A Hymn of Security (Phil Johnson)

Psalm 125   |   Sunday, March 24, 2013   |   Code: 2013-03-24-PJ

     Our text for this morning is Psalm 125, a short psalm of just five verses. This is the sixth of fifteen psalms in a row all labeled with the same inscription, "A Song of Ascents." These 15 psalms are a book of short choruses that have been grouped together deliberately and placed within the psalter at a strategic point, just after the longest psalm of all (which is also the longest chapter in the whole Bible—Psalm 119).

     So Psalm 120 is the first of the psalms with this inscription ("Songs of Ascent") and the theme continues for fifteen psalms (through Psalm 134). Fifteen psalms in a row, then start with the same inscription: "A Song of Ascents" (or in the King James Version, "A Song of degrees.") And those 15 are the only psalms anywhere with that label, so it is clear that they were grouped together on purpose, and they go together for a reason.

     A clue about why these psalms constitute a distinct set is in the inscription itself. The word translated "Ascents" (or "degrees") is the Hebrew maalah. It can refer to the degrees on a sundial, or the stories of a building, or the steps in a staircase. Plus, it carries the connotation of going upward, ascending—stepping heavenward.

     So (we've said throughout this series that) most commentators believe these 15 psalms were grouped together to be sung on a journey. Specifically, these were songs to be sung on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem when you were traveling there for worship at the Temple. The title "Song[s] of Ascent" fits perfectly, because if you were traveling on foot from any direction toward Jerusalem, your journey would take you uphill. And frequently those uphill grades were steep and narrow and lined with cliffs and hazards—potentially treacherous. And people would sing these psalms together as they made that journey. So we've been referring to these 15 psalms as "Pilgrim Psalms" (Psalms 12-134).

     Now, we've already looked at the first five psalms in this series, and (if you have been able to listen to the whole series) you may have noticed that four of the first five are songs about the dangers and hardships along the way. The only exception is Psalm 122, which is about the joy of corporate worship. But even Psalm 122 obliquely mentions the persecution of the faithful, because it includes (in verses 6-7) a prayer for peace and security.

     That's fitting, because if you were coming from anyplace far away from Jerusalem, a pilgrimage to the Temple was often beset with  hardships and opposition. Hazards lurked along the way; adversaries assaulted the pilgrims—sometimes just with mockery and scorn, other times with physical violence; thieves and highwaymen, wild animals, scorching heat, and dangers of every kind could ambush travelers at any moment. It was a major sacrifice to make a pilgrimage like this, and the faithful in Israel did it several times a year.

     Aside from the dangers, the trip could be tedious. The roads on that uphill journey were dry, and dusty, and devoid of rest stops—and the climb was difficult, especially if you were traveling on foot. But finally you would crest one last hill, and there you would be looking over a vast populated area, Jerusalem. The old city was set in a kind of dish-shaped depression with hills surrounding it, and in the center of the populated area was the Temple mount, with the temple at the center and a massive courtyard teeming with your fellow worshipers. After the journey you had just made, the Temple mount was the very picture of safety and security.

     And in the psalm we're looking at this morning, the psalmist draws a picture of spiritual security using the very imagery these pilgrims knew awaited them at the end of their journey. This is a hymn of security. The song compares the believer (and the security of God's safekeeping), to the stability of mount Zion, that immovable rock that anchors the city of Jerusalem. The name Zion was sometimes used to refer to the Temple Mount, and it appears that the imagery the psalmist wants to invoke here encompasses the Temple grounds, the Temple itself, and the Holy of Holies. Those were the main symbols of God's presence in Israel, so what the Psalmist is writing about here is a level of security that is profound, spiritual, supernatural. It is the very thing we speak of in theological terms as "eternal security."

