The Righteous One’s Personal Character

a brief study of Psalm 15, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 8 Sep 2006

Psalm 15 is not a very popular psalm. It is seldom sung and seldom quoted. Neither is it usually known to be Messianic. But it is not difficult to see that it is.

The psalm begins with:

1 LORD, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill?

The tabernacle and the holy hill are, no doubt, figures of the dwelling place of God,—namely heaven.

Who may abide or dwell in heaven? Who may take up residence in the brightness of heaven in all its glorious splendour and holiness?

Who? But "He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness…" (v. 2). But where do you find such a man?

We saw in Psalm 14—

"There is none that doeth good… They are all gone aside, they are altogether become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no not one" (v. 1, 3).

Who then, is "he that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness"? Who, but our Lord Jesus Christ!

This is He who is called "Jesus Christ the righteous" (1 Jn 2:1) by the apostle John.

This is He who is the "Holy One and the Just" (Act 3:12) to the apostle Peter.

This is He "who knew no sin" (2 Cor 5:21) to the apostle Paul

This is He who is "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens" (Heb 7:26).

Who shall abide in the tabernacle of God? Who shall dwell in His holy hill? None other than Jesus Christ who alone is perfectly upright and righteous.

Psalm 15 is about this Man—this man of men, or rather this man of God, the God-Man. This psalm describes the personal character of our Lord Jesus Christ.

It describes what He is like—especially during His earthly ministry.

But He is the head of the church and the church is His body. Therefore, this psalm also describes what believers united to Him should be. The pilgrim walk of believers in this world should be one that is characterised by an increasing likeness to the Lord Jesus Christ. This must be so because the Spirit of Christ indwells us and sanctifies us so that we become more and more like the Lord.

With this in mind, let us therefore consider what the Spirit of Christ tells us is the character of our Lord. We may consider it under seven headings.

First, let us notice that…

1. The Lord is Pure in Deeds

2 He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness,

Walking and working: these are terms that describe our external deeds—things which we do with our hands and feet.

Our Lord was upright and righteous in outward deeds. He is upright and righteous in His heart. And since out of the heart "are the issues of life" (Prov 4:23), our Lord is upright and righteous in all that He does.

He did not at any point transgress the Law of God in all that He did. Some of the Jews charged Him for breaking the Sabbath. But they knew that they had no basis for their charge. For when He was tried before Annas, and Caiaphas, and Pilate, and Herod, none could prove He had broken any law—whether civil or religious. The Jews had to resort to false witnesses to indict Him.

Our Lord was sinless in action. He did not break the law, and He did good whenever the opportunity arose so that it could not be said that He failed the law.

He walked uprightly and worked righteously. Oh how we should imitate Him—so that we may be blameless before God and man.

2. The Lord is Pure
in Thoughts

2b and speaketh the truth in his heart.

What is the speech of the heart but the thought! "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh" says our Lord (Mt 12:34). Speech is an overflow of our thoughts.

The thoughts of our Lord were truth and faithfulness. He did not entertain falsehood. He did not allow sinful thoughts. Sinful thoughts are either based on unlawful substance or wrong reasoning. Righteous thoughts are founded upon truth and right reasoning.

Our Lord was pure and perfect in His thought-life. He was tempted at all points like as we are, yet without sin (Heb 4:15).

Was it not that His thought-life was as pure as His outward life, would His Father have been pleased with Him? Would His Father have accepted His sacrifice? We are taught in Psalm 44 that God "knoweth the secrets of the heart" (Ps 44:21).

Our Lord hid no secret from His Father. He had no secret sin. He had no sin even in His thoughts.

Shall we not, beloved brethren and children, seek to imitate Him even in our thoughts? Our thoughts, though invisible to men, is laid out in clear before God and our Lord who speaks truth in His heart.

3. Our Lord is Pure in Speech

3 He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour.

Our catechism teaches us that we sin in words, deeds and thoughts. We have seen how our Lord was perfectly righteous in thoughts and deeds. What about His speech?

His speech was also without sin!

He does not backbite with his tongue. He does not talk bad about anyone behind his back—where he cannot defend himself. He does not slander.

Nor does e cast a slur on his neighbour.

He does not do evil to his neighbour by gossips or by spreading falsehood. He does not render evil for evil. The apostle Peter reminds us that guile was not found in His mouth, and that when He was reviled, He reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not, but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously (1 Pet 2:22-23).

It is particularly on this point that Christ has set us an example, that we should follow in His steps (1 Pet 2:21).

If our Lord was able to control His tongue under the most difficult circumstance, shall we, who name His name, not seek to control our tongue always?

4. He is Pure in Friendship

4 In whose eyes a vile person is contemned; but he honoureth them that fear the LORD.

Our Lord was not only pure in heart and conduct. He was careful with His friends. Yes, He was called "a friend of publicans and sinners" (Mt 11:19).

But are we not all sinners? He is a friend to the publicans and sinners because they feared God, and confessed their sin before God. They were His sheep, and they heard His voice and followed Him. He is a friend to all such who fear the LORD. He honours them with blessings which He has received from His Father.

On the other hand, He would have nothing to do with the proud Pharisees and Scribes. These are vile in God’s sight and vile in His sight. These love the honour of man. Our Lord tells us that…

"…they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi" (Mt 23:5-7).

They are contemptible in our Lord’s eyes. He would not flatter them. He would not be their friend. He called them whited-sepulchers and a brood of vipers.

Our Lord, in other words, valued His friends according to their relationship with God not according to their temporal status or wealth or education or religiosity.

