Living in the Presence of God

Guided by a Sovereign God  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  46:40
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Psalm 15:1-5
In Psa 14, we learned how foolish and senseless it is to deny that God exists and that he reigns with all authority over our lives. Along the way, we learned that the way we treat other people reveals the depth of our relationship with God – that if we believe that God exists and has all authority over our lives, then we will treat other people well, but if we don’t believe these things about God, then we’ll treat people badly. This was not the main focus or message of that Psa 14, but it is very much the focus of the next psalm, Psa 15.
A Psalm of David
From this brief opening line, we see this is a psalm – a poetic song. As such, it was written for people to remember, repeat, and reflect upon frequently so that it’s truth would encourage greater devotion to God in the thoughts, feelings, and actions of his people. Since this is shorter psalm, I would encourage you to memorize it and think about it often.
We also see that this psalm was written by David. From this we can learn the value of anyone meditating upon God’s truth. No person, not even a powerful political leader, is above or beyond following God. Here we see a king who is pursuing favor with God more than his own personal pleasures or the favor of his peers and followers. Does your life reveal the same priority – pleasing God more than anyone else?
In this short Psalm, David asks a question in Psa 15:1, which he then answers in Psa 15:2-7a, and then follows up with a conclusion in Psa 15:7b. From these thoughts, we’ll learn that people who can approach God with confidence are those who live with integrity towards God and people.
By integrity I mean someone who lives according to good principles – the kind of behavior, choices, and ethics which reflect the good character of God. Such a person treats both God and other people properly, even if doing so is inconvenient or hurtful to himself.
Since the Word of God is like a mirror that shows us what we’re like, let’s take a close look at the mirror to see whether we need to change and how we need to change.
Since the Word of God is like a sword that helps us better understand our thoughts and behavior, let’s let this psalm penetrate our hearts to reveal the change we need.

Only certain people may approach God’s presence with confidence.

Yahweh, who may sojourn in your tabernacle –
who may dwell on your holy hill?
David does not use any general names or titles for God here but refers to him twice only by his personal name. This indicates a personal familiarity with and close relationship with God – so the question being asked is not necessarily of all people but of all who profess to be followers of Yahweh. The question here is not “who is a believer” but rather which or how believers may enjoy a close, confident relationship with God rather than a distant, doubtful, or hesitant one. James Montgomery Boice makes this clear when he says:
“This is a question about godly living and not a question about justification. The two are related, of course, but they are not the same. If we ask, “How can a man or woman become right with God?” there is only one answer: It is by faith in Jesus Christ as one’s own personal Lord and Savior. The Old Testament saints looked forward to his coming; we look back. But if we ask, “What is the character of the woman or man God approves?” the answer clearly involves the moral law. The justified person is not made right with God by keeping the moral law. Justification is by the work of Christ. But if a person has really been justified, he or she will necessarily begin to keep it, moving increasingly in this direction.”[1]
If you could choose to go anywhere in the world today, where would you like to go, be, or live? What is a building, structure, site, or geographic location you’d like to visit sometime, and what would it take for you to get there? Would you need an airline ticket, admission ticket, passport, or special endorsement? Could you afford to purchase the things you need? Once you get there, how long could you stay or how frequently could you return?
Wealthy, powerful people, like King David, can go many places that many other people are unable to go, such as exotic resort destinations, exclusive clubs, VIP access sites, and more. Such people can build their own destinations, too – constructing large, opulent mansions, yachts, and properties to live in just for themselves. Yet where did King David want to go? Where did he want to be? David wanted to be where God was. Do you?
“Your tabernacle” refers to the temporary, moveable structure (lit. “tent”) in which the Israelites worshiped God both in the wilderness and during their early years in Canaan up through the reign of King David.
Sojourn also conveys the temporary, transitory actions of a person who visits somewhere as a tourist or guest, with the focus being that person’s ability or right to access or be welcomed into that place, which in this case was the tabernacle. This resembles how the tabernacle was moved throughout the wilderness and even during David’s reign.
We could frame the question as, “Who is allowed to come into your tabernacle or enter your tent?” This is a question of having access rights. Who can do this?
“Your holy hill” refers to the permanent, stationary structure (the Temple) which David’s son, Solomon, would erect after his father died. He would build this temple on an elevated place within the elevated city of Jerusalem – the site we call the “temple mount” today.
Dwell also conveys the more permanent, long-term actions of a person who not only enters someplace a guest but who stays there as a resident. If sojourn describes spending the weekend in a hotel, then dwell describes being a homeowner. This word focuses on a person’s ability or right to remain within God’s temple, living in God’s home forever.
Since we can safely assume that David was not wondering who could physically “move in” to God’s temple, then what else could he have been inquiring about?
This question does not focus on buildings and real estate sites. It uses them as an illustration, a concrete structure that represents a spiritual reality of truth. It focuses on the presence of God – the place where God’s presence (who is present everywhere) is most concentrated and “up close.”
This is a question of closeness or distance from God. Furthermore, it is a question of not only who can enter a close relationship with God but who can enjoy the security of a close relationship with God that stands the test of time.
This is a question of who can enjoy the reality of having a close relationship with God not just on occasion but on a regular, daily basis – unafraid to go to him, speak to him, and depend on him in every circumstance of life.

