The Gospel in 3D

(Psalm 101)

Jason Procopio

If you’re a new Christian, and you're reading the Bible for the first time in your life, then sooner or later you're going to come across passages which will give you trouble. Especially if you’re reading the Bible like you should read the Bible. 

A lot of people will open their Bibles at random, find a text which seems to say one thing, and they’ll close their Bibles and think, Okay great—I understood that. But that's not the way we are meant to read the Bible. The Bible is a collection of stories and teachings that tell one, unified story. In the Old Testament we find the people of Israel, and the covenant God made with them; and in the New Testament we find Jesus Christ, and how he fulfilled the covenant for them, and opened the door for other peoples to enter into the New Covenant he establishes with them.

So we should read the Bible, not as a collection of random, unrelated teachings, but as one, unified story.

But if we do that, we’re going to run up against some texts which give us some trouble, whereas we would have brushed right over them if we took them out of context.

A really good example of this is Psalm 101, our text for today.

Psalm 101 was written by King David. And in this psalm, David's going to basically talk about himself in the first person; he's going to say a whole lot of pretty flattering things about himself. He’s going to claim to be this type of person, this type of king. 

So you could randomly open up to Psalm 101, read it, and think, Wow—this David must have been pretty close to perfect.

But if you’re reading the Bible the way you should be reading the Bible, and you know the story of David, you know that David was very far from perfect. David made horrible mistakes in his life, including using his authority as king to basically rape a married woman, getting her pregnant, and having her husband killed to hide his mistake.

The kind of king that Psalm 101 describes is very far from the kind of king David was...and yet he talks about himself as if he was that kind of a king.

When we come up against these kinds of problem texts, we need to know what to do with them. And for that, we don't just need to know where the story has already gone, but where it's heading. 

I don’t know if you remember these, but when I was a kid there was a toy called a View-Master. (At the time View-Masters weren't “vintage”.)

There was a picture that you’d slide into place, and you’d look through the viewfinder, and you’d look at a picture through two different lenses. If you closed one eye, you’d get the picture from one angle; if you looked at it with the other eye, you’d see the same picture, taken from a slightly different angle. But if you opened both eyes and looked through both lenses at the same time, you’d get a picture that was in 3D.

In order to make sense of this psalm, we need to look at it, as it were, through both lenses: we need to see what David is saying, and where the Bible is going to take it after.

If you look at it through the first lens, you’ll have a picture of what the king—and, by extension, God's people—are called to do…but you’ll only get half the picture. If you look at it through the second lens, you’ll have a picture of what has been done…but again, you’ll only get half the picture. It’s only when you put the two lenses together that you get the whole picture. 

So I’d like to do something kind of strange today. I want to go through this text twice: first through one lens, which we’ll call the “ideal lens,” then through the other, which we’ll call the “fulfilled lens”. And hopefully at the end, we’ll put the two together to have a full, 3D picture of what God is trying to tell us in this song.

1) The Ideal Lens

We’ve already said that David was far from perfect. But one thing we see David consistently doing is trying. He does his best to serve God, and when he falls away and breaks God's law, he repents and keeps trying.

So in the psalm, David isn't saying what he's like; he’s saying what he's aiming for. He lays forth the ideal for the king of God’s people: this is how the king should behave, this is how he should rule over the people. 

And the king was the representative and model for the people—the king showed the people how they should behave. 

So what characterizes David’s ideal here?

The first characteristic is worship.

V. 1:

I will sing of steadfast love and justice; to you, O Lord, I will make music. 

So remember what we saw a couple weeks ago, in Psalm 94—to God’s covenant people, God shows eternal, steadfast love, and as God he upholds perfect justice for his people. And so the king, who sees this and is aware of it, should be so overwhelmed with gratitude and joy over God’s steadfast love and mercy that he sings and makes music. 

I’m sure you’ve noticed that when someone is really happy, singing comes pretty naturally. 

Have you ever seen a guy walking down the road with a smile on his face and humming to himself? Or a little kid alone in his room playing with her toys singing nonsense songs to herself? 

When you’re happy, making music is the most natural thing in the world. And so because God is so good to his people, and because they are happy in him, they sing. They make music. David’s instrument of choice was the harp; he was known to be almost magical in his musical talent; he was known to celebrate God’s goodness to the point of embarrassment. 

