tforward view of what a real man looks like in the eyes of God. Thomas Jefferson famously called this psalm: “The portrait of a good man by the most sublime of poets, for your imitation.” Huzzas all around.
O LORD, who may abide in Thy tent?
Who may dwell on Thy holy hill?
He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness,
And speaks truth in his heart.
It starts by asking a question, and giving a response. Question: Who is the man who will abide with and dwell in the presence of God? Response: it’s the guy who has woven integrity, righteousness, and truth into the fabric of his life. This quality of life is expressed in the walk, works, and speech of the man. Extending this fabric metaphor a little, we see the biblical qualities of godliness are nothing less than an essential organic part of the man, just as each thread of fabric combines with the rest to form the whole. We should never think of these things as additions to our lives, but indispensable and necessary components of our person. The life of a godly man is not what he does, but what he is. These characteristics are the very substance of the man, composing the personality of the individual to such an extent that he has no form of expression or conversation without them. They cease to be choices, and become aspects of personhood itself.
God Himself is understood in much the same way. When we look at the characteristics of God we see that He is just, merciful, holy righteous, loving, and so on. These are not optional distinctives that God is exercising at any given time by choice, these are the core realities of God Almighty. He cannot be known without these characteristics, as they are absolute properties of His existence. However, we have the dubious privilege of being able to choose whether or not to follow good or evil- (this is a consequence of the dietary indiscretion recorded in Genesis 3). Possessing this option, we tend to perceive all moral categories as things that we do out of habit or practicality, and not as qualities of personality. This is a fundamental mistake for the Christian.
To integrate these qualities of moral excellence into our minds is the path that God has called us to pursue. He wants transformed creatures who are renewed from the ground up, not people who exhibit the right behavior on cue. Pavlov’s puppy could be taught to slobber at a bell, but God wants far more than bell-trained heathens. We are called to bear His restored image, to represent Him by our very substance and being. The man who is near to God is not there because of some aspect of locality, he is there because of willful imitation of Christ. Heart determines location, not vice-versa. These things flow downhill with intention at the top and action at the bottom, and God commands us to climb. This is a concept theologians call sanctification, and it is the part of our salvation that we actively participate in every day of our lives as believers.
Religious practice, in and of itself, is ultimately behaviorism; the rote alteration of action through controlling the environment and selective education. It cannot change the heart, only the appearance. Science has gone so far down this behaviorist path that it is now widely believed that education alone can actually cure us of our little “problem”. (The fact that intellectual giants can also be perverted moral midgets has apparently been overlooked.) Moralism argues that man can self-correct by an act of supreme will, and good works alone will render mankind holy and acceptable to God. Secular philosophy has simply surrendered to meaninglessness and crawled into a ditch to die. Humanism claims all moral categories are arbitrary, and dismisses higher moral obligation as a myth. The self-interested practical ethics that arise from this are a conflicted nightmare.
All man’s methods eventually lead to this dead end. Beware of it; its more insidious than you think. Working from the outside by exertions of will, environment, or discipline can, at best, lead only to self-satisfied displays of affected motion, unconnected to any real integrity. At this stage hypocrisy becomes a way of life, and failure is the rancid fruit upon which we will raise our malnourished children.
We can learn much from passages such as this by looking at what this man is not. In these verses, there is no mention of the Law, or of religion, or social reform. The man who abides with God is not there not because he shows up at church four times a week, helps out with the youth group car wash, or painted the pastor’s house. His proximity to the holy hill of God’s tabernacle is not influenced by the amount he puts in the offering, or the fact that he is the head of three different ministries within the church. Never by what he does, but always by who he is.
In a certain sense, we can say that kicking your dog is the same as spitting on the pastor after the sermon. Treating your wife spitefully when no one else is around is the same as abusing her loudly at the church picnic. These things proclaim the character of the man with equal volume before God. We must abolish the idea that a good front is the indicator of anything but our ability to deceive.
Integrity is the key word here, as this Psalm goes on to connect action to thought without any layovers in pretext. For this man, his real disposition is flawlessly articulated in his every action and mood. Our job is not perfect conduct, as this is only the action without the disposition. Our calling is total submission to the transforming Word of God, which empowers both action and intent. Perfect submission is the only way that this righteous expression can occur, because it is completely beyond our own abilities to perform the action in perfect correspondence with the intention. This impossibility is now rendered possible because we have the mind of Christ and the Spirit of God. Our Savior builds within us the renewed mind and transformed heart that yields real integrity of action, with conduct and intent becoming an indivisible singularity within our life.
Jesus, of course, represents this with precision. He stood before a group of His angry critics and said “Which of you accuses Me of sin?” These men, desperate for any excuse to discredit Him, were silenced. May it be that we would silence our critics with equal conviction.
Here we see that Forest Gump had it backwards. Rightly stated, “stupid does as stupid is”. Or, more suited to our purposes (hopefully), godliness does as godliness is. Integrity consists of a man holding truth to his heart first, and then acting accordingly. Thus, the outer man can be in frictionless harmony with the inner man, and also with God’s character.
His words are bonds, his oaths are oracles;
His love sincere, his thoughts immaculate;
His tears pure messengers, sent from his heart;
His heart as far from fraud as heaven from earth.
Rick is on staff at Calvary Chapel Tucson where he also serves as an elder, and writes to keep his rabbits fed. Fortunately they don’t eat much. Favorite pastimes are watching cheesy movies with his patient and understanding wife, and expending ammunition at inanimate objects. He hopes to have his book “So Excellent a King” published soon, an exposition on the kingship of Christ. Rick has been a Christian for almost 30 years, and in that time has developed an acute sense of his own ignorance and Christ’s truly astounding grace. Aside from writing, he is waiting expectantly for that next big break as a roller derby referee or pin monkey at a bowling alley. Pray for him.