Psalm 15 is a temple entrance liturgy. It begins with the twofold question, “O, Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill?”

This is an important question. In other words, the psalmist is asking, “What kind of person is saved?” Put another way still, “What do God’s people look like?” The remainder of Psalm 15 answers that very question and in doing so offers us a sketch of a profile a faithful believer.

The first characteristic of the believer is that he is one who “walks blamelessly and does what is right” (v. 2a). I find this answer is corrective to much of mainstream evangelical theology. There are two things here in this verse that, I believe, correct modern theology.

First, “walk blamelessly” is in tension with bumper sticker theology that says, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” This is dead wrong according to Psalm 15:1 (along with a whole host of other Bible verses).

In concert with Psalm 15:1, Psalm 119:1 says,

Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord! Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, who also do no wrong, but walks in his ways.(emphasis added)

Psalm 119:1

Jesus says, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:20).

Jesus also says, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matt 5:48)

The rhetoric of “I’ll always be a sinner,” and “I sin every day!” Undermines the Scriptures. It also undermines the power of God to make people whole. It’s no wonder that we hear about another sex scandal week after week among prominent church leaders.

I think these sort of statements are born out of a combination of false humility and a desire to hold onto a theology that gives license to have our cake (be saved) and eat it too (not fully abandon the desires of the flesh).

This sort of thinking empties the cross of its power.

Psalm 15:1a, once again, says that the Christian, “walks blamelessly.”

Psalm 15:1b is also in tension with garden variety evangelicalism. It says that the true Christian “does what is right.”

Mainstream evangelicalism is obsessed with salvation by faith through grace alone. This comes directly from Martin Luther’s sola fide (Latin, “faith alone”). Luther’s revelation of salvation through faith alone (rather than faith and works), has, in some cases, resulted in the villanization of good works.

As Protestants, we run when we hear “works”.

Psalm, 15:1b is an important reminder that the true worshippers of God are those who do what is right.

The following quote from Jesus is worth quoting in its entirety:

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

Matt 25:31-46

Jesus sounds Catholic! This text is so utterly clear. When we are conditioned to run from any teaching that smacks of works righteousness, we’re running from the very words of Jesus.

Eighteenth century theologian John Wesley had a lot of good things to say about works. Wesley fully believed in salvation by grace through faith alone. He also saw that in order to remain centered in the teachings of Jesus, works must be a part of the soteriological paradigm. As such, Wesley talked about works of mercy as a key component to the healthy and whole Christian life.

For Wesley, works of mercy meant visiting the sick, visiting those in prison, feeding the hungry, and giving generously to the needs of others, seeking justice, ending oppression and discrimination and addressing the needs of the poor.

These activities, Wesley believed, should remain the focus of the life and ministry of church.[1]

The bottom line is that works are crucially important. If mainstream evangelicals today took Psalm 15 and Matthew 25 seriously, and if preachers were faithful to the message of the text, I can’t help but think that there would be a lot more Christians out there making a difference in the world. In the words of Jesus, your final judgment depends on it!

[1] Even John Calvin talked about the importance of works. John Calvin pointed out the importance of the word “alone” in the matter. It is by faith alone that people are saved, not by faith and works. I agree with this, but cautiously. My caution does not come from this idea alone, its comes with what Calvin says after this. After this, Calvin says that the doctrine of faith alone “takes away from (works) the power of conferring righteousness, because they cannot stand before the tribunal of God.”(Calvin’s commentary on James 2:25)

The problem I have with this statement is that it seems to clearly contradict the image of the tribunal of God that Jesus talks about in the above passage. The situation that Jesus describes is exactly the tribunal of God and in that case works stands before the tribunal as a basis of judgment! In light of this, I would be more comfortable if Calvin said, “because they alone cannot stand before the tribunal of God.” Adding the phrase “alone” would put Calvin’s statement more in-step with Jesus’s teaching.

Matt Ayars

President of Wesley Biblical Seminary

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