Who Is God? How Can We Approach Him? What Do the Answers Mean for Us Today?

Many things to which we devote our energies are good, but they become idols when they become our “ultimate things”.

Who will approach God? Who is the King of Glory? These are questions David poses in Psalm 24, one of the Messianic Psalms.

He begins with recognizing who God is. God is the creator of everything there is, and He possesses and has authority over all that He created.

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
    the world, and all who live in it;
for he founded it on the seas
    and established it on the waters.

Psalm 24:1-2

Though the nations all around David had their own gods in various images and likenesses, David recognizes that there is only one, creator God. One God made the heavens and the earth, and there is no god like Him. In that context he asks the question:

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
    Who may stand in his holy place?

Psalm 24:3

How does one approach a God like that? How do created beings, such as ourselves, approach the God who created us? David understands that we can only approach such a God on His own terms:

The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
    who does not trust in an idol
    or swear by a false god.

Psalm 24:4

Only a person with clean hands and a pure heart can approach a God like that. Only a person who trusts in such a God, alone, can approach Him. Only a person who understands truth and is free of deceit.

Can any of us say that we meet these conditions?

If we think honestly on these things, we have to realize that we don’t. The truth is that no one is righteous, not even one person. (Psalm 14:3; Psalm 53:3; and Romans 3:10)

Think of David, the very person who wrote this Psalm. He didn’t meet those conditions, and he certainly knew it. He is one of the most flawed people of all the people of faith in the Bible. He knew where he stood with God.

The problem: we want clean hands and a pure hear; we want to trust in God alone, and we want to hold to nothing but the truth. The truth is, though, that no one meets these conditions. No one can approach a holy God!


Yet, this Psalm exalts in the anticipation of connecting with such a God – a God who made and possesses the universe, a God who can only be approached with cleans hands, a pure heart, with singleness of devotion and in the fullness of truth. This is because David anticipates something. And this is where the Psalm shifts:

They will receive blessing from the Lord
    and vindication from God their Savior.
Such is the generation of those who seek him,
    who seek your face, God of Jacob.

Psalm 24:5-6

The resolution to the problem is that we do not approach God: He approaches us. We must receive from God his blessing and vindication. It is nothing we can ascend to, nothing we can achieve.

God knows this well, and He provided a way. As with Abraham for whom God provided a ram caught in the thicket to sacrifice in place of his son, Isaac, God has provided for us what is necessary to clear the way for us to receive Him. Through Christ, we are made holy, clean and new.[i]

The Psalm is considered “Messianic” because David anticipates our need for God to come to us, to provide for us. He says:

Lift up your heads, you gates;
    be lifted up, you ancient doors,
    that the King of glory may come in.

Psalm 24:7

Thus, David exalts not in the prospect that someone might ascend to heaven, but in the anticipation that God will descend to us. God meets us where we are. But there is more to this than God simply meeting us where we are: we need to be ready to receive Him.

Before the church service that inspires this article this morning, I read an article in my newsfeed: How the Capitol attacks helped spread Christian nationalism in the extreme right, from the Religious News Service. It may seem like a strange tie in to Psalm 24, but I hope you will stick with me to see the connection.

Continue reading “Who Is God? How Can We Approach Him? What Do the Answers Mean for Us Today?”

Who Are the Righteous and the Wicked? Part III

Abraham’s faith was more than naked belief; it was belief that prompted him to act in trust in God.

“All Scripture is breathed out (inspired) by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness….” (2 Tim. 3:16)

I was prompted in reading Psalm 1 to focus on the distinction between “the righteous” and “the wicked” in Who are the Righteous and the Wicked? Part I. As I began to dig into it, I observed that only God is righteous, and our righteousness depends wholly on our relationship to God. If we believe (trust) Him, he credits His righteousness to us. (See Part II) Abraham is our example: when he believed God, His faith in God was credited to him as righteousness. (Gen. 15:6 & rom. 4:3)

This is all very fundamental to Christianity. It might prompt us to make the assumption that people who merely believe God, believe the Bible (and go to church) are righteous. There is a fly in that ointment, however; and James identifies it in his letter.

James acknowledges that Abraham believed God, and his belief was counted to him as righteousness (James 2:23), but James digs a little deeper into what “the righteousness that comes by faith” (Rom. 3:22) really looks like. After all, even demons believe in God (James 2:19), but they aren’t righteous! The difference between the righteous and the wicked, therefore, involves something more than merely believing in God

We explored the idea that righteousness is something that flows from God, out of His very Being. It is not something God decreed, but something that God is in His very nature. Righteousness is not an abstract ideal that God lives up to; God is righteous. We don’t describe God in respect to righteousness; we know righteousness by knowing God.

It helps, perhaps, to take morality out of the equation and to look at it through a more scientific lens. Just as gravity is what it is and operates the way it operates (because that is how God created the universe), righteousness is simply what it is. Righteousness, however, isn’t something God created, like gravity; righteousness flows from the very nature and character of God.

To put it very simply: God defines righteousness by who He is, and righteousness is defined in relation to God.

Thus, we can only know righteousness in relation to God. We can’t be righteous, because only God is righteous. God credits His righteousness to us who believe (trust) in Him, but that is only the beginning.

Christians might call this being born again. We believe God; God counts us righteous; and, thus, He welcomes us into relationship with Him. A birth, however, is only the beginning.

When we dig deeper, as James did, we see a specific characteristic to the belief that Abraham by which God credited it to him as righteousness. That characteristic is something more than bare belief. Demons, who also believe, don’t have that characteristic (otherwise their belief would be credited to them as righteousness too). This characteristic is what James is getting at when he says that “faith apart from works is dead”. (James 2:26)

Abraham’s faith prompted him to action. James says that Abraham’s “faith was active along with his works”, and his “faith was completed by his works”. (James 2:22) Thus, Abraham’s faith was more than naked belief; it was belief that prompted him to act in trust in God.