The king should celebrate God’s goodness, and the people should celebrate along with him.

Next he says that the king should walk with perfect integrity. 

2 I will ponder the way that is blameless.  Oh when will you come to me? I will walk with integrity of heart within my house; 3 I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless. I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me. 4 A perverse heart shall be far from me; I will know nothing of evil. 

Now, as we said, David did not always live like this. David is setting up an ideal that even he had not met—he’s not saying, “This is what I’ve always done,” but rather, “This is what I want to do; this is what I’m aiming for.” 

I will ponder the way that is blameless. I will think about what it would look like to walk in perfect obedience to God. 

I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless. I won’t even look at anything that wouldn’t please God. 

I will know nothing of evil. I will take whatever measures I have to in order to make sure that there is nothing evil in my heart. I will fight tooth and toenail to eradicate sin from my life. And he’s not just saying he’ll do the right thing, but that he’ll want to do the right thing; that he will love holiness and that he will hate sin. 

I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me. The king must desire what is right and hate what is evil; and the people should do the same.

Next, he says that the king should protect the purity of God’s people. 

5 Whoever slanders his neighbor secretly I will destroy. Whoever has a haughty look and an arrogant heart I will not endure… 7 No one who practices deceit shall dwell in my house; no one who utters lies shall continue before my eyes. 8 Morning by morning I will destroy all the wicked in the land, cutting off all the evildoers from the city of the Lord. 

We need a bit of explanation here. The context in which he was writing was particular. If you spent time with people who worshiped other gods, or who had practices that weren’t in keeping with God’s standard for holiness, eventually you’d start doing those same things—you’d end up worshiping their gods, practicing the same wickedness. 

(Thankfully we’re no longer that impressionable today, ha ha.) 

So his concern here was not for material gain or mere material protection; he’s not talking about war for war’s sake. God was concerned for the holiness of his people. 

This was God’s people; they were representing him on the earth. And so he would not let any kind of wicked influence tarnish his holy name. The king would take every measure necessary to protect the people’s holiness—his priority was to watch over and care for God’s chosen people and to make sure they remained a holy people. 

Lastly, David says that the king will love and surround himself with faithful men and women who will help him do this

6 I will look with favor on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me; he who walks in the way that is blameless shall minister to me. 

The king will love the people of God; he will surround himself with them, he will serve them and let himself be served by them. And so the people should also walk in humility and love for one another; they should love being with other people who are faithful to God and who will help train them to live for God.

This is the ideal. Celebrate the goodness of the Lord… Walk with perfect integrity… Do whatever it takes to protect your holiness and purity… Love the people of God and surround yourself with them. In short, the ideal is absolute moral perfection.

2) The Fulfilled Lens

But this ideal is too good. We can not do this. None of us can. Even those who seem to be outwardly perfect are inwardly eaten up by sin no one else can see but God. No one can meet this perfect ideal. 

So through the pen of David, through this song, he gives us an ideal that can only be met by God himself. The only person who could ever live like this would be God himself, who is absolutely perfect and just. 

And God knows it

No human king could be this perfect. So God himself sends a perfect king—his Son Jesus Christ. God becomes a man, and lives a perfect life. 

Let’s look through the other lens, and see how Christ has fulfilled this psalm.

V. 1:

I will sing of steadfast love and justice; to you, O Lord, I will make music. 

First of all, Jesus was happy in God. We don’t have any texts that actually show him singing, but we have lots of texts that proclaim Jesus’s joy in his Father. 

John 15.11:

“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

Jesus was the most joyful man who ever lived. Remember Psalm 16.11, the psalm I quote probably more than any other: In your presence there is fullness of joy, at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. 

In Acts 2.28, Peter says that this psalm is saying what Jesus would say. Jesus loved his Father; in the Father’s presence there is fullness of joy for him. Because Christ was always totally united to his Father, he was always perfectly joyful. 

And if you think about the way Jesus behaved, it makes sense—a sad person would not act the way Jesus did. He wouldn’t welcome hoards of rowdy kids to come to him. He wouldn’t use his first miracle to make a party an even better party. He wouldn’t invite himself over to people’s houses for dinner. He wouldn’t spend his time with a bunch of ignorant men, teaching them and loving them. 

Everything Jesus did was a celebration of his joy in who God was, whom he knew his Father to be.