Closeness with God requires the proper treatment of other people.

Someone who walks blamelessly,
and who does what is right,
and who speaks truth in his heart.
So, if not everyone – not even every person who is a follower of Christ – may enjoy a close and confident relationship with Christ, then who can?
David goes on to list eleven qualities (or behaviors) of a person who may enter and live in God’s presence. Similar lists from other religious systems would emphasize various specific ceremonial behaviors and rituals. They would recommend or require people to recite certain prayers, go through a set of procedural motions, or perform certain ceremonial tasks, but here David reveals a very different approach.
Here David emphasizes a person’s behavior, character, and integrity in everyday life. In other words, God is less concerned about your ceremonial conduct during formal times of worship and far more concerned about your treatment of other people in everyday life.
Let’s take a close look at these qualities, beginning with the first three. This first set of three emphasize a believer’s individual character and reputation. The rest of these personal qualities and behaviors emphasize a person’s treatment of other people. As we learned from Psa 14, the way we behave towards other people reveals our beliefs about God. These are inseparable realities. The more we accept God’s real presence and authority in our lives, the better we will treat other people.

Walking Blamelessly

Here David uses the same language that Moses used to describe Abraham (Gen 17:1). This doesn’t mean that the person behaves perfectly, but rather that he or she exhibits a mature, well-rounded character without known and obvious character deficiencies.

Doing What is Right

This description portrays a person who’s committed to doing whatever is honest and ethically right. He knows what Scripture teaches and commits himself to doing that. He doesn’t do right only when it’s easy, convenient, or personally beneficial. He does right no matter what the personal implications may be. He does right regardless of whether it’s appreciated, popular, or understood.

Speaking the Truth in His Heart

This means that the motives and thoughts of this believer are marked by accuracy, reality, and God’s truth. He views circumstances, people, and even his own heart through the lens of what is real and what is true. He does not tolerate deception or lies, even the ones he is tempted to tell himself.
This person allows the Word of God to shape his or her thinking, mindset, and worldview. He does not allow false and inaccurate ideas, worldly values, or a secular worldview to shape his thinking. This is someone who reads, studies, and meditates upon Scripture.
This quality reminds me of what Moses told Joshua:
“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (Josh 1:8-9)
More recently, it reminds me of how the entire collection of Psalms begins:
“Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night.” (Psa 1:1-2)
How can you be confident in a close relationship with God when you are disconnected from, misunderstanding of, and unfamiliar with what God’s Word actually says?
Now, from this inner heart orientation and commitment to knowing and living God’s Word as accurately and completely as possible, such a person will then exhibit a godly behavior towards other people, beginning with the way he talks (or doesn’t talk) about other people.
He does not spread slander with his tongue,
nor does he cause his friend pain,
nor does he raise a reproach against his neighbor.

