Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me. (Psalm 50:14-15)
The first time I ever appeared before a judge, I was terrified. Granted it was only for a traffic violation, but there is something about standing before a judge’s bench and seeing this older man in a black robe peering down at you and you having to give an answer for your transgression. It’s no wonder courtrooms are set up the way they are.
As fearful as appearing before an earthly judge is, appearing before the Judge of all Creation is fear to the nth degree. The writer of Hebrews states that it is a “fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). Yet we will all be called to the throne of God’s judgment (2 Corinthians 5:10) to give an answer for what we’ve done in this life.
Psalm 50 depicts God, “The Mighty One,” as a Judge summoning all the earth before him:
The Mighty One, God the LORD, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting. Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth. (Psalm 50:1-2)
Now there are some believers who may be thinking, “Amen, Hallelujah!!! Let God bring judgment upon the wicked.” Yet, in this Psalm, we see that judgment begins with God’s covenant people: “Gather to me my faithful ones, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice” (Psalm 50:5). Remember, all will be called before God’s throne of judgment, and judgment begins in the “household of God” (1 Peter 4:17). The reason for this is simple: From he who has much, much will be expected. The people of God are blessed with much, and as such, much will be expected.
In precisely what manner will the “household of God” be judged? In two words: Covenant Faithfulness. As God’s people, we’re called to live in a certain way before God – we’re to be faithful to the covenant that he has made with us. It’s not enough for God’s people to be in relationship with him; we must relate to God in a certain way. This is a shot across the bow for those who eschew “religion” in their Christianity. They often quip: “Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship.” There is truth in this, but you don’t think the God of the universe hasn’t commanded us to relate to him in a certain way? Nadab and Abihu (see Leviticus 10) were slain on the spot before the ark of God because they wouldn’t relate to God in God’s prescribed way. God is holy and those who worship him must do so in an acceptable way with “reverence and awe” (Hebrews 12:28).
Psalm 50:7-15, describes this “acceptable way” in which we are to approach God, and it can be summed up as follows: God doesn’t just want our ritual, he wants our hearts too! Note what he says:
Hear, O my people, and I will speak; O Israel, I will testify against you. I am God, your God. Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you; your burnt offerings are continually before me. I will not accept a bull from your house or goats from your folds. For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine. Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.
Note what God says about our ritual: “Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you; your burnt offerings are continually before me.” For those who think God doesn’t want our ‘religion,’ think again. The people of God are not being rebuked for their religious observances. And why would they be? God commanded them as part of their corporate worship before him! Yet, God doesn’t just want our ritual, he wants our hearts too! When we act like our ritual is somehow useful to God or that God needs it, then we profane worship and we profane God. Do you think God needs bulls and goats? He owns everything because he created everything. There is nothing that we give to God that wasn’t his in the first place. That’s not what worship is all about! We don’t give anything to God as if we’re supplying some lack on his part.
What does God want? Note the Scripture that begins this post: “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving!” When we go to church, are we truly thankful for all that God has done for us? Do we offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving as we worship him on Sundays? Note what the Apostle Paul says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1). Paul bases his appeal for us to “present our bodies” on the “mercies of God,” which he has just spent eleven chapters detailing. In other words, doctrine leads to doxology, which then leads to service. For all that God has done for us, we are to respond with praise and thanksgiving! God doesn’t just want our ritual, he wants our hearts too.
We would be remiss if we didn’t consider God’s word to the wicked in Psalm 50:16-22. I am inclined to believe that the “wicked” identified in v. 16 are the wicked within the covenant community. Jesus said there would be tares among God’s wheat field (Matthew 13:24-30). Within the covenant community there are those who are not true believers. This was true of Israel (see Romans 9:6 in which Paul says “not all who are of Israel are Israel”) and is true of the Church. These would be people who take pride in their religiosity and believe their ritualistic observance somehow obligates God to them. Do you know these types in the Church? The best illustration of these types of Church people can be found in the parable of the prodigal son. The older son in the parable is the one who obeys all his father’s commands, but does so without a heart for the father.
The psalmist concludes: “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!” The person who honors God with his sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving “glorifies God.” This is the ultimate end of man according to the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Furthermore, an obedient life, not just to the letter of the law, but to its spirit, is rewarded with the “salvation of God.” Now it’s obvious that we cannot be perfectly obedient, nor can we be perfectly consistent in our sacrifice of thanksgiving. Positionally before God because of our union with Christ we are holy, perfect and blameless, but in practice we’re not. Sanctification is the process by which, with the power of the Holy Spirit, we match our practice to our position in Christ. As we grow in this Christian life, are we more obedient than we were when we started? Are we more thankful for all God has done for us in Christ than we were when we started? That’s the point! As I have been saying all along, God doesn’t just want our ritual, he wants our hearts too.
Soli Deo Gloria!