     Zion, you know, is a hill made of solid rock. The word Zion is sometimes used as a synonym for Jerusalem, because that solid-rock hill, Zion is the high point of the old city. Technically, Zion is immediately adjacent to the Temple mount and overlooks it. But what we call the Temple Mount is actually an outcropping of rock that is part of Zion's hill. The whole mountain served as a natural rock fortress, and it was almost impossible to assault with infantry soldiers. In ancient times, even before David built a city there, there was a manmade fortress at the top of the hill. It was a military stronghold with impregnable walls, making the hill even harder to invade and conquer.

     In the mind of every Old Testament Israelite, Zion was the very picture of security, invincibility, and sturdy permanence. It wasn't something that could ever be moved or easily overthrown.

     So (as these pilgrims traveled that road paved with hardship, inconvenience, discomfort, and even threats to their very lives) this little chorus was a reminder that in spiritual terms they themselves were every bit as secure as Mount Zion herself. They were even more secure, really—because our security as believers comes from God himself, not from a ring of mountains.

     So this psalm addresses one of the main anxieties that assaults the heart and mind of virtually every believer. If you have never had any qualms about your security, you probably haven't thought carefully enough about the spiritual dangers that surround you. If you have no fear that you might fall; no concern about whether your faith is real enough or strong enough to hold firm in any trial; no doubts about whether you might lose your salvation or sin egregiously enough to cause God to turn away from you entirely; no fear of what the adversary might do to unsettle your faith; no hesitancy in the face of persecution; and no worries whatsoever about whether Christ will one day say to you "'Well done, good and faithful servant," or "I never knew you; depart from me"—if you have never been troubled by any sense of insecurity, then you are either a very shallow believer, or a very rare Christian indeed.

     Spiritual insecurity is one of the most common problems most pastors have to deal with in the counseling room. Eternal security is the one point of doctrine evangelicals ask the most questions about. The security of the believer is a perennial matter of concern, and debate, and misunderstanding, and disagreement.

     Are believers truly secure in Christ? Let's face this squarely: We don't feel totally secure. We don't act like people who can withstand the onslaughts of Satan without being in danger of eternal destruction. Consider any one of us in and of ourselves, and we look frail, and fallible, and disfigured by our own faults. How spiritually secure are we, really?

     According to this psalm, believers enjoy a security that is utterly unshakable. Let me read the psalm, and notice as I read that although it uses a lot of geographical imagery, this psalm is not talking about geo-political stability, national security, military might, or any other kind of earthly and physical security. This is about the eternal spiritual security every genuine believer enjoys.

     And notice also, that the point is not about how strong or reliable we are. We have nothing to boast about, and this psalm gives us nothing to boast about. But it gives us Someone to trust in and rely on. This is not about the stamina or the fortitude of redeemed people; it's about the keeping power of God—His dependability, His perpetual care and guardianship, His faithfulness in keeping His people from all evil. That's the source of our security, and you see it vividly in this psalm. Here's the psalm:

Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever.

2 As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people, from this time forth and forevermore.

3 For the scepter of wickedness shall not rest on the land allotted to the righteous, lest the righteous stretch out their hands to do wrong.

4 Do good, O LORD, to those who are good, and to those who are upright in their hearts!

5 But those who turn aside to their crooked ways the LORD will lead away with evildoers! Peace be upon Israel!

By the way, this is a return to one of the themes we saw in the second of the Pilgrim Psalms, Psalm 121. Look back just four psalms, and look at verses 4-8 of Psalm 121. This is a familiar passage to most of you:

He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

5 The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade on your right hand.

6 The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.

7 The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.

8 The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.

Psalm 125 returns to that motif, and it's a kind of commentary those verses from Psalm 121. This time the psalmist elaborates how God keeps us from all evil, whether we're going out or coming in. As the psalmist ponders how the Lord surrounds and protects us with His watchful presence, he thinks of the mountains that surround the Holy City. And he uses the city of Jerusalem as a symbol of the saints' security. The geographic features of Jerusalem make a fitting illustration of the Lord's providential care for His people, and that's what this psalm is all about, from start to finish. Again, it's a hymn of security.

