Starting from a deficit - Psalm 119:9
Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word (Ps. 119:9).
Here we begin the second stanza of the longest psalm in the Book of Psalms. The first stanza of Psalm 119 was all about how God's commands are a description of a fruitful life. The law of God is a description of the life that God himself lives. Because we are made in the image of God, the life that we are intended to live is shaped like the life that God lives. The conclusion of is that the first blessing that we need is the blessing of God granting us obedience to his law. All others blessings are meaningless unless we can follow after God. And the blessings of a fruitful life come to us through the gift of obedience to the commandments of God.
But the psalmist also sees that there is a serious problem. He does not begin his obedience from neutral. He has sinned. He is starting from a deficit. All obedience that might come in the future is the obedience of a sinner. He has been following a different path than the path of life. He has not lived God’s life after him the way one made in the image of God should have. God has cut and laid a road and told us to follow it, but as sinners we all begin from the woods.
How then does a young man cleanse his way? How does one return to the way once you have gotten off of it. How does a sinner find forgiveness? But not just forgiveness. How does a sinner find his way back to living the life that he, as someone made in the image of God, is created to live.
The answer is to take hold of God’s Word. Open up your ears and listen to God speak. God’s word cleanses us. That is why Jesus can say, “Now you are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.” (John 15:3). God’s word created us, and with His word he recreates us. But God never does anything part way. He does not merely cleanse us from our past sins. He cleanses us of past sins and cleanses us for a future of fruitfulness.
This young psalmist wants the way that he lives cleansed. Remember, the psalmist wanted his way directed after God’s laws (Ps. 119:5) because God’s laws were a description of God’s own way of living (119:3). And the Word of God will direct and transform and cleanse us back into the way of living that imitates the life of the Father, Son, and Spirit.
That is why Jesus continues from cleansing by the word to fruitfulness by the word. “Now you are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can you, except you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches: He that abides in me, and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing” (John 15:3–5).
Living in the way of God is something that begins with the cleansing of the Word of God, and continues with the ongoing cleansing of our living with the Word of God.
And Jesus is the Word of God incarnate. So the Psalmist, by taking heed of the Word of God was, like Abraham, justified by faith (Gen. 15:6). And then walked by faith, trusting in the same word in which he found his justification. In the Word of promise, he saw Jesus. Jesus’ cleansing death was promised, and the way of life was laid out in the law. The life that Jesus would come and live to perfect fulfillment (Matt. 5:17) because God has always and eternally been living it.
We begin by faith in Jesus, revealed to us in God’s Word, by the Spirit of God, and we continue by faith in Jesus, revealed to us in God’s Word, by the Spirit of God. How shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed unto God’s Word.