Secondly, Jesus walked in perfect integrity. 

2 I will ponder the way that is blameless. Oh when will you come to me? I will walk with integrity of heart within my house; 3 I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless. I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me. 4 A perverse heart shall be far from me; I will know nothing of evil. 

We know this to be true of Jesus. Jesus lived like this. 

Hebrews 4.15 says,

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 

Jesus walked in perfect integrity; he never set his eyes on anything that is worthless. Jesus hated sin and never let it touch him. 

Again, in Hebrews 1, the author quotes Psalm 45, saying the psalmist is talking about Jesus: 

8 But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. 9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”  (So again, we see his joy.)

Those first two were easy; the third is a little more complex. Jesus protected the purity of his people, by exercising judgment against sin. 

This is hard, because Jesus said while he was here (John 12.47): 

47 I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. 

People read this and say, “You see? Jesus never judged anyone! Jesus would never want anyone to be punished for the things they did right or wrong!” 

And that sounds good, except that in the very next verse, Jesus affirms that judgment against sin will happen through him: 

48 The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. 

So Jesus not giving a blanket statement against the judgment of God. He affirms quite strongly that those who reject his word will be judged by his word, and suffer the eternal penalty for their rejection.

So on the one hand we see that he does judge sin; but at the same time, he does not want to judge sinners—judgment is not what he loves. 

He solves this seeming problem at the cross. The harsh reality of our state is that we are all deserving of judgment. We are all deserving of punishment, because we have all rebelled against God. 

And so Jesus solves our problem by taking sin on himself, and being judged in place of sinners. 

In 2 Corinthians 5.21, Paul says: 

21 For our sake [God] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 

Jesus was perfectly holy; he walked in perfect integrity. And God put our sin on him to such an extent that in God’s eyes he was the perfect embodiment of everything that was wicked. And then he poured out all of his wrath—the wrath that you and I deserved—on his Son, in our place. 

You see, it’s not that Jesus did away with judgment, but rather that he suffered judgment in the place of all those who turn to him in faith, all those who receive his words. Jesus was the vehicle of God’s perfect judgment—every sin, without exception, is and will be judged by God, either in his judging those who refuse to turn to him, or in his judging Christ in our place.

And lastly, Jesus loved the people of God.

6 I will look with favor on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me… 

Jesus loves his people. 

John 10.14-15:

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 

If we have faith in Christ and trust him to be the perfect sacrifice for us, Jesus loves us—he loved us to the point of being brutally murdered on a cross in order for us to be with him. If you ever doubted God’s love for you, you only have to look to the cross. 

John 15.13:

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

Psalm 101 set before us an ideal of how we are to live. And none of us have ever been able to do it—not even the man who wrote the psalm could do it. The only person who was able to fulfill this perfect ideal was Jesus Christ. He was the perfect king who lived the perfect life on behalf of his people. What we couldn’t do on our own, God provided for us.


Now I know some of you may have checked out by now, because you’ve been in church a while, and you’re thinking, But I KNOW all this stuff. I know that God’s Law calls me to live a certain way, and I know Jesus lived the life I couldn’t live and suffered my punishment. 

And so mentally, for the last ten minutes or so, you’ve been thinking about other things—anticipating the vacation you’re about to take, or missing the vacation you’ve already taken, or thinking about the work you have before you this week.

If you’ve checked out, come back. Because as much as we may know this stuff—and this stuff really is the basics of the gospel—very few people actually know what to do with it.

We can easily see this psalm through the lens of the ideal—what God calls us to do—and know we can’t do it.

And we easily see this psalm through the lens of the fulfilled—we can see how Jesus Christ did all this stuff for us, in our place.

But very few Christians manage to put those two lenses together, to get the full picture.

No matter how much they know, nearly all Christians—in a functional way—operate through one lens or the other. And both ways of seeing are profoundly problematic.

Let’s just say you did manage to mostly live by this ideal. You set this ideal before your eyes, you made every effort to obey it, and by the sheer force of your will, you managed to live a pretty good life. 

What would this do to you? If you said to yourself, “I CAN DO THIS. I can live like this,” and you managed to live your life in such a way that others would look at you and go, “Yeah, he’s a pretty good person.” 

What kind of a person would you really be? 

Well, outwardly you’d be good, but inwardly, you’d almost definitely be proud, wouldn’t you? Look at what I was able to do! 

