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How To Be Holy?

How To Be Holy?

A brief study of Psalm 119:9-16, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 19 Apr 2013

Psalm 119 is essentially a library of songs for Christians to sing in union with Christ about our relationship with God vis-à-vis His Word. All true believers will find in these songs heart-felt and heart-emptying expressions for our innermost thoughts, fears, desires, anguish, hopes and grief. These expressions are all tethered and founded on the word of God because true Christian experience must always be authenticated against the Scripture. The more consistent our life and attitude to the Word of God are, the more peace, comfort, joy and assurance we will experience. The more contrary our life and attitude against the Word of God are, the more sorrows, frustration, guilt and fears we will have to endure.

With this in mind, we have entitled the first song in this library: “The Blessedness of Obedience.” But now, we come to look at the second song, which we may entitle “How to be Holy?”

There are 3 parts in this song.

·   First, in verse 9, we have a catechism question and answer on how a young man may keep himself holy.

·   Secondly, from verses 10-12, we are given to sing our resolve to keep ourselves holy and to seek the Lord’s help to keep our resolve.

·   Thirdly, from verse 13-16, we are given to reflect on what we have done and will continue to do with the Word of God.

So the three parts of this song are: (1) Catechism on Purity; (2) Resolutions to be Pure and (3) Reflections of the Pure.

1. Catechism on Purity (v. 9)

9 Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word.

Cleansing implies pollution. So when we ask how a young man may cleanse his way, we are immediately acknowledging that the young man is polluted. He is not only a sinner because of original sin. He is also a sinner because of the pollution of actual sin. But why are we talking about the young man? Well, young men would include young ladies, no doubt. But what about older men? What about children?

I believe the young man is specifically referred to, firstly because as Calvin puts it, “youth puts men where two ways meet and renders it imperative for them to select the course of life which they mean to follow.” Every young person has to make a choice of whether to go in the way of the Lord or the way of the devil. This is why Solomon exhorts us to make the right choices in our youth (Ecc 12:1). But secondly, the “young man” is highlighted for as Matthew Henry puts it: “there are many particular sins which young people are subject to, by which they defile their way.” Paul calls these “youthful lusts” (2 Tim 2:22).

But what is true of young persons is true of all of us to some extent. We all have to make choices and we are tempted in one way or another. If the solution for the young man to keep himself pure is to take heed to God’s word, then the solution for all of us is the same whether we are young or old.

We must take heed to the Word of God. We must make the Word of God our rule of life. We must take encouragement and warning from the Word of God. We must walk according to paths carved by the inviolable principles of the Word of God if we are to be holy as God is holy.

So as God questions us: “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? Our answer is “by taking heed thereto according to thy word.

But an answer is not enough. We must resolve to walk according to our knowledge. And so we are given word to make our resolution and to ask the Lord for His help…

2. Resolution to be Pure 
(v. 10-12)

11 Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.

In order that we may take heed to the Word of God, one of the first things we must do is to hide it in our hearts. Thus this famous confession that many of us have already hid in our heart.

The godly Christian is not one who uses the Bible as an user manual for trouble-shooting or as a tarot board to divine the right way. Rather the godly Christian is guided by the Holy Spirit bringing to remembrance all that he has read and has been taught through the Word. “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” says the Lord (Jn 14:26).

So the Christian makes effort to memorise the Word of God and to hold fast a form of sound doctrine in his mind. An ignorant and forgetful Christian cannot possibly walk in righteousness. He will walk according to his knowledge. If he has little biblical knowledge, he will walk according to what he feels is right. But what he feels is right is often wrong by God’s standards.

So let us resolve to hide God’s words in our hearts. But as we do so, let us ask the Lord to teach us— to bring teachers and preachers to instruct us, to lead us to good books, to give us alertness as we read the Bible and to illumine our hearts and minds with the truth. Thus, we are given to sing, verse 12—Blessed art thou, O LORD: teach me thy statutes.