Beloved brethren and children, let us learn from our Lord. Let us not despise the poor, or those who are struggling in their Christian walk. Let us seek to be their friends. But let us have nothing to do with the proud and self-conceited religious hypocrites.

"Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners" (1 Cor 15:33). And "what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness" (2 Cor 6:14).

5. He is Pure in Promises

4b He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not.

Our Lord was a man of His word. He made many promises, and He kept His promises even when they hurt. The greatest of His promises was, of course, His promise unto His Father in the eternal covenant of grace.

Our Lord covenanted to take on human flesh, to suffer on behalf of those that the Father gave Him. He promised to die on their behalf to pay for their sin. It was a most painful promise to keep. But He kept it all to the jot and tittle.

He suffered the pains of hell for you and me who belong to Him.

If He kept His vows for us that we may have life in Him, shall we not, as recipients of His grace, do likewise. Shall we not be careful to keep our vows for the glory of God?

6. He is Pure in the Use of 
His Worldly Possession

5 He that putteth not out his money to usury,

The Law of Moses forbids the Israelites from lending money to other Israelites for interest (Ex 22:25; Lev 25:35-37). The Law does not forbid charging a reasonable interest for strangers and aliens.

But our Lord is said to be one who would not put His money to usury at all. He would lend without any thought about earning interest. He had no interest in being paid for doing good.

This is what charging interest is all about. It is about helping the poor for a fee. Our Lord was interested in doing good. He had no interest in making a quick buck.

It is likely that our Lord did not have enough money to lend to others. But the idea is that it would be against His principle to charge interest if He were to lend to the poor. In fact, it would have been more likely that He had given to the poor if He had anything to give.

Were He willing to put His money to usury, He might have made a lot of money selling bread and fish to the 4 and 5 thousand.

But no, He did good without expecting return. "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35) says our Lord. "Freely ye have received, freely give" (Mt 10:8). This must have been His principle of life and ministry. He gave His life for us.

We can never repay Him. He does not expect us to repay. But woe am I if I do not respond in gratitude and love to Him. Woe am I if I do not seek to imitate Him to do good to others—especially those He has redeemed. Woe am I if I do not do good to them without expecting return.

"Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren" (1Jn 3:16).

But finally, we must notice that Christ our Lord…

7. He is Pure in Justice

5b nor taketh reward against the innocent.

The word rendered ‘reward’ here refers to bribe. In ancient days and even today, there are unscrupulous people who will take bribes to testify against the innocent. The more you pay them, the more they are willing to support your case against another—however innocent he may be.

Our Lord would not take bribes. He would not pervert the course of justice. He has no respect of persons.

He deals with everyone equally. Just as He would not do good for material gains, He does not pervert justice for material gains.

Just as it is His life principle to do good unconditionally, so it is His life principle to do justice uncompromisingly.

Now, we have no record of our Lord, being asked to take bribes against the innocent during His earthly ministry. But we do have examples of how He lived out the same principle, which would have kept Him from taking any bribes to pervert justice.

Do you see how He refused to give face to the ungodly rich and powerful? He told them plainly that they were wicked and heading towards destruction.

Do you see how He sided with the repentant sinners and publicans?

Do you see how He rebuked Simon the Pharisee for his wicked thoughts against the unnamed woman who washed His feet with her tears?

Do you see how he cared not what the religious Jews would say when He went into Samaria to preach to the Samaritans?

Do you see how He refused to honour the wicked Herod with an answer, not to mention with the miracles that he wanted to see? Although our Lord was innocent, He refused to do anything that might in any case be seen as perverting justice.

Most of all, do you see how our Lord did not compromise justice, but bore the full brunt of God’s wrath against us—in order to satisfy divine justice.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, our Lord pleaded with His Father: "If it were possible, take this cup away from me." But we must not think that He was asking His Father to compromise justice. No, no; "if it were possible" must be understood as "if it were possible by any way that will fully satisfy divine justice."

Our Lord would not take bribes against the innocent. By the same principle, He would likewise not seek the reduction of punishment for the guilty.

We were guilty. He laid His life down to pay for our penalty —in full that we might be reconciled to God.

Dearly beloved brethren and children, it was in order to uphold divine justice that Christ died for you. What is your attitude towards justice? Yes, there will be no perfect justice until Christ our Lord returns as king and judge.

But is there a sense of justice that fights for the innocent in your heart? Oh may it be so because our Lord was pure in justice.


1 LORD, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill?

Who? But the Lord Jesus Christ who is pure in deeds, thoughts, and words; friendship, promises, possession and justice.

This is He who is holy, righteous and just. This is He who alone has the words HOLINESS TO THE LORD engraved upon His mitre (Ex 28:36). This is He who may abide in the tabernacle of God.

None of us may of ourselves abide in the tabernacle of God. None of us have a right to heaven.

But thanks be to God; He came as a representative of His people. He came so that God might not deal with us as our sin deserve.

Oh dearly beloved brethren, will you not thank the Lord? And will you not seek to imitate Him, knowing that only such as are holy and righteous and just may finally be found in the tabernacle of God, for it is written concerning heaven:

"And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life" (Rev 21:27).

If you are a disciple of Christ, you will enter into the heavenly tabernacle of God on the basis of the righteousness and holiness of Christ not on the basis of your holiness. You will enter in because your name is written in the Lamb’s book of life. But at the same time, let us understand that all who enter the gates of heaven must fit the description in this psalm even if imperfectly. May the Lord therefore enable us to be imitators of Christ! Amen.

— JJ Lim