     I see four features of spiritual security that are expressly highlighted in this psalm, and I want to consider them each in order with you. Here they are, in case you want to work through this psalm with an outline in your head: In verse 1, he highlights the idea of Stability. Then in verse 2, the theme is Safety. Verse 3 emphasizes Sanctification. and the final two verses are a devout and confident prayer for Success—ultimate, eternal prosperity for believers, including triumph over evildoers.

     Those, we could say, are the chief benefits of the spiritual security God Himself provides for every believer: Stability, safety, sanctification, and success. And I want to consider those ideas one at a time with you in light of this text, starting in verse 1 with:


1. Stability

     "They that trust in the Lord" are fixed, anchored, and steadfast. Notice: that's a statement about believers themselves. They are "as mount Zion, which cannot be removed." Remember this is about spiritual security, not military dominance or physical endurance. Clearly, believers are no more invulnerable to the calamities of life or the weapons of war than unbelievers are. We will all face the common sorrows and trials of life. If the Lord doesn't return soon, all of us will eventually die. Believers are subject to sickness, pain, and physical death just as much as the most obstinate unbeliever.

     But in the ultimate, eternal sense (v. 1): "Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever." The devil himself could not unseat them from the place of God's favor. They are justified. All their sins are forgiven, and they are clothed in the righteousness of Christ. "They will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of [Christ's] hand." Satan himself may sift them like wheat, but their faith will not fail.

     Now again, even as we consider the spiritual indestructibility of God's people, the point is not about any secret strength or stamina that we (believers) possess in and of ourselves (and you'll see that clearly when we get to verse 2). We who believe are steady and unmovable not because of any toughness or talent of our own. In fact, left to ourselves, we would fall and fail spiritually. Every one of us.

     In fact, the very thing God is doing for us is rescuing us from a fallen spiritual condition which we ourselves are responsible for. Psalm 40:2: "He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure." So we are fixed and steady because God pulled us out of the bog of our own sin and set our feet firmly on a rock. Furthermore, having done that, He is not going to let anyone pluck us out of His hand, nor will he let our foot slide. Don't miss this point: Our redemption from start to finish is all God's doing, not our own—and He will finish what He started. Ephesians 2:8-10: "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."

     So we who believe are fixed, secure, immovable—no matter how weak and fallible we might feel. In fact, if you feel your own frailty, all the better. Don't trust in yourself and your own strength, because your stability is not grounded in any strength of your own. And as you'll see when we get to verse 2, the psalmist explicitly ascribes our spiritual steadfastness to the protection YHWH Himself provides. That is in perfect agreement with 1 Peter 1:5, which says we are "kept by the power of God through faith" from the hour we first believe until the end of our lives. "By God's power [we] are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time." So don't miss this: the psalmist's doctrine of perseverance is exactly in accord with apostolic teaching.

     And I love the image he uses to show the extent of our security. He chooses the strongest, most permanent thing any Israelite could ever envision. He says we are as firm and solid and well-anchored as a mountain of solid rock—Mount Zion, to be precise, which Scripture says cannot be moved. And in Old Testament times Zion was virtually unassailable. Furthermore, Zion was associated with the presence of God—overlooking the Temple grounds. It was a place near and dear to the heart of God—a place every faithful Israelite knew God personally watched over with the utmost vigilance.

     Every believer is no less secure than that, the psalmist says.

     And that's not the end of it. Zion itself was set in a kind of dish-shaped depression, encircled by some deep valleys all around, then further surrounded by a ring of mountains. That layout made a surprise attack by any invading army almost impossible.

     And that brings us to a second feature of the security every believer enjoys:


2. Safety

     Not only are the saints themselves fixed and immovable—free from the threat of stumbling and falling headlong into ultimate destruction; they are also safe from the threats of every external enemy. All the assaults of evil combined cannot destroy them, because God Himself is their constant defender, and His protection will last eternally.

