Adding another gem to our summer sermon series in the Psalms, our very own Walter Shaw dives into the important question (and our BIG IDEA): Who can dwell in God’s presence? To answer this, Walter dives into 1. The Question 2. The Answer and 3. The Promise.

Citylight Manayunk | July 23, 2023 from Citylight Church on Vimeo.


ESV Study Bible
The Holiness of God, RC Sproul
Psalms 1-15o by Peter C. Craigie

Sermon Transcript

We all want to be resilient people who are strong enough to weather the storms of life without compromising that we hold most dearly. This passage is about how we can become the kind of person we aspire to be.

The big idea from Psalm 15 is this question: Who can dwell in God’s presence? Who can dwell in God’s presence? And to answer that question, we are going to look at the question itself, the answer, and the promise from Psalm 15. The question, the answer, the promise. With that said, let’s jump into the text with the question.

O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? (Psalm 15:1)

First, I’d like to give a little bit of background to this Psalm. Psalm 15 is ultimately a Psalm about entering God’s presence. The question being asked is one of qualifications – what kind of person shall sojourn in God’s tent? What kind of person shall dwell, not just visit for a moment but dwell on His holy hill?

You see, to enter the presence of God is not something that is taken lightly in the Bible. The reason that there is even a question here in the first place, “Who shall dwell on your holy hill,” is that not all are qualified to enter God’s presence. There is a standard for dwelling on God’s holy hill. To learn exactly what that means, let’s look at the very first holy hill, the garden of Eden.

All the way back at the beginning of human history, Adam and Eve enjoyed the privilege of God’s presence with no fear and no shame. But they quickly disobeyed God’s command, doubting his Word and eating of the forbidden tree. Since they became sinners and that God is so purely righteous that sin cannot survive in His presence, they were sent away from the garden (partially to preserve them), and so they could no longer dwell on God’s holy hill so to speak. And for the rest of the course of history, God again and again makes a way for His people to enter His presence.

At the time of history when this Psalm was written, God made a way for Himself to be present among sinful people, and that way was a special place where God could be present without undoing His people in His holiness, in this passage that place is referred to as the “tent” and “holy hill.” The tabernacle and then temple was the place where God and man could meet. In fact, this Psalm could have been recited first outside of the tabernacle, and then when the temple was built, outside of the temple as a way for God’s people to prepare their hearts for worship. Even despite humanity’s sin, God purposed to be present with His people. The tabernacle was how God dwelt with his people, where sacrifices were made for sin and where God was worshiped.

The first way we can dwell in God’s presence and become the kind of people that ask questions like “Lord, who shall dwell on your holy hill?” is by cultivating our sense of the holiness of God. If you are anything like me, it may shock us to consider how naturally we see God as personal and loving, but how it takes us a minute to wrap our minds around the moral perfection and other-ness of God. In fact, even as I was studying this passage over the last several weeks I found it hard to come up with an illustration of God’s holiness, partially because it’s an attribute of God that I almost think about in my day-to-day life.

So let’s take a minute and together, remind ourselves what we mean when we confess that God is holy. God is so holy, he is so morally perfect and complete in and of himself that when the prophet Isaiah, got a glimpse of the holiness of God as his glory filled the temple he was undone and could say nothing but “woe is me, I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips.” In his book The Holiness of God, R.C. Sproul answers the question: “Why was Isaiah’s response to use a phrase like woe is me when face with God’s glory?” After all, from what we know in Scripture he was a kind of righteous person. It was because Isaiah was no longer measuring himself up with other men where he might come outo no the more righteous end. He had seen someone much greater than any man, someone in a whole other category, and he was undone.

My first suggestion for us as we examine Psalm 15 is to look at God with fresh eyes. Consider His holiness, He has never done anything wrong, and He ever well. He is so unlike us and so it can be easier just to not think about it, but I invite you to join in with the chorus of angels and the church in heaven, singing holy holy holy, the whole earth is filled with his glory. Resist the temptation we all experience to skip over the holiness of God and focus on other attributes of his that seem more tangible, and take a moment to meditate on the holiness of God.

Who is worthy of sojourning in the ten of such a holy God? Who is worthy to dwell on His holy hill? Who is worthy to experience His presence and live? Not only that, but become unshakeable in the process? We’ve asked the question, we’ve looked at our wondrous God, now let’s look at the answer that Psalm 15 presents to us.