And even if you’d never say it out loud, you’d probably look down on others who haven’t lived as well as you have. 

You’d become, in short, a religious person, in the negative sense of the word, someone only motivated by the outward workings of religion but has no real love for God

If we only look through the first lens, the lens of the ideal, we will turn ourselves into outwardly moral people who are inwardly proud and haughty, and who despise anyone who’s not as good as we are. 

So we need the second lens. 

But if you look only through the second lens, your vision will be just as skewed, because you’ll say, “Look at what Jesus did for me! I’m free! I no longer have to obey the law because Christ obeyed it for me!” And you’ll permit all kinds of things in your life that aren’t at all in line with the nature and character of God. 

And over time, you’ll grow hard and callused: your sin won’t affect you at all—you’ll feel no conviction or sadness about your sin, because you’ll tell yourself that Jesus took care of it, so it’s no longer an issue.

In order to see the whole, 3D truth of the gospel, we need to go back over it one last time.

We can’t fulfill the ideal, so Christ fulfilled it for us. And since Christ fulfilled the ideal for us, and lives in us by his Spirit, we can now say with David—in all sincerity—that we will live like this. Because of Christ’s work for us, we can actually commit to this kind of radical obedience.

Think of a guy who works as a carpenter. At the beginning he loved his job, but pretty quickly ran into some pretty severe financial problems. There’s not a lot of call for carpentry these days, so he’s not making a lot of money; he can’t do nice things for his kids, he can’t ever take his wife out on a date; he can barely scrape together enough money to put food on the table. 

So this job that he once enjoyed is now stressful for him—he keeps thinking, “I’ve got to work enough to provide for my family!” 

So he takes any old job that comes his way, no matter how insignificant, and he’s constantly counting pennies while wondering, Will this be enough? He no longer finds any joy in his job because of the weight of his financial burdens. And he feels guilty, because no matter how hard he works, it’s never enough. 

Now let’s say this guy gets a letter in the mail that says, “You have an aunt who has just died and left you everything she has—an estate which amounts to several million dollars.” 

Suddenly he knows that he’ll never lack for anything again. He can provide for his family. He’ll never have to worry again about not being able to put food on the table. 

Do you see how his relationship with his work will change? Suddenly it’s no longer a burden to go to work, but a pleasure. He can once again enjoy the feel of the wood beneath his hands, the smell of the sawdust, the joy of the finished product. 

Free from financial pressures, he can finally take pleasure in what he does.

This is exactly the state of affairs for us today. 

We can’t fulfill the ideal, so Christ fulfilled it for us. And since Christ fulfilled the ideal for us, and lives in us by his Spirit, we can now say with David, 

I will ponder the way that is blameless… I will walk with integrity of heart within my house; I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless… 

I will sing of steadfast love and justice; to you, O Lord, I will make music. 

You see, Psalm 101 is a call that we cannot fulfill…which is fulfilled by Christ, for us…to turn it into a call that we can fulfill. Since Christ obeyed perfectly for us, our salvation no longer depends on our perfect obedience. So we are free: free to obey like the imperfect human beings we are, filled with Christ’s Spirit, who can pursue the ideal of Psalm 101. And when we stumble, get back up, repent of our sin, and keep on pursuing the ideal. 

The result of pursuing obedience in this way is that over time, with the help of the Spirit, we actually learn to obey better. We gradually see the goodness in God’s commandments. We slowly but surely become more like Christ, and learn to live according to the ideal.

So through David’s pen, God calls us to live out this ideal, for the right reason.

He calls us to obey his commandments, because Jesus has obeyed for us. 

He calls us to put our sin to death, and to help our brothers and sisters put our sin to death, because Christ’s sacrifice for that sin means it no longer has any power over us.

He calls us to surround ourselves with godly men and women who will help us live this way—to observe them and to imitate them—because Christ has brought us into his people, whom he loves.

And he calls us to live with such a clear view of his grace that we celebrate him. He calls us to see not just what Christ has done for our disobedience of his commandments, but to see and understand why the commandments themselves bring us joy.

Brothers and sisters, we can do this, because Christ has done this for us. Let’s pray that God would help us to believe this, to pursue holiness, and to love God so much that we can’t help but follow him faithfully and celebrate his glory, and joyfully make music in his praise.