     Verse 2: "As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people, from this time forth and forevermore." I love that imagery. We're surrounded, not by fences and barbed wire as if we were inmates in a prison; not by walls and windows as if we were being confined in a classroom or an office building. But we are surrounded by something larger and more secure and more spectacular than either walls or fences: mountains. So the picture we get in our minds is spacious, expansive, and unconfined. It combines maximum security with the utmost freedom. A double benefit.

     How safe was Zion from external attacks? The safety of the ancient city was legendary. Listen to Lamentations 4:12: "The kings of the earth did not believe, nor any of the inhabitants of the world, that foe or enemy could enter the gates of Jerusalem."

     In fact, the geographical features in and around Jerusalem made the city such a place of sanctuary that in Scripture it is frequently treated as the very picture of heaven. Zechariah had a famous vision that illustrates this point. Zechariah 2:1-5:

And I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, a man with a measuring line in his hand!

2 Then I said, "Where are you going?" And he said to me, "To measure Jerusalem, to see what is its width and what is its length."

3 And behold, the angel who talked with me came forward, and another angel came forward to meet him

4 and said to him, "Run, say to that young man, 'Jerusalem shall be inhabited as villages without walls, because of the multitude of people and livestock in it.

5 And I will be to her a wall of fire all around, declares the LORD, and I will be the glory in her midst.'"

That's a prophecy about the millennial kingdom, and Jerusalem in the millennial kingdom will be a vivid preview of what the eternal New Jerusalem will be like—a city without walls, where the glory of God is perpetually on display, and where God Himself surrounds and guards and overspreads the city.

     That is precisely what the psalmist has in mind here in Psalm 125. God Himself is the citadel of eternal security. He is the defensive perimeter that keeps us safe.

     And "eternal security" is precisely the right expression here. The end of verse 2 says, "the LORD surrounds his people, from this time forth and forevermore." Eternally. We are eternally secure.

     This doctrine, Luther said—this truth that we are surrounded by divine protection, kept secure by the grace of God—"is much easier to teach than to believe." Luther said, "If we were surrounded by [visible] walls of steel or fire, we would feel secure and bid defiance to the devil. . . . But this promise is hard to be believed, both by us who suffer and by our persecutors." Of course, Luther wasn't doubting the promise of this text. In fact, he said, "It is the character of faith not to boast of what the eye beholds, but of what the word reveals." In other words, we need to learn to trust what God says, regardless of what we see or feel. That's the very essence of true faith. "But," Luther added, "beware of appointing to God a time for our deliverance. God allows us to be tempted even to the uttermost. When it has come to the last extremity, and we have nothing before us but despair, then He delivers us, and in death gives us life, and in the curse a blessing."

     You see that in the experience of Job, and Samson, and David, and Peter—and every saint in Scripture who was tested, or stumbled and fell on the way to glory. We do at times look and feel like the devil might get the better of us. But those who genuinely put their trust in God are as safe as Mount Zion—safe from crumbling, and safe from attack.

     To review: we have stability (meaning we ourselves are kept steadfast in the faith); we enjoy safety (meaning we are protected from outside threats). Here's a third benefit of the saints' security:


3. Sanctification

     The idea here is that God keeps us progressing in holiness, gaining more and more victory over sin. Every true believer is sanctified (meaning we have been set apart from sin); and every believer is being sanctified (meaning we are gradually being set apart from sin more and more all the time), until we will finally be glorified, perfectly Christlike, sin purged from our experience. And if you are a true believer, that is the end you are progressing toward: perfect Christlikeness.

     Now I know the minute I say that, a lot of you are instantly discouraged. It doesn't feel like I'm growing in Christlikeness. In fact, it often feels like I'm going backward. We all feel that way. Because the more you become like Christ, the more aware of and sensitive to sin in your life you are.

     Still, if you are a believer, God is constantly and relentlessly conforming you to the image of His Son. That's what sanctification is all about. But we all make progress gradually, and in fits and starts. We backslide. We gain ground and then lose it.