THE ANSWER (15:2-5A)
He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart; who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend; in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the LORD; who swears to his own hurt and does not change; who does not put out his money at interest and does not take a bribe against the innocent. (Psalm 15:2-5a)

So who is it that can sojourn in the Lord’s tent and dwell on his holy hill? In short, it is the righteous or blameless person. vv.2-5 lay out ten characteristics of the one who dwells in God’s presence. These conditions are both positive like “does what is right” and negative like “does not take a bribe against the innocent.” The general description of this person is “blameless,” which has the idea of integrity, someone who you can count on to always do the right thing and act morally. The rest of these verses bring some specificity to what that general term looks like lived out.

There are two particular qualifications that I would like to highlight for you. The first qualification is related to words. This person speaks truth in his heart (so it’s not exclusively an external thing). He does not slander with his tongue, meaning that this person does not spread evil or harmful reports about other people, they don’t talk down others. This is reminiscent of Paul’s teaching in the New Testament book of Ephesians: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29) James says the power of death and life is in the tongue, and the person who is qualified to dwell in the holy place is one who brings life rather than death with their words. What might this look like for you? For most of us, it probably requires curating our words more. Before we speak a potentially negative word about someone (or before we invite our conversation partner to speak a harmful word about another person), let’s ask ourselves “Is what I’m about to say, or what I’m about to invite, good for building up, or is it slander, or a reproach against my friend?” The person of integrity keeps a close watch on their words, speaking truth first in their heart that manifests itself in truth leaving our mouths.

Jesus’ teaching is in accordance with this. He said that “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45). Do you see how Jesus raises the stakes here? Slander comes out of our mouths because it’s in our hearts first. Evil words to our neighbor come out of our mouths because we have already murdered them in our hearts. It’s not like the Psalmist here is just saying “oh, you want to stop slandering, have you tried just not slandering?” The evil that comes out of our mouths is because of the evil that is first in our hearts. And so if the problem is in our hearts, we need a solution that transforms our hearts.

So how do we speak truth to our heart? One simple way is to meditate on God’s word, speaking the word to our hearts. Set aside time in the morning and evening to meditate on the Word, and speak it to your heart. There’s almost nothing more urgent than speaking truth in our hearts by reading, studying, and meditating on the word of God. Now let’s look at the second main qualification for the person who would dwell on God’s holy hill

The second qualification is one of attitude or disposition. This person, who is able to dwell on God’s holy hill, is one that has a righteous disposition. When they come across something vile, they have the appropriate response, which is to despise it. When they come across something good, someone who fears the LORD, they have an attitude or disposition of honor toward that person. How is your attitude toward the vile and the ones who fear the Lord? In a similar way to how we can be conditioned to forget the holiness of God and some way, it is easy for us to be desensitized by evil in this world. Both sin and righteousness might seem like they’re not a big deal, when really either ought to elicit some kind of response in us. The truth is, we are constantly being formed by the things we choose to do, and the things we choose not to do. It’s often the little things that we do repeatedly, over the course of our lifetime, that form us into the person whose disposition is either hardened or godly.

One way that we can resist being hardened against a right response to evil is by exercising discernment as it relates to the content that we consume. Before you take in a piece of media (or even after you’ve taken in a piece of media), confront it by asking the question: “Is consuming this piece of content going to normalize something that should not be normal for me?” Only you can answer that question, but it is one that is worth asking in light of the way that what we see with our eyes and hear with our ears shapes our disposition both toward sin and holiness.

One other small but common act that the passage speaks specifically against is going back on one’s word. Saying “yes, I’ll do that” but then when it gets hard (or if I’m being honest, slightly inconvenient), backing out because it would cost me too much.

When we see evil taking place in the world, we ought to think “that’s not right” and when we witness someone walking in the fear of the Lord, we ought to think “the grace of God is upon this person, forming them in righteousness, I want to honor Christ in them.” The person with that disposition is able to dwell in God’s presence.

Now, let’s consider how we might positively shape our dispositions in a godly manner. We spoke previously about speaking truth to your heart, and that is a vital daily part of being formed into the kind of person that despises evil and honors the godly.

Another way we shape our hearts is the simply weekly liturgy of worshiping the Lord with His gathered people on Sundays. There is some legitimate connection between these qualifications for dwelling in God’s special presence, and between the way that in our hearts, we approach worshiping the Lord in our Sunday gathering.

