Morning Musing: Psalm 119:9

“How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping your word.” (CSB – Read the chapter)

What’s the secret to the good life? That’s something we all wonder about from time to time. We may not ask it out loud, but it’s rumbling around in our heart and mind. We do the things we do because we believe those actions will lead us to life and flourishing. But inside we wonder: Are these the things that will get us there? Well, while the Scriptures were not written specifically to answer that question, if we pay close attention, sometimes—like right here—they give us a pretty good clue to the answer.

Now, let’s clear something up right out of the gate here: When this verse says “young man,” it simply means people generally. We could make that a little bit more specific by referring just to young people, but this wisdom applies to everybody, not just young men.

That said, the question the psalmist poses here is how we can keep our ways pure. Older translations have him asking how we can purify our ways. In other words, how can we make them clean when they have been previously soiled. Both questions are relevant and the answer applies either way.

The idea is just as we said a minute ago: How can we live the good life? How can we live a life that is free from sin? The answer the psalmist offers is simple: Live according to God’s word.

Now, what he meant by that and what we first understand are not necessarily the same thing. Let’s clear up the distinction. The psalmist was talking about the Law of Moses. We think about the Bible as a whole. Neither is exactly correct, I think, in terms of the best way to comprehend it.

We certainly can’t think in terms of the Law of Moses because as followers of Jesus, we’re not held to that standard. The psalmist was, but we have to see this (as with the rest of the Hebrew Bible) through the lens of Jesus. He fulfilled the standard of the Law and so we don’t have to keep it.

Thinking more broadly in terms of the whole Bible in the way we most of do won’t work either, though, because the Bible isn’t a thing. What we call the Bible is a collection of ancient documents written by 40 authors over a span of about 1,500 years, all telling a single story. This collection is not primarily about answering the question of how to live a good life. It is about revealing the character and plans of our God and telling the story of how He has worked to bring those plans to completion through the lives of people willing (and sometimes unwilling) to be trust Him enough to go along with Him.

Furthermore, if we treat the Bible as an answer book for living the good life, we’ll likely fall into a stifling legalism that sees us obsessing over minute details and monitoring our behavior more than our heart. The good life is not to be found there.

So, how should we understand this? As followers of Jesus, we should understand this in terms of His teachings and the teachings of the various other New Testament writers who interpreted Him. We can live the good life, we can keep our ways pure, when we mold our lives in light of Jesus’ call to love one another as He loved us. That’s the ultimate summary of God’s word. Love the people around you as Jesus loved you, and everything else will fall into place nicely.

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