Chastened by NT Wright yesterday, I have spent my morning bouncing around at the Biblegateway.com (if you have Mozilla Firefox as your browser, you probably already have the Bible search engine at the top right corner with Google, Amazon, etc. If not, WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN DOING ALL DAY!). The other book that I’ve been reading by Wright is called What Saint Paul Really Said. Throughout this book Wright brings up the concept of righteousness for Paul and the Jews of his day.
You would like a summary of Wright’s “wrighteousness”? Welllll, it’s hard to undo centuries of bad theology, but I’ll give it a wack (if you’re hard-core reformed, you may not like what follows). Essentially, wrighteousness for Paul and other Jews (such as, I don’t know, Jesus) meant more than a position or imputed status that God gives as part of a “transaction” with God. You know, insert the faith credit card and the Spirit/clerk tosses salvation in the bag and sends you on your way. That’s a horrible summary so far, but it will get worse.
Teasing out the nuances of wrighteousness is a bit harder. Righteousness to the Jews was far more than a status. It is linked more with righteous conduct, God’s righteous dealings with us, and God’s righteousness that we lean on. I know that is incredibly incomplete, but I hope that at least provides some motivation to explore the possible nuances of righteousness in the NT.
Of course now I’m off track and I imagine NT Wright glaring at me for not getting down to the scriptures themselves. Instead I have theologized once again. Without further ado, I’d like to take a brief look at Psalm 51.
Psalm 51 (English Standard Version)
English Standard Version (ESV)
Create in Me a Clean Heart, O God
To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.
1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
The Psalmist is highly concerned with God’s justice and the righteousness of his judgment.
5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
This is a fascinating verse. “Truth in the inward being” and “wisdom in the secret heart” are two concepts that seem to transcend intellect. They are placed within us by God. God knows of them, places them within us, and delights in them.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
Can you imagine anyone actually praying this? One image that comes to mind is the runaway sheep whose legs are broken as a measure of security (not national security). In his righteousness, God will deal severely with sin, he doesn’t just pat us on the head and say, “Well, technically you are ‘righteous’, so just repent and things will be all better.” There is a severity to God and the Psalmist is thankful for it.
9 Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Once again God is doing something on the inside beyond our intellect, but surely including it in some way. God renews a right spirit to us.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Did I mention that God takes sin very seriously?
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
O God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
Once again the focus is on God’s righteousness in dealing with his people. We spend a lot of time singing of the righteousness that God has given to us, and that’s good in a way, but do we also spend time singing of God’s righteousness?
15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
build up the walls of Jerusalem;
19 then will you delight in right sacrifices,
in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.
ESV from Good News Press