Have you ever thought that righteousness by faith, as usually explained from the pulpit and in books and articles, is complicated? It is true that Paul the Apostle expounds on the topic extensively, especially in the books of Romans and Galatians. Righteousness by faith is also clarified in Hebrews, most notably chapter 11. When comparing Paul’s explanations as illustrated in books and sermons of today, a few of the heroes of faith in chapter 11 appear to be rather weak examples of faith. When I have read about these exemplars in Judges and the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, I occasionally wondered, “Where was their faith?” and “If I lived a life like that, would I be considered a hero of faith?”
So where in the Old Testament are there indications, statements, and theological instruction regarding righteousness by faith? Remember that both Greek and Hebrew have only one word for what is translated into English as faith, belief, or trust. These three words are a unified concept in those original languages.
Recently I have started to read in the Psalms, looking for statements related to, or indicating the concept of, righteousness by faith. Early in the book, I found the following:
“But know that the Lord has set apart for Himself him who is godly; the Lord will hear when I call to Him. Be angry and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still. Selah
Offer the sacrifices of righteousness and put your trust in the Lord. There are many who say, ‘Who will show us any good?’ Lord, lift up the light of Your countenance upon us. You have put gladness in my heart, more than in the season that their grain and wine increased. I will both lie down in peace and sleep; for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” Ps 4:3-8 NKJV
“But let all those rejoice who put their trust in You; let them ever shout for joy, because You defend them; let those also who love Your name be joyful in You. For You, O Lord will bless the righteous; with favor, You will surround him as with a shield.” Ps 5:11, 12 NKJV
David has a calm assurance that God hears him when he prays; God forgives when he asks for forgiveness (offers sacrifices of righteousness) and, therefore, puts his trust (faith) in the Lord. Because he trusts God fully, he can lie down in peace and sleep (literal sleep or even the sleep of the first death). He rests in assurance that God defends him (margin, protect lit. cover), which is similar to the concepts mercy seat, at-one-ment, and reconciliation.
In Psalm 13, David wonders why God allows his enemies to exalt and oppress. Then he reminds God that he has trusted in God’s mercy, and is joyful because of what God has done for him in the past. His reaction is joyful praise in God’s salvation.
“How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? How long will my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and hear me, O Lord my God; enlighten my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death; lest my enemy say, ‘I have prevailed against him,’ lest those who trouble me rejoice when I am moved. But I have trusted in Your mercy; my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord because He has dealt bountifully with me.” Ps 13 NKJV
These are only a few of the texts I have found in the Psalms that have given me a different perspective on righteousness by faith. Instead of a dry, clinical step-by-step list of procedures for conviction, repentance, forgiveness, justification, sanctification, expiation, propitiation, and atonement, I have found a freeing understanding of the “process” through an honest dialogue with God, reminding Him of His promises, clinging to them as “the rope” that ties me to Him. The word pictures in the Psalms give a sense of clarity to righteousness by faith that seems to get lost in the Latin-derived terms of the New Testament.
Righteousness by faith is not a checklist procedure to follow to “be saved.” Instead, it is a calm, rational assurance that God has our best interest in mind and will make everything right in the end. It is a joyful experience of communicating with our Creator, Kinsman-Redeemer, and Savior, totally relying upon His promises.
Here are some additional texts found in the Old Testament that help portray the concept of righteousness by faith in a living, breathing manner.
Ps 31:1, 19-24
Ps 16:1-3 and 5-11
1 Samuel 26:23
Dennis Hollingsead works in the Office of Development at Andrews University.
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