Psalmody Psunday: Psalm 24


Psalm 24 contains some verses which always depressed me, to tell the truth.  Here they are:

Who may ascend to the hill of the Lord?
And who may stand in His holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood
and has not sworn deceitfully.
He shall receive a blessing from the Lord
and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
(Psalm 24:3-5)

Why should this depress me, you ask? Well, I am obviously not one with clean hands and a pure heart. I have lifted up my soul to falsehood: "Hmm, [influence] must be right…I guess [temptation du jour] is not such a big deal."  
I have sworn deceitfully.  "I promise, I won't do [that sin] again!"
Therefore, what right do I have to stand in the Lord's holy place, or to receive a blessing?

None, of course.  There's nothing to recommend me to God's holy presence, "nothing but the blood of Jesus" as the old gospel song goes.  By Jesus' death, I may claim his righteousness.  I am justified by Him.

But here's the burning question: is that righteousness imputed to me or infused in me?  I grew up in the doctrine that it was imputed and cloaked me, but my essence remained unchanged.  That is, I was still an unworthy wretch and would always be such, but as long as I remained in Christ, I could claim His righteousness as my garment.  I never questioned this idea, although it greatly saddened me.  Wretchedness was always to be my lot in life.  Anything good that I did was clearly not worth anything to God.  How could a wretch please Him?  Even a wretch cloaked in Christ's righteousness is just a well-dressed wretch.

But what if Christ's righteousness is infused into me and begins to transform me from the inside out?  What if it actually starts to make me into a new creation, a la 2 Corinthians 5:17?  What if I, myself, am becoming one who may ascend the hill of the Lord because Jesus is making me able to climb it?  Is it just that he drags me up the hill (or carries me on his back, if you think of it in a kinder, gentler way)?  Or is he teaching me and strengthening me to walk up it myself?

I think the idea of infusion makes sense with the idea that we are meant to grow in Christ's likeness and follow him, carrying our crosses.  And obviously, it is all his grace that strengthens us to grow in virtue and holiness at all.  It's not of ourselves, lest we should boast.

Another thought: when I read this Psalm from the imputation point of view, I understood that the only one with clean hands and a pure heart was Jesus, so only he could ascend to the hill of the Lord.  Well, that's true enough, but then it doesn't seem to hold with verse 5, "He shall receive a blessing from the Lord / and righteousness from the God of his salvation."  God is not the God of Jesus' salvation, because Jesus is the only person who did not need saving.  So it seems that this "he of clean hands and pure heart" is not referring to Jesus, or at least not solely. It seems to be referring to people of clean hands and pure heart.

How could David include himself in that category, I often wondered?  I mean, adultery! Plotting! Murder!  Hotheadedness!  David being a "man after God's own heart" is something I wish to ponder more.  I'd say he must have been one who trusted in God's infusion of transformative grace into his life.

Hmmm, lots to think on.

But in the meantime, here's the other thing that this psalm reminds me of:

We sang this song in my church growing up, but seeing Stephen Colbert dance to it is…well…inspiring.  Of laughter. I do like the song, though, and it is clearly based on Ps. 24.

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  1. So, I cannot thank you enough for leaving comments on my blog today because it led me back to this post. First - I found your reflection really interesting: the "infusion of righteousness" that you wrote about reminds me a lot of the "sanctifying grace" taught about in the Catholic Church. Second - oh my goodness, I had never seen that particular video of Stephen Colbert before, and watching it I laughed harder than I have in quite some time. I may have to excuse myself from church the next time this song is selected for fear of breaking out in an inopportune case of the giggles. Thanks for sharing! - Julia

  2. Thanks, Julia! Having grown up in the Presbyterian church, I didn't know there was any other way to think about righteousness besides imputed righteousness…but the infused idea is directly from my study of Catholicism. And it makes sense to me!

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