Psalm 50 (ESV) 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. Our God comes; he does not keep silence; before him is a devouring fire, around him a mighty tempest. He calls to the heavens above and to the earth, that he may judge his people: “Gather to me my faithful ones, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!” The heavens declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge! Selah “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.” But to the wicked God says: “What right have you to recite my statutes or take my covenant on your lips? For you hate discipline, and you cast my words behind you. If you see a thief, you are pleased with him, and you keep company with adulterers. “You give your mouth free rein for evil, and your tongue frames deceit. You sit and speak against your brother; you slander your own mother’s son. These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you. “Mark this, then, you who forget God, lest I tear you apart, and there be none to deliver! 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 Psalm of the Day for the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity concludes with words that have always struck me as crucial, but also easily misinterpreted: “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies Me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!” (Psalm 50:23).
It would be easy to mistakenly infer a works-righteousness from this verse, along the lines of, “If you are sufficiently thankful to God and live a righteous enough life, then He will save you.” However, the internal logic of the verse doesn’t allow for such an interpretation, since the act of thanksgiving must be preceded by the reception of a gift, and following a certain path cannot occur unless the way is first shown.
The Epistle reading from Trinity 11 describes both what we are to thank God for and the way we are to walk: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10).
St. Paul clearly excludes the possibility of works-righteousness, since salvation—and the faith that receives it—is a “gift of God”! We who were dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1) had to be born again, “created in Christ Jesus,” who is “the Way and the Truth and the Life,” the only path to God the Father (John 14:6). And once we are made new creatures and are brought into “the Way,” we simply travel the path of good works that God prepared for us to perform in our vocations.
Psalm 50:23, therefore, is not about our initial conversion but about our sanctification, the daily life of faith, wherein, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we put to death our old Adam and rise up to newness of life. Offering to God thanksgiving and living a rightly ordered life of repentance is simply part and parcel of the life of God’s “faithful ones” (Psalm 50:5).
One of the crises of our current day is disorder in homes, schools, and cities. This is but a consequence of the profound disorder in hearts and minds captive to Satan, who is a master at creating chaos. But it shall not be so among you: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:11-14).
Taking up our cross and following Jesus each day, cleansed by His blood and clothed in His righteousness, walking in the good works God has prepared for us, faithfully looking forward to His coming—that is the rightly ordered way that culminates in everlasting salvation.