Psalms in worship …

As I’ve already said, I believe that the book of Psalms is the only legitimate song book of the church. I believe this because I see this as the consistent teaching of the Bible. Some people have suggested to me that this view is simply the 16th-17th century puritans’ reaction against the abuses of the mediaeval church, but that isn’t the case. For example, I was reading the introduction to John Owen’s Commentary on Hebrews (he was explaining the meaning of the word ‘canon’ as a collective term for the books that are included in God’s written word), and he provided the following quotations from the early church fathers as illustrations of the use of the word:

Council of Laodicea (AD 363–364) said this, “That no private Psalms ought to be said or read in church, nor any uncanonical books, but only the canonical books of the New and Old Testaments”.

Note: ‘private Psalms’ are non-Bible songs that Christians create. These, according to this council, are not to be sung in church. Also note that the word ‘said’ in the quote refers both to speaking and singing. Bible itself regards these activities as fulfilling the same task of communication — see the title of Psalm 18 and Ephesians 5:19.

Augustine (AD 354–430) said this, “Let them demonstrate their church, not by the rumours of Africanus, but by the prescriptions of the law, the predictions of the prophets, the songs of the Psalms, that is by the canonical authority of the holy books of scripture.”

Augustine aligns the characteristics of the true church not only with the doctrine of the Psalms but also with the singing of them.

Imputation leads to imitation (Romans 6:1-14)

Paul has spent the first five chapters of his letter to the Romans showing that the Gospel is the best news ever. The good news is that the Holy God who made everything has acted to save lawless people who otherwise were unable to be saved. Adam’s sin doomed humanity in the beginning. We all became followers of Adam. The whole direction of our lives was one of opposition to our good and kind creator. Jesus Christ came as the second Adam to put right what the first Adam did wrong.

Christ’s good life replaced the bad lives of his people. In his death, Christ took responsibility for his people’s wrong doing and took the consequences that they deserve, which is death. Christ’s resurrection brought righteousness to bad people who trust themselves to his mercy. A person who is in Christ by faith is unchangeably safe, accepted by God and free from condemnation. Christ Jesus alone is their sufficiency.

So, how do completely safe people respond to such mercy? Do they continue in sin that God’s love might be seen to be more and more amazing? Paul says, NO WAY.

A good question to ask at this point is, ‘What is sin?’ The short answer is lawlessness. This definition is expressed in all sorts of ways in the Bible, but I’ll just give you a few references. 1 John 3:4 says it directly: “sin is lawlessness”. Titus 2:14 tells us that Jesus came “to redeem us from every lawless deed”. In Romans 5 we learn that sin is not imputed (legally applied to a person) where there is no law and that the law came so sin might increase (become so much more explicit). The link between sin and the breaking of God’s law is clear. Sin is lawlessness.

So, do we remain lawless because we are safe in Christ? May it never be!

Paul argument from this point is as follows:

If we are ‘in Christ’ by baptism, that is born again by the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:8), we are intimately associated with Christ. He has died to sin; therefore we too have died to sin. He is risen from the dead; we too will rise from the dead. He has nothing more to do with our lawless sin, but lives for God. We too must have nothing more to do with our lawless sin and live in newness of life. We are to consider ourselves dead to sin (lawlessness) and alive to God in Christ. Our old sinful (lawless) attitudes have been put to death in Christ. We are no longer to be slaves to lawless sin.

Paul is saying that because we have been freely justified by Christ, because our sin will never condemn us, we are to live in a God-honouring, law-abiding way. We are to become what Christ has made us to be (Ephesians 2:10).

We are not to let sin (lawlessness) rule in our mortal body. Paul is saying that, here and now, we are to resist sin (lawlessness) in our behaviours, thoughts and words. We are not to obey sin in our bodily desires because we are intimately associated with Christ by faith. We are to use our body parts as weapons of righteousness, not as weapons for lawlessness.

[BTW: The word translated ‘weapons’ is ‘Hopla’. It relates to the citizen-soldiers of ancient Athens. They were privileged members of the city. They used their weapons to serve their city by defending it in times of war. If you are in Christ, you are a privileged member of the city of God. Use your ‘weapons’ in doing good.]

Sin will not rule us because we are not longer under the law. Here, Paul cannot mean that we are no longer under the authority of law – Adam’s sin was all about removing himself and us from the authority of God’s law, and Jesus lived and died and rose to save his people from that lawlessness.

Not being under the law means we are no longer condemned by the law because Christ has saved us by grace. The law is no longer our enemy because we have been reconciled to God.

We are under Grace. That is, we are now free to obey our God without being condemned for our failures. We are new creatures with new attitudes by the new birth. We can now say with David, “Oh how I love your law!” (Psalm 119: 97) and experience that work of God’s Spirit that was foretold in Jeremiah: “I will put my law in their minds and in their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people.”

And, if you think it strange that a Christian should have any interest in aiming to keep the The Commandments, try thinking of it this way.

If we are to love our neighbour, can this love be expressed by murdering or hating our neighbour? Or, can we express our love for our neighbour by lusting after our neighbour’s husband or wife? Can our love for God be shown by disrespecting his name, works or words? As Christians, we are not to be lawless, but we ought to act in positive, lawful ways because God has loved us with an everlasting love.

Just to be clear: this is not legalism (thinking good works contributes in any way to our safety); it is not moralism (thinking ourselves to be better than others because of something we do); it is not sinless perfection (thinking we can be sinless here and now — confessing sin is part of the Christian’s life). Rather it is a response of thanksgiving for God’s mercy in Christ Jesus.

For a person who IS in Christ, the law teaches us what practical love is. Christianity is not mysticism. It calls for a reasonable response to God’s mercy in his Son, Jesus Christ (Romans 12). If we are in Christ, we are to follow him.