had never thought to pray for a deeper sense of my own sin. But Stott is right. The more we see the depth of our sin, the more we will see the height of God’s love. When we know we have been forgiven much, we will love Him much. Seeing our sin should make us more grateful than ever for the cross.
These are the qualifications for being morally fit to enter Heaven. Can you say that your hands are clean and your heart is pure? God knows and you know that you have sinned. What will you do? You can ignore God’s qualifications today, tomorrow, and until the day you die, but then you will face your Maker, and what will you do? If you are not a believer and you know your sin will keep you from Heaven, you are ready to hear about Jesus Christ.
We read in the Bible that Christ was the only man who has completely lived up to God’s qualifications. Clean hands? The Bible says that Christ committed no sin (Hebrews 4:15).
Pure heart? The Bible says that He was “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
Trust in God? The Bible says He “entrusted Himself to God who judges justly” (1Peter 2:23). Truthful? The Bible says that no deceit was ever found in His mouth (1Peter 2:22).
So Christ alone met these four qualifications. And as our text promises, He received “blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation” (Psalm 24:5). The Resurrection was God’s great vindication of His sinless Son.
The good news for us today is that Jesus Christ did not meet God’s qualifications just for Himself. He came to make you and me qualified to come into God’s holy presence. The Scriptures say, “For our sake God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).
It is encouraging to know that our hope for the future and our moral fitness does not come from anything that we have to try and do, but it comes completely from what Jesus has done for us.