1. How does the Bible define righteousness? What does it mean to be considered righteous before God?
2. Do you have a hard time thinking of yourself as righteous? Or godly? Describe.
3. Like David, have you ever been made to feel ashamed for your faith in Christ? Describe. What answer does this Psalm provide?
4. Do you find it difficult to sit in silence before the Lord? If so, what hinders or distracts you?
5. Why do you think we are called to “ponder in our own hearts” and “be silent” before the Lord? What is it about this spiritual practice that changes us?
6. What are the things in your life that cause you to lose sleep? How does the promise of God’s presence and God’s protection in our troubles help us to truly rest?
This morning, we are going to ask the question, what does it mean to be truly righteous? In our world today, many have a negative connotation in their minds when they think of the word, “righteous.” The word is used most often in a sarcastic way, referring instead to someone who seems to be “self-righteous” and better than others. Yet it seems to me that this modern sarcastic and derogatory usage of the word “righteous,” reveals the fact that many people today are afraid to believe in a real, objective form of righteousness.
At the very most, you might hear someone describe a cause as righteous, like the fight to end sex trafficking, or an end to racial profiling and oppression. But very rarely will someone attribute the word righteous to a person. To do this would seem to imply, as the Merriam-Webster dictionary says, that such a person is “acting in accord with divine or moral law and free from guilt or sin.” How many of us would recoil at assigning such an objective, morally superior trait to someone else?
But how does the Bible define what it means to be righteous? One Biblical commentator provides a helpful definition: He describes righteousness as “Conformity to a certain set of expectations, which vary from role to role. Righteousness is the fulfillment of the expectations in any relationship, whether with God or other people.” Righteousness implies relationship, and not just any relationship, but a relationship that is predicated on clear expectations and shared values.
Righteousness in my marriage with Melissa means that I am actively fulfilling the promises I made to her when we committed our lives to each other in the sight of God–that I would love her, cherish her, be faithful to her, and protect her until death. This is what righteousness looks like in marriage. But what about righteousness in our relationship with God? As we look throughout the narrative of Scripture, we see that God’s relationship with man has been expressed in the form of covenants. God made covenants with the people he had set apart for Himself that would determine the nature of their relationship. In short, God promised that if his people would obey him and trust him at his word, he would deliver them and make them prosper. Yet because of Israel’s constant sin and rebellion and God’s unflinching holiness, a sacrificial system was created to atone for the sins of God’s people and to reconcile them back into right relationship (or righteousness) before God. But this was only a temporary solution. This is why God promised that one day, he would make a new covenant with his people:
Heb 10:1-6, 9-10 “It [referring to the Mosaic covenant] can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me;…. He does away with the first (the first covenant; the first sacrifices) in order to establish the second (the new covenant and the once for all sacrifice of Jesus’ own life). And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
We can see now that the only way to be made truly righteous before God is to trust in His Son, Jesus Christ—the One who became the ultimate sacrifice for our sin and was resurrected from the dead to reconcile us back to God. This is the definition of righteous that we must keep in mind as we now turn our attention to Psalm 4.
Context: This goes with Psalm 3 (morning Psalm--”I woke again” 3:5) as the evening Psalm (“In peace I will both lie down and sleep for you alone make me dwell in safety” 4:8). David was likely writing both Psalms 3 and 4 as he was fleeing for his life from Absalom, his son. This Psalm serves as a tremendous reminder that when we arise in the morning, or when we lie down to sleep in the evening, the Lord is the deliverer of the righteous.
In Psalm 4, we will look at 1) The Plea of the Righteous, 2) The Obedience of the Righteous, and 3) The Reward of the Righteous.
1) The Plea of the Righteous
V1a: “Answer me when I call, Oh God of my righteousness!” This is a plea that hinges on the virtue of the one making the request.
We might expect here that David would appeal to God’s righteousness as the basis for answering his plea. And certainly, there are many passages where David does just this (cf. Psalms 25:7; 35:24; 109:26). Yet here in Psalm 4, David’s plea to God is on the basis of David’s righteousness. He is effectively saying, “Lord, you know that my heart is right before you, and on this basis, answer me when I call!” And this isn’t the only place he does this. In Psalm 18:20 he says, “The Lord dealt with me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me.”
But how can David say this? Wasn’t he still under the Law of Moses before the coming of Christ? Isn’t that boastful to assume something like that? Doesn’t this contradict key Protestant doctrines like faith alone, and through Christ’s righteousness alone?
