“Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false” (Ps. 24:3–4).
The Aaronic blessing includes the pronouncement that the Lord would “lift up his countenance” — His face — upon His people, because the greatest blessing for any person is to be under the gaze of God’s approval (Num. 6:22–27). Of course, being dead in sin, we can do nothing to merit this loving gaze but must put our hope in the grace of our Father as shown in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:1–10). In other words, there is nothing we can do to make our Creator love us or to achieve the perfection that is needed to enjoy eternal life.
At the same time, Paul says we are saved unto good works, not idleness, in the very same place that he reveals our absolute dependence on Christ (v. 10). Our deeds do not get us into the kingdom but demonstrate the faith that makes us citizens of heaven (James 2:14–26). Our good works of obedience do give us access to many spiritual and physical blessings, though not the ultimate blessing of salvation. Those who walk coram Deo — before the face of God’s favor because they follow His Word — will experience many temporal blessings and prove that they have the faith that alone gives them access to the ultimate loving gaze of the Lord, that is, eternal salvation.
This, then, is how we must understand today’s passage: David expresses praise to the Creator, who has a right to the earth’s fullness because He has made it and everything on it (Ps. 24:1–2). He goes on to ask and answer questions about who will have the right to stand in the Lord’s holy temple — the place where the favor of God was seen and felt most directly under the old covenant (v. 3). Those who stand there must have clean hands and pure hearts, a reference to a life faithful to the covenant (v. 4). David knew perfection was impossible for sinners and that only divine grace could save him (Ps. 32:1–2; Rom. 4:1–12). But he also knew that assurance of salvation and other benefits are enjoyed only by those who, knowing they are justified by faith alone, seek to follow His will, repenting when they fall short.
Those who walk in such ways are promised righteousness, which in this context means something like vindication and blessing (Ps. 24:5). When we walk before the face of God with integrity, we should not be surprised to feel His blessings in a tangible manner, which is a great motivation for faithfulness to His covenant.
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
We can do nothing to merit eternal life, but it does not follow that we can do nothing to experience more of God’s favor once we have been ingrafted into the body of Christ through faith alone. Obedience to the Lord’s covenant stipulations can keep us from the harsher forms of His discipline and grant us many blessings that we might not otherwise enjoy when we are disobedient (Heb. 12). Therefore, we must seek to follow Him in all things.