God’s Word for You
Psalm 85:4-7 The Means of Grace
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, May 9, 2019
4 Restore us again, O God our Savior,
and put away your displeasure toward us.
5 Will you be angry with us forever?
Will you prolong your anger through all generations?
6 Will you not revive us again,
that your people may rejoice in you?
After such a marvelous confession of faith as he made in verses 1-3, why would our Son of Korah plead for God to “restore us again”? The answer is found outside the doors of our jails and courtrooms, and in many other places closer to home. As soon as anyone is acquitted of a crime, or serves time for a crime, or pays a penalty for a crime, that person returns to crime. This is true of the man who gets pulled over for speeding and gets his hundred-dollar ticket. After he and the policeman have driven away, he is obedient for a while, for a few miles, but before he gets to his destination his foot will have turned to lead once again.
This is also true of any average child in the classroom who gets scolded for breaking the rules. He feels like he needs to prove his status to his friends, so as soon as he can, he will break the rules again. This is also true of the spouse who sins. He annoys his wife with his bad habits, and when she lovingly points it out to him, he might apologize, but he goes back to his selfish sinful habit soon enough. And beyond these actions, we all have sinful desires or prejudices or sarcasm or the secret habit of judging people for what clothes they wear or how they pronounce words. We try to keep these things more or less to ourselves. But are these things not sinful?
An imperfect obedience to God’s law is the same as disobedience. “Jehu was not careful to keep the law of the Lord, the God of Israel, with all his heart. He did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam, which he had caused all Israel to commit” (2 Kings 10:31). Sinful attitudes are still sinful: “Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, are sin!” (Proverbs 21:4). Mixing our worship of God with prayer to anything or anyone else—even to a Christian saint—is robbing God of the honor and worship we owe to him (as Jeroboam did, 1 Kings 12:28-32).
In all of these things, it is the attitude of the human heart that is at fault. Even if our actions seem pure but our attitude is sinful, we have sinned (Matthew 23:23). An early Christian writer said: “Do you not think that it is an evil deed for a righteous man if an evil desire comes up in his heart? Yes, it is a sin” (Shepherd of Hermas, Hv 1,1,8).
This is why this Son of Korah prays for forgiveness. God’s displeasure returns with each sin, and we plead with him for mercy, again and again.
7 Show us your unfailing love, O LORD,
and grant us your salvation.
Whose salvation is given to us? The Son of Korah knows. It is “your salvation, O Lord.” It is good to be reminded that we do not save ourselves and that we do not participate in our salvation. Salvation is a gift granted to us, and it is God’s to grant and to give: “Truly there is salvation for Israel in the LORD our God” (Jeremiah 3:22 EHV). This comes to us through the means of grace, which is to say, the gospel in God’s word and in the sacraments. “For we can definitely assert,” Luther said, “that where the Lord’s Supper, Baptism, and the Word of God are found, the remission of sins, and life eternal are found. On the other hand, where these signs of grace are not found, or where they are despised by men, not only grace is lacking but also foul errors will follow” (What Luther Says, Ewald M. Plass, p. 914). We can confidently say that the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints, is to be found wherever people gather around the gospel and the sacraments. This is the means by which God dispenses his grace, his mercy, his forgiveness, and the salvation which is ours by his grace alone.
Pastor Timothy Smith