Justification by Faith in the Psalms
The Lord has been showing me how the doctrine of justification by faith is present throughout the book of Psalms. Repeatedly, the psalmists identify the “righteous” as those who have taken refuge in the Lord, who place their trust and hope in him, who look to him for deliverance and cry out for mercy so that the Lord may not condemn them. Even in the psalms where the author is championing his innocence and detailing his righteousness and faithfulness to the Lord, there is often a request for the Lord to redeem his life or to withhold condemnation, meaning that the authors are emphatically NOT asserting their perfection in keeping the law or appealing to God to give them favor that is rightfully theirs as “righteous” people. Even the psalmists who say they have kept their hands clean recognize that they need to have their hearts cleansed.
But let all who take refuge in you rejoice;
let them ever sing for joy,
and spread your protection over them,
that those who love your name may exult in you.
For you bless the righteous, O Lord;
you cover him with favor as with a shield. (Ps. 5:11-12)
Notice how the “righteous” in this psalm are “all who take refuge in you”. The Lord covers the righteous with favor because they take refuge in him. The fact that they run to the Lord for mercy and refuge is the reason why they can be counted righteous.
Many are the sorrows of the wicked,
but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord.
Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous,
and shout for joy, all you upright in heart! (Ps. 32:10-11)
The one who trusts in the Lord is contrasted with the wicked. The one who trusts in God and takes refuge in him is called “righteous” and “upright of heart”.
The Lord redeems the life of his servants;
none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned. (Ps. 34:22)
The ones who take refuge in the Lord have no fear of condemnation. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18).
Oh, continue your steadfast love to those who know you,
and your righteousness to the upright of heart! (Ps. 36:10)
Those who know the Lord (in other words, they have been reconciled to him through repentance and faith) are considered “the upright of heart”.
The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord;
he is their stronghold in the time of trouble.
The Lord helps them and delivers them;
he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
because they take refuge in him. (Ps. 37:39-40)
Again, the “righteous” are counted as such precisely because they take refuge in the Lord.
The doctrine of justification by faith – the truth that men and women are counted as “good” and “righteous” before God not because of what they themselves have done, but because they trust in the power of Jesus Christ, the righteous One, to give them a righteous standing before God in spite of their sin and wickedness – is definitely present in the Psalms, and throughout the rest of the Old Testament. That’s why Paul can say that the gospel was preached beforehand to Abraham (Gal. 2:8), because it has always been God’s way to justify his people (whether Jew or Gentile) by faith. When Abraham believed the promise of God, his faith was counted to him as righteousness (Gen. 15:6). Abraham trusted in the Lord, and therefore was considered righteous and upright in heart (Ps. 32:10-11). And all who share the faith of Abraham, who are fully convinced that God is able to do what he has promised, will share in the righteousness of Christ. “For our sake, he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Praise God for his gift of righteousness to those who humble themselves before him, and HIDE in him, taking refuge from the wrath of God in the mercy of God, which is made possible by and extended to us in Christ!
Lord, help me to hide myself in you! And then, with the confidence that comes from knowing that you accept me in Christ, let me venture out from under your shelter once again to plead with the guilty to come to you for rest and pardon and forgiveness and mercy!
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