Lord, who shall dwell on your holy mountain?
He who walks without fault;
he who acts with justice
and speaks the truth from his heart.
He who does no wrong to his brother,
who casts no slur on his neighbour,
who holds the godless in disdain,
but honours those who fear the Lord.
He who keeps his pledge, come what may;
who takes no interest on a loan
and accepts no bribes against the innocent.
Such a man will stand firm for ever.
My reading of verses such as these has changed greatly over the years. Psalms in which the psalmist protests, proclaiming his innocence, ranked fairly low on my top-of-the-Psalms chart in my teens and twenties. Eventually I came to the realisation that the “one who walks without fault” is Christ. The rest of us can make no such claim. For a time I hoped and rested in the righteousness of Christ. But that isn’t an adequate response, either.
While there is certainly no sense in pretending that we can walk “without” fault, it is equally true that we cannot “ride” on Christ’s righteousness without regard to our own faults. Christ’s righteousness may be imputed to us (I know my Calvin and Luther just well enough), and with good reason: we are not able to attain such righteousness for ourselves. But we cannot stop at the recognition of our weakness. For as much as Christ’s righteousness is an imputed righteousness, it is also a participatory righteousness. That is, part of the sign that Christ’s righteousness has been imputed to us is our own desire to live out that righteousness.
I suppose I have found it far too easy to hide myself in Christ in a way that has not pressed me toward the imitatio Christi that is at the heart of conscious Christian living. Living in Christ doesn’t spare us the hard work of struggling against sin, even though Christ’s victory secures our own. No easy triumphalism there, but returning again and again to the Holy Spirit who joins us to Christ’s body. Sometimes the hardest work is in the asking, admitting that even receiving the grace of God isn’t something we can do apart from the Spirit.