Was David Righteous?

One of the advantages of reading through the Bible on a regular basis is that you will encounter passages that you might not otherwise read.  In my reading today it was the juxtaposition of the OT and NT readings that raised some interesting questions.

The OT reading for today included Psalm 18, a portion of which reads:

20 The LORD dealt with me according to my righteousness;
according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me.
21 For I have kept the ways of the LORD,
and have not wickedly departed from my God.
22 For all his rules were before me,
and his statutes I did not put away from me.
23 I was blameless before him,
and I kept myself from my guilt.
24 So the LORD has rewarded me according to my righteousness,
according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight.
(Ps. 18:20-24, ESV)

Here David says that God rewards him for his righteousness.  But the NT reading was from Romans 3, which includes these verses:

10 as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
11 no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
(Rom. 3:10-12, ESV)

The contrast between these two statements really jumped out at me.  Was David righteous or was he not?  Was he simply deceived or arrogant for claiming to be righteous?  Or was he using the word “righteous” in a different sense? It might be tempting to explain this as a different view of righteousness in the OT and NT, but that won’t do because the Romans passage is excerpted from Ps. 13:1-3 and Ps. 53:1-3.

In Romans Paul is talking about our lack of absolute sinless perfection, but David was talking about something else.  David was very aware of his sinfulness as some of the other Psalms attest (Psalm 51 comes to mind).  So I don’t think that his statement in Psalm 18 was a claim to sinless perfection.  David was aware not only of the need for forgiveness, but also the need for God’s grace to live for Him (Ps. 19:12-13).  Can a person who has needed to confess some serious sin and who needs God’s help every day to walk with Him still talk about “my righteousness” and “the cleanness of my hands”?  Apparently David thought so.

Should we think of ourselves as righteous?  I don’t mean only “positional righteousness” (I am considered righteous by God because Christ died for me) but “practical righteousness” (I generally live my life according to God’s standards).  I am not suggesting a legalistic approach or an arrogant superiority (“I am not like other men,” Lk. 18:11-12).  But if we are serious about following Jesus should we see ourselves as people who normally do the right thing and usually obey God?  Perhaps if we did we might find it a little bit easier to live as God intended us to live.  If we constantly tell ourselves and each other, “You’re going to sin, and sin a lot” it might become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

What do you think?  Was David right to think of himself as righteous?  How do you think of yourself?

11 Responses to Was David Righteous?

  • Caleb Dykes says:

    I am a Christian songwritter. I happened upon this reflection of yours, and have to say this is very helpful for where I was trying to go in a song. I like the observations here, and the passages you chose. David clearly understood that he was a sinner and had an understanding of God, and was close to Him in a sense. He was after all a man after God’s own heart. So I think he is stating these things only under God, whom he follows. As far as we ourselves go as Christians, while we never need to think of ourselves as perfect and righteous (If we did we would think we were God…..also, we’d be lying), we do however need to remember that we are righteous only because of Christ in the sense that we have been forgiven of the things that make us unrighteous.

  • PK says:

    Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. My point is that we are not only righteous because we have been forgiven, but we should also see ourselves as gradually becoming righteous in our behavior as well.

    I’d be interested in hearing your song or reading the lyrics when it is finished.

  • Caleb Dykes says:

    Hello, I’m sorry, I read this, then immediately had finished the song and forgotten.

    [Lyrics removed at the author’s request.]

  • Caleb Dykes says:

    P.S. I hate to ask this, but I wasn’t thinking. Could you by any chance delete my lyrics post when you’re done reading them? I don’t think you would steal them, and I don’t really think anyone else would either, but you never know. It’s not a huge priority, so it’s alright if you can’t.

  • PK says:

    I understand the need to preserve your rights as an author. Lyrics have been removed

  • Caleb Dykes says:

    Thank you very much. And thank you again for posting this article.

  • Bob Brownson says:

    I know that this post is 2-3 yrs old and you probably don’t check it but I liked that you left the topic open-ended so there was room for thought. Is there some possibility that God is looking at a repentant heart rather than actions. David certainly had the repentant heart. It is hard to see David doing a self-examination as we all are susceptible to rationalization in our favor. But my questions have centered around how can we be righteous without being perfect and it (seems to me at this point) centers around a repentant heart.

  • Ken says:

    I agree that the key is a repentant heart. But a repentant heart will impact our actions. In the passage I quoted above, David says “I have kept the ways of the Lord…” It seems that he claimed to generally follow God’s commands, although there were some rather serious lapses.

    One of the characteristics of a righteous person is the way they react when they do sin. An ungodly person will take sin lightly and make excuses, but a godly person will experience genuine sorrow and humbly repent before God.

  • Tim M. says:

    What do you think of this statement?

    “You can not walk in disobedience and expect to stay in right standing with God.”

    So if David was considered righteous and not by his own merit but through God’s. In his disobedience and sin with murder, adultery and etc would that mean; he can fall out of right-standing? Yet he didn’t, even though he still received consequences for his action(sins). If our righteousness is not our own, can our disobedience take us out of right-standing? So would that statement be wrong? Current Bible School Student…

  • Ken says:

    In the passage above, David seems to be talking about his own righteous character, not only God’s righteousness given to him. He talks about his behavior. He generally tried to follow God’s laws, but he was not perfect. Sometimes he fell short. A few times he failed spectacularly. Yet God still called him “a man after my own heart.”
    I’m not quite sure what you mean by “right standing” with God. As believers, our relationship with God does not change when we sin. But our sin interrupts our fellowship with God. On the other hand, a consistent pattern of disobedience calls into question whether we really know God (Mat. 7:21-27)

  • Sydney Mkhuma says:

    True David had a repentent heart, and when we read the bible almost everyone God used in the bible was not perfect. Even our father of faith doubted God by having Ishmael, but God called him the father of faith. Our righteousness is by faith as the bible says we live by faith not by sight.

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"True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less." -- C. S. Lewis