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?