The good news of the gospel is only the good news of the gospel because we know the bad news of our situation outside of the gospel. One problem in our society today is that many people do not have a clear understanding of the depth of our sin or the state in which we stand before our Lord. Many have a mistaken understanding of what is required to make it to heaven and how far short of that standard we all fall.
So, take a peek at this text in Psalm 24. (As a side note, I find it neat that this came up in my daily reading only a day or so after I had this very conversation with a friend.)
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.
The poetry here asks a simple question: Who can ascend the hill of the Lord? More simply put, who can make it into God’s presence, or who can go to heaven? That is a good question, a reasonable question, and important question.
The answer to the question is a tough one to swallow. To make it into the presence of the Lord, one must have clean hands and a pure heart. One must be free from acting out our sinful desires—clean hands. And one must be free even from those corrupting desires—a pure heart.
Stop and measure yourself. Are your hands clean? Have you always done and said all that is right? Have you always physically avoided all that God calls sin? Have you lived out an absolute outward perfection? An honest answer here is no.
What about your heart? Even if you have been a pretty nice person, has your heart been perfect? Have you not only refused to act on evil desires, but have you also never had such desires? If your heart has ever shown a sign of corruption, you lack total purity of heart. And we see ourselves as twice guilty.
If we are measured by the standards of verses 3-4, we have no hope. None of us are clean and pure enough on our own. We have all failed. We have all had evil desires. Not one of us is pure enough to walk into heaven. WE must have something outside of us to give us the righteousness, the perfection, the goodness we lack.
Then notice verse 5, “He will receive blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation.” Who can go to heaven? That perfect person with clean hands and a pure heart can go, but not me. But then the psalmist tells us that the one who can go to heaven receives blessing and righteousness from God. Receiving righteousness indicates to us that God gives us righteousness as a gift. So the person who can go, the one with the clean hands and the pure heart, that person has those things because he has received those things from the Lord as a gift.
So, here is the truth. We are totally incapable of making it to heaven based on our own goodness. WE have nothing to bring to the table. Our hands are not clean. Our hearts are not pure. WE must receive cleanness and purity, righteousness, as a gift from the Lord. We need a Savior. We do not need a Savior who does a little work to make us a little better so that we can pull ourselves up to the throne of God. No, we need a 100% Savior who does 100% of the work to grant us 100% of the forgiveness and 100% of the righteousness we need. If we only have a 50% savior, we are damned. If we have a 99% savior, we are lost forever. Only a 100% Savior, one who gives us full forgiveness and perfect, God-level righteousness credited to our accounts can save us.
This is, of course the beauty of biblical Christianity. Jesus lived perfect righteousness as God the Son in human flesh. And Jesus will credit us with his purity, not because we have lived it out, but because he gives it to us as a gift. This is salvation by grace through faith in Christ and his finished work. And this is our only way to heaven. Jesus is the 100% Savior we must have to enter the presence of the Lord.