3 Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
4 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.
5 He will receive blessing from the Lord
and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
Psalm 24 asks an interesting question. Who is going to be allowed into God’s presence? Who can approach the Lord over all?
The answer is not encouraging. A person with clean hands and a pure heart is who may approach God. A person who is always honest, that is a person who can approach God. Basically, a person whose purity matches that of God is the one who may expect to be allowed in the presence of God. This is not encouraging, because it is not any of us.
If we left things here, with only verses 3-4, it might seem as though the way to God is right living, works-based righteousness. It would also seem to me to be impossible for me, as I am certainly not good enough on my own. But then we read verse 5, which describes gifts that the one who comes to God will receive: “He will receive blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation.”
Look at that verse carefully, and notice that one of the gifts given to the one who approaches God is righteousness. Righteousness comes to the person as a gift. The person who is allowed into the presence of God is not there because he has earned it with a perfect life after all. No, there is something strange going on here. Yes, God’s standard is perfection. Yet, the one who is granted access to God is given righteousness.
How sweet it is to see the gospel here in Psalm 24. God’s standard is perfect righteousness. None of us meets that standard. Jesus pointed out that God alone is good in Luke 18:19. However, in Christ, God grants to us the righteousness of Christ as a gift. Even though our lives do not look like it completely, the righteousness of Jesus is counted to our account if we have come to Jesus in faith. This doctrine is the doctrine of imputation, and it is a marvelous and necessary doctrine for believers. We must grasp that we, apart from the gracious gift of Jesus would never be good enough to come to God. Yet, in Christ, we are given the righteousness we need to ascend the hill of the Lord. We can even see our lives change so that our hands are cleaner and our hearts are purer than ever before. Eventually, when we finally arrive in glory, our lives will be perfected by God, matching the righteousness that he has already granted us in Christ.