Not Spreading Slander

This person who meditates on God’s truth and thinks accurately about situations as a result will not spread inaccurate judgments and false information about other people. If they detect a problem with someone else, they will either patiently wait for the matter to be made clear or they will speak to that person with whom they are concerned.
But they will not arrive at preconceived conclusions based upon hearsay, misunderstandings, and biased judgment. They value the reputations of other people as they value their own and will not spread damaging views of other people which are not verifiably true. They will not be the source of wrong information about other people.

Not Causing Pain for His Friends

The word cause pain here is the word for “evil,” which can mean a variety of things. In this context, it probably means something like causing distress, injury, or pain to the people who surround you in life.
This means that while this person will do what is right, even when it is not convenient, whenever he has a choice, he will say and do things which avoid causing unnecessary pain, whether emotionally or physically. He will consider the emotional and physical well-being of other people before himself.

Not Raising a Reproach against His Neighbor

This is a challenging phrase to translate but seems to mean something like publicizing another person’s failure unnecessarily. Whereas slander emphasizes spreading wrong information about another person which damages their reputation, this indicates spreading information about another person which may actually be true.
This information may include (1) when a person falls into difficult circumstances, (2) makes an unwise decision and struggles as a result, or even (3) makes a sinful, wrong choice. The person who walks closely with God will handle even this information carefully and will not “lift it up” for public consumption if doing so can be avoided.
Anyone who is vile in his eyes he rejects,
but anyone who reveres Yahweh he honors.

Rejecting Ungodly People

These two qualities describe what we call “discernment,” being able to make wise choices about the kind of company or friends a person surrounds himself with. Such a person will not build close friendships, form close partnerships, enter into marriage, receive counsel from, or surround himself with people who have clearly deficient moral character.
If someone is a slanderer and gossip, for instance, the godly person will not build a close relationship with that person or go to that person for advice.
As another example, when politicians, for instance, are known to have a track record of morally reprehensible character – regardless of the party that endorses them – we should refrain from endorsing or applauding him or her as our ally.

Accepting Godly People

Conversely, such a person will value godly people. This person will build close friendships, form close partnerships, enter into marriage, receive counsel from, or surround himself with people who have godly character. They identify people with vibrant faith in Christ, proven integrity, and an evident love for God as their closest counselors, examples, mentors, and friends.
He makes an oath to his own harm,
but he does not change.

Making an Oath and Not Changing

This quality means that this person remains true to his word. When he makes a promise, signs a contract, or enters into a formal agreement, he does what he says he will do. He fulfills his promises and honors his word – even when doing so proves to be costly, inconvenient, or undesirable for some reason or another.
When this person marries but their spouse develops a serious illness, injury, or handicap that damages them for life, this person remains faithful to his or her spouse, nonetheless. When this person takes out a loan, they pay it back, even if doing so is inconvenient.
He does not lend his money with interest,
nor does he accept a bribe against the innocent.
Speaking of money, this person doesn’t just handle the outflow of money with integrity, he handles the inflow of money with integrity, too.

Not Lending Money with Interest

This person doesn’t take advantage of people in financial hardship or need. The potential problem here is not charging acceptable, reasonable interest as a basic cost of doing business. Scripture doesn’t deny this practice.
The potential problem here is what some translations call “usury.” This is the abusive and dishonest practice of extortion, charging exorbitant, insane amounts of interest because the other person has no choice but to pay whatever you demand.
This practice does not include the reasonable practice of paying financial consultants reasonable fees or paying going rates on a mortgage. But it does include the exorbitant interest and fees charged by “quick cash” / “pay day” loan agencies and some credit lines.
Such a person focuses on helping people in need, not taking advantage of or capitalizing on their need.

