Commonplace Holiness Holiness woven into the fabric of life...

A Perfect Walk – Psalm 15:2

Hebrew_bible_4We are invited into a life in the presence of God. By the grace of God we are enabled to live lives pleasing to God. This is what we read in Psalm 15:1.

Eugene Peterson paraphrases Psalm 15:1 this way:

“GOD, who gets invited to dinner at your place? How do we get on your guest list?”

Or we might state it this way:

Lord God, what is it like to be the kind of person who is fit to live in Your Presence from day to day?

Verse 2 gives us the response to this question:

Psalms 15:2
הוֹלֵךְ תָּמִים וּפֹעֵל צֶדֶק וְדֹבֵר אֱמֶת בִּלְבָבוֹ
“Those who walk perfectly, and do what is right, and speak the truth in their heart….”

I provided my own translation above, because the language is strong: “walk perfectly.” The word תָּמִים (tāmiym) occurs frequently in the Old Testament. One source I consulted says it occurs 85 times in the Old Testament. It refers to the sacrificial lamb that is “without blemish.” It has been variously translated: “without blemish”, “perfect” “complete” “finished” “blameless.” The translators of the Septuagint (the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) generally translated this word by the Greek word τέλειος, also meaning “perfect” or complete. τέλειος is the word used in Jesus’ command in Matthew 5:48 “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (NRSV) (ἔσεσθε οὖν ὑμεῖς τέλειοι ὡς ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ὁ οὐράνιος τέλειός ἐστιν.)

This is the call to Christian perfection. The Bible raises this call throughout its pages. But, it is not “perfection” in an absolute sense — however strange that may sound. It is “perfection” in the sense of a heart wholly devoted to God.

Our common ways of thinking make this call heard to hear. It is our reliance on Platonic conceptions of ideal perfection that causes us to draw back. Nobody’s perfect, we say. Well, yes, in a sense. But, an ideal, unachievable perfection is impossible by definition. The Old Testament writers did not have the problem that we do with words like “righteous” or “perfect.” We have become infected with some sort of Platonism in which such “perfection” is unachievable by definition. The Bible speaks to what can be achieved and experienced.

Conservative-Evangelicals-Misunderstood-MillennialsAnd, too often the Church’s “Gospel” has become something like this: God demands of us an unachievable standard of righteousness. No one can live up to it. God is so mad at us because we cannot live up to this impossible standard of righteousness that he wants to send us all to Hell. But, Jesus came and fulfilled the impossible standard of righteousness (try not to think about this part too much), and went to the Cross. Then God could vent His righteous anger on Christ instead of us so that we could be forgiven. All that is required is intellectual assent, and a person is forgiven. (Some churches teach that the person is forgiven for sins past, present, and future: suggesting that the believer has free license to sin from that point on.) We are just as Hell-deserving as before, but God now looks at Christ’s perfect righteousness instead of our sinful rottenness. They “say: Christians aren’t perfect they’re just forgiven.” (There is no part of that sort of “Gospel” with which I agree.)

It’s no wonder skeptics see Christians as people who condemn the world for their various sins, while making excuses for their own!

All too often, they do!

What kind of a Gospel is that? No kind!

And, anyway: the Biblical writers don’t seem to have been operating with this notion of an unachievable standard of righteousness at all! The Biblical language is relational, not philosophical. The Bible routinely speaks of “the righteous” — that is, people who live with an eye to God and God’s command. It is clear: they believed such people existed.

If we consistently translated תָּמִים (tāmiym) as “perfect” we would find the standard of perfection mentioned frequently in the Old Testament. Genesis 6:9: “Noah was a righteous man, perfect in his generation; Noah walked with God.” Genesis 17:1: “When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be perfect.'” Deuteronomy 18:13: “You must be perfect before the Lord your God.” In 2 Samuel 22:21-25 David says: “The Lord rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he recompensed me. For I have kept the ways of the Lord, and have not wickedly departed from my God. For all his ordinances were before me, and from his statutes I did not turn aside. I was perfect before him, and I kept myself from guilt. Therefore the Lord has recompensed me according to my righteousness, according to my cleanness in his sight.” Psalms 18:32: “It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect.” Psalms 37:18: “The days of the perfect are known to the Lord, and their inheritance will endure forever.” Psalms 84:11: “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is perfect.” Psalms 119:1: “Blessed are they whose ways are perfect, who walk according to the law of the Lord.”

This is just a small sampling. The word is used commonly. Sometimes it is used to describe the quality of the animals to be offered in sacrifice: “without blemish.” Sometimes it is used of God and God’s ways. “As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the Lord is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him.” (Psalms 18:30 NIV)

And it is in this context we must understand Jesus’ command in Matthew 5:48: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (See also my comments on this here: On Peace, Love and Perfection.)

Jesus speaks of the same “perfection” the Old Testament writers wrote about: not a static and absolute perfection, not a theoretical perfection: but, a lived-out devotion to God and to God’s purposes.

images

And, then, Psalm 15:2 reminds us: this is a life of honestyThose who walk perfectly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart….”

This probably should be translated: “speak the truth in their heart.” Inner honesty is what God desires. This is the essence of personal integrity.

Good liars lie first to themselves. The deceit is internal before it becomes external. The liar is the first victim of the lie.

