“Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false
and does not swear deceitfully.
He will receive blessing from the Lord
and righteousness from the God of his salvation.”
When I was a new believer, I read scriptures like Psalm 24 in the Bible and saw a prescription for how to be certain I would be found to be a “sheep” when Christ returns (read (Matthew 25:31-46). I even made a checklist on a whiteboard and listed ways I could fulfill Matthew 25:35-36 in practical ways, just to make sure I was “in.”
Unbeknownst to me, I was becoming a legalist.
Alive in Christ, I was living as though I were still dead.
Merriam-Webster defines legalism as “strict, literal, or excessive conformity to the law or to a religious or moral code // the institutionalized legalism that restricts free choice.”
Legalism is what the Pharisees lived, and what they taught. But it is a dead way of life, both now and eternally.
Jesus said of the Pharisees,
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful,
but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.”
In His goodness, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit at work in me — and through the faithful ministry of local church leaders and teachers — God healed me of the spiritual cancer of legalism. Over time, I grew to understand and know that Christ is my righteousness by virtue of God’s grace and my faith.
Now when I read scriptures like Psalm 24:4, I don’t see a prescription, but an illustration of what a follower of Christ looks like and becomes as she is transformed into His likeness.
The transformation from sinner to saint begins with a humble heart, washed clean by the blood of Christ when we place our complete faith in Him and in His death for our sins — the final, once-for-all-time sacrifice required by God. In that moment, we are “born again,” made a “new creation.”
From that moment of new birth on, we become acutely aware of our sin in a profound way, especially when we read the word of God with a sincere heart, allowing our minds to be renewed:
“For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword,
and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow,
and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
Today when I read Psalm 24, I see four things:
- The truth of who I am in Christ
- The reality of the flesh I still war against
- The evidence of God’s sanctifying work in me
- The reflection of Christ I want to be in my person
How can I become more like Christ? How can I become more like my Savior?
One of the graces God provides for our sanctification is faithful participation in the body life of a local Christian assembly or church.
Hebrews 10:19-27 is not only an illustration of who we are in Christ, but a command and a warning:
“Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.
“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.”
If I had set out upon the Christian life alone, with just my Bible and the Holy Spirit, who knows how lifeless, depressing and exhausting my relationship with God would be today? My life would be a shell of the transformed life I live in Christ today.
I am so grateful to God for the ministry of the Bible-believing local churches I have been a part of, and for the faithfulness of the men and women He has given me over the years to not only lead me to Christ, but teach me how to walk with Him, and encourage me on my journey.
If you are not part of a local church faithfully teaching God’s word, let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best to provide resources for you to find one.
Joyful in Hope,
Questions to consider:
- When you stand before God one day to be judged according to His holy standards — and no one else’s — whose righteousness will you rely on as your defense?
- How can you know for certain Christ’s righteousness is yours and you are not deceived?
- Do you see clear evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in you today? If not, do you know what to do?
Your answer to these questions have eternal significance and consequence.