Not Accepting a Bribe against Innocent People

This means that such a person will not allow money or any other personal benefits or kickbacks to persuade him to tell a lie, provide a false testimony, etc. against an innocent person. Such a person will tell the truth no matter what, regardless of whatever pressure, threats, or other challenges he may face for doing so.
Once again, he will do what is right, even when that means turning down what seems to be better personal benefits for doing otherwise. By extension, he will earn his money through honest means and regular, hard, laborious work.
Such a person will not take advantage of people for personal financial gain. He values his relationship with God, other people, and his own integrity more highly than his money.

Integrity in your treatment of other people provides confidence in your relationship with God.

Anyone who does these things will never be moved.
The point David is making here it this – that people who live this way, with personal integrity and proper treatment of other people, will not be easily moved. They will dwell on God’s holy hill – they will remain in God’s presence enjoying a close relationship with him and receiving his blessing, guidance, and protection.
In other words, when a person has believed on Christ as God and Savior, then his confidence in this relationship will grow and stabilize into an unwavering assurance over time, not because his good behavior earns the good favor of God but because it reflects the good nature of God and is therefore an evidence and a fruit that God is faithfully at work in his life, changing him into his image.
This truth reminds me of what Paul told believers in the churches of Galatia (Gal 5:24-25):
“Those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”
This teaching reveals that an evidence that we have been saved and made a child of God by faith in Christ alone is that we will put to death (bring to an end, stop, cease) the sinful, fleshly, selfish behaviors and desires which characterize a nonbeliever. Since we have been given the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit the moment we believed on Christ, we must now choose to depend upon the Holy Spirit by knowing and obeying the very words he has given us in Scripture (this is “walking in the Spirit”).
When we do not walk with inner and outward integrity towards God and people, then either we are not a true believer in Christ OR we are a true believer in Christ who lacks confidence in our relationship with Christ because we are living contrary to the new nature and calling we’ve been given.
The apostle John also taught this truth in his letter called First John (1 John 5:1-2):
“Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments.”
Here he teaches that those who have been born again (who have believed in Christ as God and Savior) will exhibit evidence of genuine salvation because they will treat with love all the other children of God. That’s what Psa 15 is describing! In this same chapter,
John goes on to describe the kind of confidence we can have in our relationship with God as we live with godly integrity towards others (1 John 5:14-15):
“This is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.”
Do you have this kind of confidence in your relationship with God, that you can approach God in prayer, know that you are thinking and praying in line with his character, desires, purposes, and plans, and know not only that he has intently listened to your request but will answer and respond to your request, as well? Do you have moments like this? Do you live with this kind of constant, close confidence in God? Do you live with this reality?
When God’s people do not live out the godly integrity and character that God has placed within them through Christ, they cannot live and pray with the confidence that they are close to the heart of God. Are there any areas of your life revealed through the mirror of Psa 15 which need to be changed, which do not reflect the character and integrity of God and do not exhibit a genuine love for other people more than yourself?

Does Psa 15 explain why your prayer life is not confident?

Could this be the reason (or reasons) why your prayer life is nonexistent, ineffective, and far from confident? Could it be that you are keeping your distance from God because you know that you are not living according to his will as revealed in his Word? Because you know that your behavior does not line up with the character of God – therefore you are unable to come into his presence with closeness and confidence?
Will you confess your failings to God today and apologize to anyone whom you have mistreated? Doing so will increase your confidence in God and your awareness of his closeness and authority in your life, therefore increasing your confidence in prayer, in worship, and in service.
And if you have never completely acknowledged your sinfulness and placed your full trust in Christ alone as your God and Savior for forgiveness of sins and a relationship with God forever, then I urge you with the love of God to do so today.
By God’s grace, may we be a church who lives in closeness to God and prays with confidence in God. May we be a church of members who treat one another with honesty, integrity, love, and respect. May we be a church of followers of Christ who know the truth of God’s Word and who think, feel, and act in accord with an accurate and thorough knowledge of what God’s Word teaches, staying clearly of contrary, unbiblical teaching. May we be a church who lives in the presence of God.
[1] James Montgomery Boice, Psalms 1-41: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005), 122.
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