This is the sixth part of a series of posts adapted from a paper I presented at a New Covenant Theology think tank in upstate New York in July 2010.
As we noted in the previous installment of this series, Paul draws no distinction in separating a New Covenant life in the Spirit from an Old Covenant life of the letter or written code (Romans 7:6).
But Paul does more than tell those who would look to the law that they are wrong; he calls them adulteresses. In his analogy, he says that a woman who lives with another man while he is alive commits adultery. We have died to the law; to live as under the law is to commit adultery against Christ, to whom the church is betrothed, and to whom He gave His Spirit as a guarantee until the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9).
Paul continues in chapter 7 in a pericope of which the subject is widely debated:
 What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”  But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead.  I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.  The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.  For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.  So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
 Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.  For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.  For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.  Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good.  So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.  For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being,  but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.  Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:7–25)
Douglas Moo identifies three different ways in which this passage may be interpreted:
1. Paul describes his experience as an unconverted Jew under the law.
2. Paul describes his experience, perhaps shortly after his conversion, as he sought sanctification through the law.
3. Paul describes his experience as a mature Christian.
In a later post, I will advocate that which of these three is proper is less important than what this passage tells us about the effect of sin on the flesh. Before we get there, we’ll look at how various theologians have advocated for each of these three positions.
Next: Completed by the Spirit Part 7: Paul, the Unconverted Jew
 Douglas J. Moo, Encountering the Book of Romans: A Theological Survey (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002). Moo provides further depth in his Romans commentary.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
6 for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.
I am not sure. But I think Elton John penned these words in the 1990s:
Hey you, you’re a child in my head
You haven’t walked yet
Your first words have yet to be said
But I swear you’ll be blessed
I know you’re still just a dream
your eyes might be green
Or the bluest that I’ve ever seen
Anyway you’ll be blessed
And you, you’ll be blessed
You’ll have the best
I promise you that
I’ll pick a star from the sky
Pull your name from a hat
I promise you that…
You’ll be blessed
Do you think yourself to be blessed? If so, (if you think yourself to be blessed) then in what way, or in what ways are you? If your answer is yes, then why, why do you think you are? Can you point to solid reasons for your blessed state? On what grounds do you esteem yourself blessed? Of course, you may make many arguments. After all, who among us can rightfully say, “There is nothing for which I am thankful; God has not been good to me?” If we breathe and our hearts beat and we live, God has been good to us. Everything else is gravy. We are, in fact, blessed. Regardless of how we might feel, despite our circumstances, whatever our providence, whatever our lot in life…we are blessed, at least to some degree.
But is this all there is to blessedness? The bare minimal? The essentials? Is there nothing more, especially for the Christian? And so comes the opposite trap: In no way are we immune from picturing blessedness in ways our unbelieving neighbors do. The blessed one is therefore one who has the proverbial deep pocket; the blessed man is financially well off. Blessed is the man who has the dream house, the trophy wife, four children, and a BMW in the driveway. Blessed is the man who has brand new tractors and combines with air conditioning, GPS, and CD players. Blessed is the one in great health, with abs of steel, and locks to die for. Blessed is the one who lives without any kind of trouble, pain, affliction, or sorrow. The good life is the blessed life! Fame, fortune, success, good looks, prosperity, economic success: this is how the world defines blessedness! This is what happiness looks like! ‘Your eyes might be green or the bluest I’ve ever seen…You’ll have the best/ I promise you that you’ll be blessed!’ Isn’t that what we want for our children
But what saith the Lord? What does the Bible say about blessedness? What has God said about who the blessed are? Who IS the blessed man?