Having some understanding of what makes a righteous person righteous, and what doesn’t, is essential to our relationship with God.

Faith that doesn’t prompt a person to action is not the kind of faith Abraham had; it is not the kind of faith that is credited to a person as righteousness. Faith that only prompts feelings is not the kind of faith that leads to righteousness. (James 1:19) The faith that leads to righteousness is faith that prompts a person to be a doer of God’s word. (James 1:22-25) It is faith that prompts love for God and love for neighbor, and that love is active! (James 1:26-27)

Faith that doesn’t result in a change from the core of a person’s being that emanates out into a change of heart and change in action is not the kind of faith that can be described as being born again. It is not saving faith, and it is not the kind of faith that God attributes as righteousness to people. 

Who Are the Righteous and the Wicked? Part II

Righteousness and justice are what they are because God is who He is.


Who are the righteous? Who are the wicked?

This was the question prompted in my heart recently as I read Psalm 1, which begins with a warning not to walk in step with the wicked, stand in the way of sinners or sit in the company of mockers. I describe how that question was prompted in Part 1 of this blog series.

Beyond equating the wicked with “sinners” and “mockers” (and speaking to the company we keep), Psalm 1 doesn’t go into much detail on the characteristics of the wicked (or the righteous). I realized as I responded to the prompting in my heart that I had some old assumptions about those things that might not be true, or at least not completely true, so I set out to dig a little deeper.

As Christians, we know that no one is righteous; we have all sinned and fallen short. We know that righteousness is credited to those who believe God and have faith (trust) in Him. We might assume, then, that there isn’t much more to it – that believing God, and the Bible and going to church is all it takes to make a person righteous; and, of course, that these things distinguish the righteous from the wicked.

This view, though, is only partly right. Even demons believe (Jam. 2:19), but that doesn’t make them righteous! We need to dig a bit deeper to develop a more complete understanding of what it means to be righteous. God, of course, is righteous, and our righteousness is gained only in relation to Him – by believing in Him – by what does that mean for us?

Continue reading “Who Are the Righteous and the Wicked? Part II”

Who Are the Righteous and the Wicked? Part I


I am on a year-long plan to read through the Bible chronologically (which is not exactly the way the Bible reads if you start in Genesis and read straight through to Revelations). I also read a “verse of the day” in the Bible app (YouVersion) that I use. I begin most mornings with reading the passages of the day in the year-long plan I am following and the Scripture of the day.

Today’s chronological reading begins with Psalm 1[i]. The verse of the day is Psalm 1:1-2:

Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.

I almost glossed over the fact that the chronological reading of the day and the verse of the day converged on the same text – Psalm 1. I kept reading out of force of habit, but that still, small voice was whispering in my ear.

“Maybe”, I thought, “God wants me to focus on Psalm 1 today. Maybe He has something to say to me.”

It would take too long for me to explain where I am in my journey of praying, reading and meditating on Scripture and what God has been laying on my heart or how I got here. Suffice it to say that my attention was drawn to the contrast of the righteous and the wicked in Psalm 1.

I realized as I read Psalm 1 a second time, more carefully, that I have some assumptions about those two categories of people – the wicked and the righteous – that I have carried a long time and which may not be completely accurate.

As I have been reading chronologically through the Bible, I have been focusing on the theme of righteousness and justice. I realized this morning that what I have been learning about righteousness and justice reveals that my assumptions about righteousness and wickedness may be a bit shallow and, therefore, a bit off center.

Who are the righteous and the wicked?

That is the question that I believe God prompted in my heart.

Continue reading “Who Are the Righteous and the Wicked? Part I”

Justification by Faith

Whether there are 613 laws to keep or just two, who tend to view morality as a competition in which we compare ourselves to others.


In a previous blog post, I observed that Scripture reveals a progression from law to relationship to faith. In Habakkuk, the prophet said, “The righteous will live by his faith.” (Hab. 2:4) This statement in Habakkuk is the second half of a verse that contrasts “the proud one” whose soul “is not upright to the righteous one who lives by faith. The implication is that the righteousness is linked to faith and is contrasted to pride.

We see this theme continued in the New Testament:

“The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:17)


“Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” (Galatians 3:11)


“[M]y righteous one shall live by faith” (Hebrews 10:37)

And the reason that salvation is by faith (in the grace of God) is so that no one can boast.

“For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Eph. 2:9)

When Jesus summarized all the law and prophets in just two statements (love God and love your neighbor) he whisked us past the academic details of the law to the simple heart and spirit of the law. (Luke 10:25-27) If we think this simplification of the law makes it any easier on us, however, we should think again. At the same time Jesus simplified the expression of the law, Jesus upped the ante on us when he said that, if we even lust in our hearts, we have committed adultery. If we have even gotten angry in our hearts at our brother, we may have committed the sin of murder. (See Mathew 5:21-48)

Jesus made the law simpler and more difficult to follow at the same time!

Maybe this is because our ability to follow the law (to maintain God’s standard of morality) isn’t the key point. In fact, the point is our inability, in ourselves, to live up to God’s standard! Until we realize that we can’t measure up, we don’t measure up, we are depending on ourselves and our own efforts to “be right with God”. But we never can. Whether it’s 613 laws or just two principles, we fall short.

Our focus shouldn’t be on the laws and other people. On this horizontal level, we compare ourselves to others, and we judge ourselves and others in comparison. This is where pride and self-righteousness dwell, and the focus is, ultimately, on ourselves. Rather our focus should be vertical, on God and our relationship to him.

Continue reading “Justification by Faith”