We read in 2 Cor 5:21 of the way believers in Jesus are made righteous, “For our sake he [God the Father] made him [Christ the Son] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
And 1 Cor 1:30-31 tells us where our boast should be as Christians: “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
Most striking of all, Gal 3:10 tells us the outcome of the one who seeks to be righteous by following the Law of Moses: “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”
So how can David, a man who lived over 1,000 years before the birth of Christ, make such a bold statement? This brings up the larger question of how Old Testament saints were saved before the coming of Christ. David was made righteous in the same way that you and I are made righteous–by grace, through faith. Just like Abraham, who “believed the LORD” and had his faith “counted to him as righteousness,” so too David believed in the promises of God and in the hope of ultimate deliverance from his sin, and thus God counted his faith as righteousness. This foundational trust that David had in the promises of God become increasingly clear as we continue moving through this Psalm.
This is a plea grounded in the reality of past deliverance V1b: “You have given me relief when I was in distress. Be gracious and hear my prayer!”
It’s important to note that the kind of distress David often speaks of in the Psalms is not merely physical distress. It’s easy for us to disassociate ourselves from Psalms like these because of the unique physical dangers David encountered. Not many of us have been forced to flee from our murderous children (although there are some days in parenting when it feels like that)! But David’s distress, and indeed our distress, also comes in emotional, psychological forms:
Ps 22:14 “ I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast.”
Ps 6:2 “Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am languishing; heal me, O LORD, for my bones are troubled. My soul also is greatly troubled”
Friend, if this is you--if the suffering you are experiencing is acutely emotional and psychological, this Psalm is also for you. So what is David doing here? He is doing 2 things:
One, He is appealing to God on the basis of God’s character and promises:
Ps 145:8-9 “The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.”
Ps 6:4 “Turn, O LORD, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love.”
Two, He is reminding himself of God’s past faithfulness. This is a pattern we see all over the scripture:
Jeremiah in Lam 3:21-23 “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
Paul in 2 Cor. 1:10: “He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again”
V2: “How long shall my honor be turned to shame?”
David’s righteousness and trust in the Lord was being twisted and perverted by his accusers. Believer, have you ever been made to feel ashamed because of your Christian faith? 1 Jn 3:12says,“And why did [Cain] murder [Abel]? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.”
Have you ever heard someone say, “Get with the times?” Or, “You’re just on the wrong side of history?” There is a real temptation that each of us faces to try and mold our beliefs and convictions in an effort to try and remove some of the “sting” of the gospel. This can happen in explicit ways (like embracing the world’s view of sexuality in all of its forms), but more often, especially in my own life, I see this happen in more subtle ways (being embarrassed to admit that I haven’t seen a certain show or movie because of how explicit it is, or not wanting to give a clear call to repentance for fear of being perceived as self-righteous of bigoted). But listen to David’s response in verse 3.
V3: “But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself; the Lord hears when I call to Him.”
Even if his accusers would try and make him feel ashamed over his faith in God, it doesn’t matter. It is God who sees his godliness, and it is God who will answer his plea for help.
Again, this is not pride that David is referring to himself as “godly.” This is a work that God has wrought in David’s heart as his chosen, beloved son--it’s not something that he earned. Do you struggle to believe this? That you can call yourself godly? That God will hear your prayers based on your godliness? Do you read passages like this but then look at your own sin and failings believing that God in fact can’t hear you; won’t hear you, or maybe worst of all, is simply apathetic towards your cries to him?
Brothers and sisters, if you are trusting in Jesus--that by his sacrifice on the cross and resurrection he has made you righteous before God--the Lord has set you apart for himself and hears when you call to him. We read this in Duet 14:12: “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.”
2) The Obedience of the Righteous
David now turns and calls his accusers to repentance and to awaken to the spiritual reality of God’s Lordship over all creation. He does this by showing what true righteous obedience looks like. What he’s going to share here has immense relevance for both the unbeliever and the believer.
V4a: “Be angry and do not sin”
Be angry” in the ESV may not be the best translation. Listen to how the NASB renders this phrase: “Tremble, and do not sin.” Or the KJV, “Stand in awe, and do not sin.” What is David getting at here? He’s calling these unrighteous accusers to wake from their foolish and blind pursuit of wickedness and sin. John Calvin, commenting on this passage says, “In calling these men to ‘tremble,’ David is rebuking the stupidity of those who run headlong into their sin without any fear of God, or any sense of danger. In their ignorance, they do not hesitate to engage in war against God, and follow whatever lust leads them.” But what does the Scripture say? Prov 1:7 “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge”
This is where righteous obedience begins--by trembling before God; fearing Him; standing in awe of His great power. Unbeliever, have you done this? Believer, have you lost this sense of fear and awe before God?
V4b: “Ponder in your own hearts on your beds and be silent.”