     The reality is that God uses even our failures to teach us and motivate us to mortify sin. We don't always perceive the progress. Our sanctification is always imperfect in this life; the remnants of sinful corruption remain in every part of our being, and we are perpetually at war with our own desires. The flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh. At times the flesh prevails in that struggle, but for a true believer, that is always temporary, and it is contrary to his true nature, and Christ keeps supplying the strength and the desire to mortify the deeds of the flesh.

     Still, in the words of the Westminster Confession of Faith, even the best of saints are susceptible to sin. They stumble because of "the temptations of Satan and of the world[. They succumb to the ] corruption remaining in them[. They fail when they] neglect of the means of their preservation[. In fact, true believers may] fall into grievous sins and for a time [even] continue therein[. And when they do sin,] they incur God's displeasure, and grieve his Holy Spirit." But for genuine believers, the process of sanctification never stalls completely. It might derail badly, and in some cases frequently, but true believers endure to the end. They are ultimately overcomers.

     You might be thinking that sounds like a pretty shaky, unsettled, unsafe sort of security. Are we really as stable as a rock and as safe as a city surrounded by mountains if we are constantly susceptible to failure in our war against the world, the flesh and the devil? Yes. In the words of 1 Corinthians 15:57, "God . . . gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." Or Romans 8:37: "In all these things [temptation, persecution, tribulation, distress—in all of it,] we are more than conquerors through him who loved us."

     This tension runs through all of Scripture. We are overcomers, victors, the ones who conquer. Second Corinthians 2:14 says, "God . . . in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession." We are free from sin and slaves of righteousness. And yet we are constantly surrounded with dangers—temptation, persecution, hardship, weakness, and even sinful desires that emanate from our own flesh. We don't feel or look or live like conquerors they way we envision what victory ought to be.

     In fact, let me deal with a question I know someone is going to raise: How is Jerusalem a symbol of peace and stability and security when it is quite possibly the single most contested piece of real estate in the world today? Jerusalem is constantly on military alert. It has been the focus of wars and political unrest longer and more often than any major city in the world. Zion has been defeated by armies. Repeatedly.

     Even in Scripture, long before this psalm was written, Mount Zion was home to a Jebusite fortress, and none other than David conquered the Jebusites there. In fact, this was the first mention of Zion anywhere in Scripture. The Jebusites were so certain of their security that they mocked David and threatened to defeat him with a nursing home full of disabled people.

     I'm not making this up. Here's the passage (2 Samuel 5:6-7) "And the king [that's David] and his men went to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land, who said to David, 'You will not come in here, but the blind and the lame will ward you off'—thinking, 'David cannot come in here.' Nevertheless, David took the stronghold of Zion, that is, the city of David." In other words, David demolished the fortress they had built there, and put the city of David in its place. That was the start of Jerusalem as we know it.

     That's not all. Not long after this psalm was written, Micah 3:12 prophesied the utter destruction of Zion: "Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins, and the mountain of the house a wooded height." Nebuchadnezzar fulfilled that prophecy about 150 years after Micah wrote it.

     The truth is that wicked kings and sinister nations have conquered and ruled over Mount Zion time and time again over the course of human history. So what kind of illustration is this? What kind of security does the believer enjoy if the symbol of our security is a dusty rock that has been overthrown repeatedly by invading armies, crusading heretics, and pagan false religious leaders?

     The answer to that question is in verse 3 of our text: "The scepter of wickedness shall not rest on the land allotted to the righteous, lest the righteous stretch out their hands to do wrong." A scepter is a symbol of authority—the emblem of a ruler. The wicked might bring their scepters to Zion, set up temporary thrones there, and pretend they have acquired the mountain of God as their own possession, but no wicked scepter has ever rested there.

     That turns out to be a perfect picture of how you and I experience sanctification. Sin may come as an interloper in our lives. It may try to stake a claim, reestablish the total dominance it once had over us, and set up rule over us again to make us saves of evil. But if you are a true believer in Christ; if you love Him; if you are His sheep and hear His voice—in other words, if you respond with faith to the Word of God (whether it rebukes you, encourages you, exhorts you, or reproves you; if you respond with faith), then according to Romans 6:14, "Sin shall not have dominion over you." "Sin shall not be master over you." "The scepter of wickedness shall not rest upon the land of the righteous."

