Psalm 119:153-160, “153 Look on my affliction and deliver me,
for I do not forget your law.
154 Plead my cause and redeem me;
give me life according to your promise!
155 Salvation is far from the wicked,
for they do not seek your statutes.
156 Great is your mercy, O Lord;
give me life according to your rules.
157 Many are my persecutors and my adversaries,
but I do not swerve from your testimonies.
158 I look at the faithless with disgust,
because they do not keep your commands.
159 Consider how I love your precepts!
Give me life according to your steadfast love.
160 The sum of your word is truth,
and every one of your righteous rules endures forever.”
Repeatedly throughout Psalm 119, the author calls attention to the fact that he keeps the law of God while wicked men hate and trample upon our Lord’s statutes (for example, vv. 101–102, 139, 150). This faithfulness is even given by the author as one of the reasons why the Lord should rescue him (v. 153). And in today’s passage, the author even links God’s commandments to salvation, telling us that the wicked do not experience redemption because “they do not seek [God’s] statutes” (v. 155).
This idea might seem strange to our ears, for we are accustomed to emphasizing the biblical truth that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (Galatians 2:5-16). How, then, can the psalmist teach us that the reason why salvation is far from the wicked is because they do not seek after the Lord’s statutes, or endeavor to do His law? After all, we know that our redemption is not by doing the law of God.
The answer lies in understanding the right place of the law of the Lord in salvation. True, the salvation of sinners is not accomplished by their keeping the commandments. Yet, that does not mean that the law has no role in the redemption of sinners. For we know that we cannot even begin to understand the depth of our sin and our need for the Savior until we are confronted with the demands of God as He has revealed them in His commandments and statutes (Romans 7:7-11). Salvation is far from wicked people who have no interest in the Lord’s commands because they are not exposed to the depth of their depravity while they have no contact with His written law. Certainly, this does not mean that those who are never exposed to the Bible can be excused for their law-breaking. All people know enough of God’s demands via their consciences to render them inexcusable for their failure to live up to His moral law (Romans 1:18-2:29). The point is that when people do not seek the Lord’s statutes as revealed in Scripture, they are better able to suppress the truth that they do know, and they end up further away from salvation than they would be if they had access to the Word of God.
All of this impresses upon us the importance of knowing God’s law. Moreover, it also reveals the necessity of preaching the law of the Lord. Churches and preachers that avoid proclaiming our Creator’s statutes are doing a disservice to their people, for they are robbing them of the awareness of sin and their need for the gospel that comes via the law of God.
Our own keeping of the law will not save us, for we are sinners and cannot keep the law perfectly. However, exposure to the law of God is necessary for salvation, for it is by the law that the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin and prepares us for the gospel. As many have said, you cannot know the good news of grace without first knowing the bad news of the condemnation under which we stand as lawbreakers. Let us encourage our churches in the preaching and teaching of God’s law so as to preach the totality of God’s grace.