Clean Hands and a Pure Heart

This is the title of Phil Johnson’s first talk at this year’s PCRT conference. His text was Psalm 24:3-6:
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.Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob.
This was a very well-organized talk that took us all the way back to the same question in 1 Sam. 6:20: “Who is able to stand before the Lord?” Johnson spoke about how this Psalm is the third in a messianic Psalm trilogy, and that it was most likely written for the event recorded in 2 Sam. 6, where David is bringing the ark of God to the City of David, leading worship, and asking these responsive questions. Of course we know that “only the righteous are qualified to stand before God and worship.” But if you read 2 Sam. 6, you will see that this truth was magnified for David when their first attempt to return the ark didn’t go as he envisioned. Johnson’s first point was about this hard lesson: “a lesson about true worship.” In verse three we see that David and his men brought the arc up on a new cart. Sounds good enough, that is, if God hadn’t made specific commands about how the arc was to be moved (see Exod. 25:12-14 for one example). We are not to worship according to what sounds good to us, but according to truth. And Johnson reminds us that “God is not to be trifled with.” Even when we have reference to David and the Israelite’s celebratory music being played before the Lord in v. 5, it isn’t offered in proper worship. And so we were challenged by Johnson not to have a playful approach to worship (James 4:8). As Johnson expounded on this, I wrote down a thought: True joy is not casual. As I was listening to him develop his message from Ps. 24:4, that “we are to be pure both within and without,” how this covers our “deeds, hearts, desires, and words,” and that “whatever we lift up our souls to we are worshipping,” I thought about how true joy is premeditated, intentional, and filled with particular expectation. God has set the path of joy before us, and yet, as Johnson pointed out, it is “an impossibly high standard.” True joy is an impossibly high standard. But we do not despair, because Johnson’s second point is that our passage is a reminder for our need of Christ. This brings us back to the same question of who is worthy, as well as the passage that Derek Thomas opened the conference with: Rev. 5. Christ alone is worthy, praise God! And like a good pastor, Johnson proclaimed that “only those united in him, cleansed and washed by his blood,” are qualified. This reminds me of the great metaphor in Hebrews 12 of running the race for the prize. Christ is the prize, and he has gone before us. Since he had the fitness to endure, we have been qualified to be in the race that is the Christian life. We can now fight to the end as we know that our forerunner is at the right hand of the Father interceding on our behalf. Which leads to the last point. In this Psalm we have a “promise of justification for needy sinners.” After the death of Uzzah, and a response from David with godly fear, the second attempt to bring the ark to the City of David is transported the way God had already commanded. And now, we have a picture of David wearing a linen ephod, making sacrifices to the Lord, and then that joyful celebration of dancing and the sound of the trumpet. Expectation, premeditation, intention… true joy! Of course, it is God who has set the expectation, predestined to fulfill it perfectly in Christ, and now we can be intentional in living a holy life before him thanks to Christ’s work and his Holy Spirit. Johnson encouraged us that, “wherever you find a true worshipper, you find someone who has been justified by faith.” When we come to him in faith, we are declared righteous. Christ’s righteousness is imputed on his people, and our sin was accounted to him on the cross as he bore its curse. Johnson reminded us of the words of James, “Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you” (4:10). And he closed with the last verse of our passage saying, “This justification by faith is the mark of Jacob, the true Israel of God.”   *You can find the audio for this session as well as the others for download here. There will be a "best of" collection coming out soon.