     A moment ago, I read Micah's prophecy that "Zion will be plowed as a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of ruins." That's Micah 3:12, and it's the last verse in that chapter. Now listen to the very next two verses, Micah 4:1-2: "And it will come about in the last days That the mountain of the house of the LORD Will be established as the chief of the mountains. It will be raised above the hills, And the peoples will stream to it. Many nations will come and say, "Come and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD And to the house of the God of Jacob, That He may teach us about His ways And that we may walk in His paths." For from Zion will go forth the law, Even the word of the LORD from Jerusalem."

     That's a prophecy about the Messianic kingdom, and it means Zion will never be permanently overthrown. That hill will never crumble, and it cannot be leveled. It will be the focal point of Christ's reign when he establishes his earthly kingdom. In the long-range plan of God—and especially in view of eternity in the New Jerusalem, Zion is perfectly secure.

     Remember, at the very outset, we said this passage is not about earthly, geographical, or political security. It is about eternal security in the never-ending bliss of heaven.

     And all of this applies to our sanctification as well. If you take a snapshot of your thoughts or behavior at any given moment in time, you might not seem very much like a sanctified person. I'll be honest with you: I sometimes lose my sanctification when I'm driving. (And other times, too.)

     But if you are a genuine believer, you ought to be able to step back, look at the big picture of your life, and say, yes, I am growing in grace. It might not feel like it. You may be frustrated (as I am) with the slow pace of the process. But you should be able to see clear evidence of growth and progress. And in the big picture, "The scepter of wickedness shall not rest upon the land of the righteous." If it seems to you as if you are utterly and completely defeated, with no evidence of growth and no victory whatsoever over sin, you need to examine yourself, to see whether you are truly in the faith. Because the experience of the true believer may be frustrating and often tedious, or discouraging, or disheartening, or flat-out humbling. Nevertheless our experience ought to reflect the spirit of this psalm, so that even when we are relentlessly assaulted by the world, the flesh, and the devil, our faith remains secure, our love for Christ draws us back to Him, and we don't give up on our duty to mortify the deeds of the flesh.

     And notice that even when it may seem like our lives have gone out of control or some trial or temptation is too great for us to bear, it is God himself who establishes the boundaries and the time-limits on the enemy's activities. God Himself sees to it that "the scepter of wickedness shall not rest upon the land of the righteous." Why? "Lest the righteous stretch out their hands to do wrong." In other words, so that we are not tempted beyond our ability to withstand—so that we ourselves don't yield to temptation and put forth our hand to do something wicked—God has decreed that "the scepter of wickedness shall not rest on the land allotted to the righteous." As it says in Psalm 103:14: "He knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust." Verse 3 of our text is actually a parallel passage to 1 Corinthians 10:13. Both verses are making the same promise: "God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. "

     There is a great deal of security in that promise. Again, the security believers enjoy is never described in the Bible as a guarantee of moment-by-moment invincibility. When God says, as in Psalm 121:3, that "He will not let your foot be moved," that's not a promise that you'll never feel as if you're slipping. You almost certainly will. Or Psalm 121:7: "The LORD will keep you from all evil"—that's not an absolute promise that evil will never trouble you at all. It simply means that evil will never destroy you or bring you back into helpless slavery. At the end of every trial, even when you stumble—and especially at the end of life itself—you will ultimately be able to say emphatically as the psalmist does in Psalm 94:18, "When I thought, 'My foot slips,' your steadfast love, O LORD, held me up."

