Who may live on your holy mountain?
The one whose walk is blameless,
who does what is righteous,
who speaks the truth from their heart;
whose tongue utters no slander,
who does no wrong to a neighbor,
and casts no slur on others;
who despises a vile person
but honors those who fear the LORD;
who keeps an oath even when it hurts,
and does not change their mind;
who lends money to the poor without interest;
who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.
Whoever does these things will never be shaken.
(Psalm 15:1-5 NIV)
Have you ever felt completely out of your league? I remember the first time I auditioned for Regional Band as a High School trumpet player. It was my freshman year. I walked through the doors of an enormous school, completely foreign to me. I checked in, took my number, and wandered to the warm-up room. It’s not like I wasn’t prepared. I knew all my scales. I could play the audition piece by heart. Sight reading was scary, but my instructor gave me some pointers. As I removed my horn from its case, I heard other players warming up their instruments. They ran through scales with precision. They performed the same piece of music I had memorized, but it sounded crisp and confident. One player showed off his range, his notes climbing above the staff and off the page. It wouldn’t have surprised me to have looked up and seen Doc Severinsen standing in the corner. I didn’t look up. I wanted to act as if I were unphased by what seemed like virtuosos all over the room. It was too late. Before I could get one breath into my instrument, I was already defeated.
In Psalm 15, David asks, “Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain?” His answer puts me right back in the warm-up room. “The one whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from their heart…” By the time he comes to the end of the list, nobody is left. The psalm could be much shorter. “Who belongs in God’s presence? Nobody!”
If Psalm 15 is the checklist by which we enter God’s presence, we are all doomed. Are you blameless? Are you righteous? Are you truthful? Do you always respect others, especially the godly? Do you always keep promises? Do you sacrifice to help the needy? If you can honestly answer yes to all of these questions, you are unshakable. You are impeccable. You belong in God’s presence! Either that or you are lying. Let’s face it. We don’t belong in God’s presence. He’s way out of our league. If He’s in the majors, we’re still in tee-ball.
But this is just Old Testament stuff, right? God doesn’t expect perfection anymore. Otherwise, how can anyone anticipate heaven? I hate to burst your bubble, but the New Testament writers must have studied David’s hymns. They agree. Paul writes, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23 NIV). Jesus Himself says, “Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21 NIV) Truthfully, none of us belong in God’s presence. Our sin disqualifies us. No amount of practice will ever make us good enough to blow our horn in the same room.
This is where Jesus steps in. Born of a virgin, sin is not organic to Him. He checks all of the boxes of Psalm 15. He passes the test of temptation. He lives and breathes blamelessness, righteousness, truthfulness and sacrifice. Though walking here in this world, He never fully leaves the presence of God. Jesus dwells in God’s sacred tent. He strides into the audition room with quiet confidence, knowing He belongs. He plays a song of sacrifice, pleasing to the Father. There is no other in His league. His performance is spotless.
What good does Jesus’ righteousness do for you, though? This is where the good news gets personal. Even though you don’t have what it takes to pass the Psalm 15 test, there is still a way to enter God’s presence. Jesus is the way. He says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6 NIV) What if it were possible to come into God’s presence not in our own righteousness, but in the righteousness of Jesus? Well, that is actually the only way any sinner will ever enter God’s tent. Paul describes his salvation by saying, “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ-- the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.” (Philippians 3:9 NIV) Rather than fall in our unrighteousness, by faith in Jesus we can stand in his righteousness. When Jesus stands in for us, we pass the Psalm 15 test. We are unshakable. We are impeccable. We rest in the assurance that, in Christ, God’s presence is our home. In retrospect, the psalm might be expanded to say, ““Who belongs in God’s presence? Jesus does, with all who believe in Him.”
Do you belong in God’s presence? Can you boldly enter the warm-up room, knowing you cannot fail? The good news is that anyone who turns away from their sin and trusts in the crucified and risen Jesus Christ is welcome in God’s presence as His child. You can read Psalm 15 with appreciation for what Christ has done for you rather than fear of what you can never achieve. Trust in Jesus and rest in God’s presence.
For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God's presence. (Hebrews 9:24 NIV)