Blaise Pascal, the famous French philosopher of the 17th century said this: “I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own room.” I have found that one of the greatest barometers of my personal walk with the Lord is my ability (or inability) to sit in silence before Him. To slow down, quiet my heart, read His word, and simply listen.
Unbeliever, have you ever done this? Have you ever tried to sit in silence before God, read his word, and listen? Or are you finding your heart is so often diverted and distracted from spiritual realities? Believer, are you also finding in your heart in this season a difficulty in sitting in silence before the Lord? If so, I would ask you the same thing: Where is your confidence? What are you believing about God? About yourself?
Trembling before God’s power and pondering and sitting in silence before Him is what awakens our hearts to spiritual realities, but what does the righteous person actually do? Let’s look at verse 5.
V5: “Offer right sacrifices and put your trust in the Lord.”
The one who has trembled before God, sat in silence before Him, and has been awakened to his spiritual condition will respond with evidences of spiritual change. “Offer right sacrifices”: This is a radically different sacrifice than what most of the Israelites during this time offered. In God’s sovereign plan, the Israelite sacrificial system–the constant offerings for sin that only offered temporary removal of guilt before God–was intended to show the people of God how sinful they were before a holy God, and how unable they were to be made right before him. They were told to have faith in the promise of the coming Messiah who would once for all cleanse their sins with His sacrifice.
Yet for most of Israel, these constant sacrifices under the Law of Moses were offered from cold hearts that were far from the Lord; hearts that wanted to continue delighting in sin without consequences. But this is not the right sacrifice David refers to. Listen to what the God says inHosea 6:6 “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. “It was not the blood of bulls and goats that God was after from His people, but what these sacrifices represented—a total dependence on the mercy of God to cleanse from sin and a trust in the promises of God to bring final and lasting salvation.
So, what is the obedience of the righteous? It is the faith-fueled response of the one who has recognized the great weight of their sin and their need for a righteousness outside of themselves. It is the daily steps of faith that the Christian takes, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to live in a way that pleases the Lord.
Now that we have seen the plea of the righteous and the obedience of the righteous, let’s end by looking at the reward of the righteous.
3) The Reward of the Righteous
So, what is the reward of the righteous? The first reward of the righteous is the Joy of God’s Presence.
It’s not the promise of worldly flourishing or financial success. Look at what the wicked are calling out for in verse 6--”There are many who say, “Who will show us some good? Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!” This is the cry of the one who wants a transactional relationship with God: “I will offer sacrifices and go through the rituals of religion if you promise to give me what I want.” They want God’s presence (“lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!”) but only for God’s favor (“Who will show us some good?”). These are like the false Christians that Paul warned Timothy of in 1 Timothy 6—those “who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.”
But what does David say? Verse 7: “You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound.” Remember David’s present situation when he was writing Psalms 3 and 4. He was on the run from his son who wanted to kill him! So what was David’s reward? It wasn’t a change in his present circumstances. It wasn’t a promise of reconciliation with Absalom, his son. It was the joy of God’s presence amidst his suffering. David says elsewhere, in Ps 46:1“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Beloved, this is the sure reality for you every moment of your life, even amidst great suffering. You can have joy in any circumstance because God is present is with you.
The second reward of the righteous is the Peace of God’s Protection V8: “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.”
When you are feeling most anxious and distressed, what is often the first thing that is sacrificed? Your sleep! We feel the crushing weight of our many responsibilities, so we stay up later and wake up earlier in an anxious effort to get everything done. Or we lie in our beds, kept awake by anxiety and despair over our present circumstances. Is it no wonder, then, that the Bible promises sleep to those who trust in the Lord’s protection? Ps 127:1-2: “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.”
Paul also speaks in the NT about the promise of peace for those who trust in the Lord: Phil 4:6-7“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
As we close, I want to address the believers in this room, and the unbelievers:
Believer–if you have placed your faith in Jesus, you have been made righteous before God. Jesus’ righteousness has replaced your unrighteousness. You can know that God hears your prayers and will be your sustaining joy and your perfect peace amidst life’s trials. If you are struggling to believe this, remind yourself of the Gospel: You are righteous because of Jesus. You are at peace with God because of Jesus. God hears your prayers because of Jesus. You have the promise of God’s presence and protection because of Jesus.
Unbeliever–Perhaps you are here this morning and have not trusted in Christ. Maybe you are like those David speaks of here who say, “Who will show us some good?,” believing that God owes you something. The truth of the gospel is that every one of us is owed something. But what we are owed is not God’s favor, it is his wrath. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” All of the promises we have seen in Psalm 4 can likewise be yours through the gospel: You can be made righteous through Jesus. You can have peace with God through Jesus. God will your prayers through Jesus. You can have the promise of God’s presence and protection through Jesus. Will you believe in Him?