A life with God includes a commitment to honesty and integrity. Thus, the Bible often emphasizes truth and truthfulness. “You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.” (Psalms 51:6 NRSV).

Confession of sin is a basic exercise in truth-telling. We tell the truth about ourselves to God and to ourselves. Our rationalizations and excuses end. “Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.” (Psalms 51:4 NRSV).

The prayer of our heart is; “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalms 139:23,24 NRSV).

 

Lord God,
I do not want the character of my life to grieve or harm the cause of Your Kingdom in this world.
I offer myself to you.
I make no excuses.
Hear my prayer.
Empower me.
Fill me anew with your Holy Spirit,
that my desires and actions would glorify You.
And as I walk through life,
we would walk together
with one heart and will.
Through Jesus Christ,
Amen.

 

Comments (6) | Trackback

6 Responses to “A Perfect Walk – Psalm 15:2”

  1. Ross says:

    I have never noticed how many references there are to perfection in the OT. I disagree with your use of OT references and teaching for the Christian life. Perfection is a whole new experience in the New Testament.Your references really apply to some one living an OT life or a life of one who has not discovered New Testament living. Obviously the OT can still speak to us but I think we have to careful with its’ use lest we promote a ‘I am trying to get there ‘ Christianity which is not New Testament Christianity. Promoting OT living only adds to the lack of understanding of New Testament living which is wide spread in the body of Christ. I think you will agree with me that Paul(for example) would never have talked to God about the evil in his heart and the fact that he had sinned(in daily life)or asked for the revealing of any wicked way in him. Neither do I think that he would have bothered to ask for guidance in the way everlasting..He said, ‘I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus’. I think these things are very important when we still have believers asking God to come into the ‘dark places of their lives.’ and believing that Holiness is impossible in this life and looking forward to it in the next life ( as I recently read in a widely followed Christian blog) How many Christians could give testimony to Titus’ statement,, ‘To the pure in heart all things are pure ‘?

    • Both justification by faith and “perfection” can be found in the Old Testament. According to the book of Romans, the apostle Paul found justification by faith in the story of Abraham! It is a gross misconception to suppose that the Old Testament teaches a religion of works, and the New Testament a religion of grace and faith. Grace and faith are the great themes of the whole Bible. First, Israel was delivered from bondage. Only after that did they receive the Law. Jesus came to bring fulfillment to the law and the prophets, but not to overturn or downgrade them. I think it is unfortunate that so many Christians run down the Old Testament in an effort (apparently) to exalt the New. In fact, the New is build upon the foundation of the Old. In the Psalms especially notice how words like “righteous” and “righteousness” and “perfect” (as explained above) are used. There is a lot of Gospel in the Psalms — and in much of the Old Testament, generally. Remember the Old Testament was the early Church’s Bible — and the New Testament writings that emerged from it are best understood in light of it. I remember reading somewhere that Martin Luther’s studies in the Psalms prepared the way for his recovery, in his studies of the book of Romans, of the doctrine of justification by faith. And, the idea of living with a heart wholly devoted to God is as present in the Old Testament — as it is in the New. Genesis 17:1- “When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be perfect (תָּמִים).” Most of the modern translations use the word “blameless” in this passage — and I understand that — but it is the same word I have mentioned above. I think you need to take a new look at the Old Testament — to see it as the early Church would have — as a book that points us to Christ.

      One big difference in the New Testament era is the coming of Christ — who becomes for us the key that unlocks the whole Bible. And, the other big difference is Pentecost. Now the Spirit has been poured out “on all flesh.” The Spirit was at work in the lives of people in Old Testament times, but not with the scope or depth with which the Spirit is at work since Christ’s ascension. I think the early Church saw itself as a company of people who were literally in-Spired — as the Old Testament prophets had been. 1 Corinthians 12:7- “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

      • Ross says:

        Craig….you seem to have missed my point. My only reason for being on the Net is to teach believers Holiness,( or the new life in Christ if you like) There has never been another time in Human history when Human beings can have a pure heart and the enormity of experience with God that goes with it. Your Mr Upham and Mr Steele reveal that they thought the same way. To be honest, Theological discussions hold very little interest for me. I am about being radically available to God so that ordinary believers have the chance to find that awesome experience of relationship with God in Holiness.For me nothing else matters much, with the exception of the general populations desperate need to be saved. My point was that people are not going to get light about Holiness if we mix our teaching with the sort of stuff that is already keeping them away from it. The phrase. ‘without Holiness no man shall see the Lord ‘seems to me to convey the importance of our teaching…God bless you.

        • Well, keep on keeping on, Ross. Speaking for myself I am fascinated by theological issues and issues of Biblical interpretation. (And, yes, that can definitely be a failing.) For many years I have felt that Christians have exaggerated discontinuity between the Testaments — and, thus, misunderstood both. I appreciate writers like N. T. Wright and many others (for example the advocates of the New Perspective on Paul) who are bringing a needed correction on this issue. When I first read the entire Bible all the way through —as a young college student, long ago — I was struck by how much of the Gospel was already present in the Old Testament. Jesus came to fulfill not strike down.

      • Ross says:

        I forgot to tick the comment box

  2. […] In the book of Genesis we read: “When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless [תָּמִים (tāmiym) = "without defect, blameless, perfect"]“. (Genesis 17:1 NRSV.) This is the invitation — at every stage of life: a perfect walk with God. […]

Leave a Reply