Unless the Lord teaches us His statutes, we shall not be able to walk in the way of holiness. Unless he teaches us and enables us to keep what He has taught us, we shall not enjoy His blessedness.

And as the Lord teaches us His Word, let us reflect on the special place that the Word has in our hearts and lives. Again, we are given the words to do so in the final part of this song…

3. Reflections of the Pure 
(v. 13-16)

13 With my lips have I declared all the judgments of thy mouth.

The sincere words of the lips are the overflow of the heart. “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Mt 12:34). So those who are taught by the Lord and delight in the Word of the Lord will declare the will and the ways of the Lord,—as it were,—spontaneously.

May this be true of us even as we take these words on our lips? This was surely true with David who penned these words, and it was no doubt true of Christ who inspired this word. Thus it ought to be true of us who are given to sing these words.

Not only should we declare, we should also rejoice in the Word of the Lord…

14 I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies, as much as in all riches.

When we receive the riches of this world, we have reason to be happy. If we were poor, the riches can lift us out of misery and struggles. If we were not so poor, the riches can increase our ability to do good to the poor. So material riches can bring some joy.

But nothing can compare with the thrill that the child of God experiences in his heart when he discovers the way of the Lord which he had been ignorant of hitherto. And nothing can compare with the relief and joy that fills the heart of the child of God when he is reminded of the will of the Lord in a difficult choice in life.

We think of the joy and relief that David experienced when Abigail the wife of Nabal stopped him from the massacre he was bent on committing. Abigail was God-sent. David understood that. He said to her:

“Blessed be the LORD God of Israel, which sent thee this day to meet me: 33 And blessed be thy advice, and blessed be thou, which hast kept me this day from coming to shed blood, and from avenging myself with mine own hand” (1 Sam 25:32-33).

Oh how many a child of God has experienced the same restraint and been kept from speaking ill-advisedly in email or SMS or speech!

So again we are led to confess the desire of our hearts as it relates to the Word…

15 I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways.

Day by day we must consider, ponder and muse on the word of God. The child of God desires to do so. He will want to spend time with the Lord in daily devotions whenever he can. He feels a sense of loss and even guilt when he fails to do so. He wants to have “respect unto” or to consider the way of the Lord. Who knows if the Word of the Lord which He has apportioned for him that morning may be useful in a moment of great need?

But finally, we are given to confess in summary…

16 I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word.

The child who loves and respects his father loves to hear from his father. He seeks to please his father, and therefore he wants to know the will of his father. We think of the Rechabites who were commended by the Lord in Jeremiah 35 because they followed strictly the will of their father Jonadab the son of Rechab. He told them not to drink wine so they refused to do so. He told them not to build houses and plant vineyards and so they refused to do so from generation to generation!

It is clear that God would have us to delight in His statutes and obey Him in the way that the Rechabites obeyed Jonadab. He admonished the backsliding Jews, saying:

“The words of Jonadab the son of Rechab, that he commanded his sons not to drink wine, are performed; for unto this day they drink none, but obey their father's commandment: notwithstanding I have spoken unto you, rising early and speaking; but ye hearkened not unto me” (Jer 35:14).

Today the Holy Spirit has been poured down in full measure upon the children of God. All true believers are able to testify honestly: “I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word” (v. 16).

Oh may this desire be indeed true of us. And may we sincerely confess to the Lord this desire of our heart. Let us confess this in the manner that Paul did about his struggle against sin in Romans 7. For Paul disowned his sin. “Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me” exclaims Paul (Rom 7:20). May we likewise exclaim with confidence: “I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word.” When I fail to delight in thy statutes, when I forget thy word, it is not I but sin that dwelleth in me. Would thou change me and help me that the words of this psalm may truly reflect my heart, for I know that only in this way I can walk with true blessedness with my Saviour leading me on.


This is the second song of Psalm 119. May the Spirit of Christ enable us to sing it sincerely, so that by our lips and our lives we truly answer the question: “How to be holy”, that we may walk with Him who is holy, who laid down his life for us that we may have life. Amen.

—JJ Lim