In light of that, I’d love for you to consider a question with me – “How can I let each Sunday gathering form me more and more into the righteous person described in this passage?” One of my favorite authors says that Sunday church is a Saturday decision. The point of that is that a small amount of intentionality spent preparing for the Sunday gathering can bear significant fruit in your heart as we gather to worship. It might look like praying through the passage that’s going to be preached to prepare your heart, or spending time in prayer during your travel time to church. There are some of us

The reason why there are so many qualifications listed here is because God is holy and awesome, and if we remember the holiness and awesomeness of God, it would probably shape the way that we worship. It might look like laying your heart before the Lord

Second and even more importantly, if you’re listening to this and thinking, man, these are some strict qualifications for me to reach just to have the privilege to go to church on Sunday mornings! You’re right that it is a high bar, but I’d like to give you some good news about you having to reach that high bar as we examine the promise that God gives to the one who does fulfill this standard.

He who does these things shall never be moved. (Psalm 15:5b)

What a wonderful promise, He who does these things shall never be moved. But this list of righteous requirements in the answer to the question, even this beautiful promise is only good news if you are the man or woman who does these things. The man who has never slandered. The woman who has never done evil to her neighbor. The person who gives their word and always stands by it, even when it hurts and comes at a great cost. This is the person that many of us aspire to be, and for those of us who can live up to a standard like this it’s good news.

If you’re here this morning exploring Christianity, here’s why this is good news for you. The God of the Bible, the one whose standards we’ve been examining here this morning, he isn’t the only one with a standard to measure up to in order for us to be in their presence. In fact, even though I may not know you personally, I would hazard a guess that you yourself have a standard for your own behavior and for those that you choose to spend your time with, or allow in your presence. On face value, there are probably even some things in common between the qualifications we’ve been talking about this morning and your own personal standard, or the standard of the culture you identify with. After all, who wants to be a liar or to be around slanderers? Who wants to be with those who act dishonestly or take advantage of the poor and powerless?

But if we’re honest with ourselves, we fail to measure up to God’s standards, and we fail to measure up even to our own standards. When we try to measure up to this ideal of “blameless” that we’ve been examining, we might squint and go “yeah you know, maybe on some days I might vaguely resemble this idea,” but when it comes to God’s perfect holiness, purity, and righteousness, that simply is not going to cut it. And so, when it comes to approaching God on our own, we are without hope and out of luck.

But here’s the difference between the standard of God of the Bible, the God that we’re assembled here to worship this morning, and every other standard and why the gospel is such good news. We don’t live up to God’s standard. We don’t even perfectly live up to the standards we make for ourselves, even when we make them as easy to meet as possible. Here’s the difference: the shadow of God making a way for His people to be in His presence through the tabernacle, and the temple comes into the light, when God has makes a way for every sinful person who would turn to him in faith by fulfilling this standard in the person and work of Jesus Christ our Lord. The failure of each of us to live out the law (even the laws you might be making up for yourself) can drive us to depend not on our own performance but entirely on Christ alone.

Now let’s examine this One who was never moved. Jesus lived out each of the virtues listed out in this passage and he was never moved. He kept to his mission, even to the point of death on a cross. His attitude was perfect, he was angered by the right things (like when he turned the tables in the temple), and he honored those who feared the Lord (like the woman who touched Jesus in faith and was healed). Who is the one that can sojourn in the Lord’s tent and dwell on the Lord’s holy hill? Jesus is the only one who could have earned that right on his own merits alone, no other blood sacrifice required.

If you haven’t yet turned from trying to measure up by your own merits, do not waste another minute. Confess that you have disobeyed and ignored God in the world that He is created, and by faith, put your only hope in life and in death in the finished work of Christ alone. There is a sample prayer on your connect card that can help you do this.

And for those of us who have put our trust in Christ, be vigilant against shifting back toward a performance mindset. We can freely admit that we do not measure up, that all have fallen short of the glory of God, but thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord who delivers us from our bodies of death through the life, death and resurrection of his son Jesus. We are free to live to please the Lord, albeit imperfectly, because we know Christ has lived it out perfectly

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that was set before him he set out for the cross and endured it, despising the shame, and is seated even now at the right hand of the throne of God the Father. He was never moved, and he will never be moved from his eternal purpose.