     "For the scepter of wickedness shall not rest on the land allotted to the righteous." God is sanctifying His people, "lest the righteous stretch out their hands to do wrong." And no matter what a snapshot, or a day, or a longer season of life may seem or feel like, genuine believers are truly secure in the faith. No matter what temptation, opposition, persecution, or even death the powers of darkness may bring against us, we are secure—and our triumph is secure. Romans 8:35: "Wh[at] shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?" Even if to the eye of flesh it looks as if evil has the upper hand against us and we are nothing more than sheep headed for slaughter, "No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. [and] I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

     God is conforming us to the image of Christ, who suffered all that we suffer and more—and He emerged victorious even over death. Believers are united with Christ by faith and therefore we fully participate in His victory, even as we progress toward perfect Christlikeness.

     So we are stable; we are safe; we are being sanctified. Here's a fourth feature of our spiritual security:


4. Success

     Success? Now, before you think I'm turning into a prosperity preacher, let me reemphasize that we're talking about ultimate spiritual triumph, not some notion of earthly affluence. Spiritual success is precisely what this psalm has in view. It's not about material riches, political clout, military triumph, the respect of other men, or any other earthly notion of success. It is an infinitely bigger concept than that.

     This is a psalm about eternal spiritual blessings—eternal prosperity—for the righteous. And the righteous (defined in verse 1 of our text) are simply "Those who trust in the LORD." Their "righteousness" is not some merit they have earned on their own. Their "trust" is not in their own good works. As the apostle Paul says in Philippians 3:9, genuine believers long to be "found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith."

     True righteousness—the righteousness that distinguishes the people of God from reprobate people—is not some merit that is earned by good works. It is a righteousness that is imputed to us by faith. It is the righteousness of Christ "which is by faith . . . unto all and upon all them [who] believe" (Romans 3:22).

     In the words of our psalm, verse 4, those whose trust is in the Lord are by definition "upright in their hearts," because in their hearts they believe God. That's what it means to be truly faithful—full of faith in the word and the promises of God. They are distinct from those described in verse 5 "who turn aside to their crooked ways." Those are the unbelievers. As Christ said in John 3:18, "Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God." The difference between the righteous and the wicked, the justified and the condemned is not the quality of their deeds. "No one does good, not even one . . . all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." But those who believe—who confess their sin and trust Christ as Savior—they are clothed in the righteousness of Christ, and therefore they have a right standing before God. God's eternal blessing is upon them.

     Our psalm closes with a prayer that recognizes all that. Verses 4-5: "Do good, O LORD, to those who are good, and to those who are upright in their hearts! But those who turn aside to their crooked ways the LORD will lead away with evildoers! Peace be upon Israel!" God does precisely that—so the upright in heart (those who believe) enter into an eternal reward, and those who turn aside to their crooked ways are eternally condemned. In the words of Jesus from John 5:24, "Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life." That is the ultimate blessing of God—eternal success. Full redemption from the guilt and penalty of our sin.

     So this psalm's culminating stanza of praise is a celebration of one of the most fundamental of all biblical promises: the ultimate triumph of good over evil. The fulfillment of God's eternal plan means eternal blessing for His people—and it also signals the final condemnation of evildoers.

     No kind of earthly success could ever even begin to compare to the triumph of the saints in heaven. And every degree of earthly failure pales in comparison to the eternal disaster that awaits unbelievers.

     This is a song we all need to sing on the upward journey to the New Jerusalem. It is a perfect distillation of the gospel, and a reminder of why the gospel is indeed good news—the best possible news in a cursed and dying world. And we need to be proclaimers of this good news: Spiritual security, and true blessing are available to "Those who trust in the LORD."

     That's the very phrase this hymn of security opens with. Don't lose sight of that, because in those words are bound up every promise this song celebrates: Stability, security, sanctification, and eternal success. In those words are also by implication an invitation to any and every sinner who feels the devastation and instability of sin. If you long for salvation, cleansing, security, and the smile of God on your life, God is inviting you to come to Christ as you are—and trust Him as Savior.

     In revelation 22:17, we read, "The Spirit and the Bride [that's the whole church in unison—the Bride, together with the Spirit of God] say, 'Come.' And let the one who hears say, 'Come.' And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price."