In the year 1660, John Trapp said this Psalm says more about being truly blessed “than any one of the philosophers, or all of them put together.” So, what does it say? To incite your interest, let me first submit this to you: In this Psalm, blessedness is conceived of in terms of prosperity. To be blessed is to prosper. Just look at it and track with me. Verse 1: “Blessed is the man…” Verse 3: “He is like a tree planted by streams of water…(skip to the last line of verse 3) in all that he does, he prospers.” Whatever else is said about the blessed man here, it does say that he prospers! The blessed man is therefore prosperous! Does this jar you? Does it unsettle you? We’re so accustomed to think blessedness does not depend on prosperity. Our theology may even dictate that the two be divorced! But what God has joined together, let no man separate. To this, we shall soon return. The Blessed Man Described (1-3)
As a unit, verses 1-3 describe the blessed man. They describe the blessed man in terms both negative and positive. Negatively speaking, the blessed man does not adopt the posture of unrighteousness. He avoids evil. He shuns ungodliness. He does not ASSUME the posture of evil. (v.1). “Blessed is the man who walks not in he counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers…” There aren’t three kinds of men here; ‘the wicked,’ ‘sinners,’ and ‘scoffers’ describe the same group. These are evil men. These are wicked men. And lest we think of the wicked only in terms of the Hitlers and Husseins of the world, hear ye this: the Bible has a much broader, and even more inclusive definition. Psalm 145:20 states: “The Lord preserves all who love him, but the wicked he will destroy.” There are two kinds of people in the world, those who love the Lord, and those who don’t. And those who don’t, scripture calls wicked. It should don upon us therefore: the wicked man may not appear to be so. He may look anything but. The wicked wear shirts and ties, have nice shoes, and drive BMWs (or Hondas). They might adorn themselves with fine looking Stetsons and the biggest belt buckles you ever did see. They may even attend church with Bible in hand. Do not forget the best of men, even the most religious of the religious in the Bible, did not love Christ! O that we not forget this! Every Sunday men wake up, put on their Sunday best, grab their bibles, and go to church. They look like the real deal! They appear pristine. But they do not love Christ. They have no affections for Him. They may even spew Scripture from their lips, and quote Spurgeon or Calvin with ease, but they have no real heart for the glory of God in the face of Jesus! In the eyes of all, they even pass for nice guys/gals. How many of our churches are filled with nice guys who do not love Christ? How many church members are there who do not love Christ? How many church elders are there who have no love for the Lord of the church? Scripture calls them wicked! Strong language? Absolutely! Over the top? Not if you tremble before the Word of the Almighty!
There are two kinds of people in the world – no, strike that. There are two kinds of people in the church, that is, professing church! Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked (wherever they might be). Blessed is the one who doesn’t listen to their advice, adopt their views, act on their counsel, and allow their influence to determine his course of life.
In a previous pastorate, I placed a sticker on my desk. The sticker had three simple words: “Do not bend.” Blessed is the man who does not bend to the counsel of the wicked. Life will be difficult for that man, especially since he will find himself swimming against the school. But this man, whoever he is, is blessed. So says the Psalmist.
That such a man does not stand in the path of sinners does not mean he so stands as to hinder them, as if to prevent their schemes. It simply means he doesn’t pattern his life after sinners. Sinners do not entice him. He doesn’t follow sinners, even when their way prospers, even when their lives flourish. Is it not the case that the unrighteous seem to always do well? Just look at Bill Gates! What about Oprah? What about the fella down the highway who seems to have ‘it all together?’ And what of these young NHLers signing multi-million dollar contracts? Is it not tempting sometimes to covet them because of their ‘success?’ You younger girls: Is it not a real struggle not to admire, even envy the popular “chicks” you know? You know the ones I’m talking about. They dress a certain way, talk a certain way, walk a certain way, look a certain way, and they always get their way. ‘What Lola wants, Lola gets,’ whether it’s a Pepsi or David Beckham! Have you seen that TV commercial? If so, great. If not, don’t worry about it. Blessed is the man who does not stand in the way of sinners. He is not envious of them. He is not enticed by them. He does not pattern his life after them.
Nor does he sit in the seat of scoffers. Who are the scoffers? In the book of Proverbs, the scoffer is the quintessential fool. He is the arrogant, haughty man, unwilling to receive instruction and correction. And here, in the context of Psalm one, the scoffer is the unteachable one, unwilling to receive instruction from God’s Word. He is the one who vaunts himself above the Bible. There’s no talking to a scoffer! “A fool,” says the Proverb, “does not delight in understanding, But only in revealing his own mind.” He has it all figured out, you see. Do you know anyone like that? Have you known anyone like that? God calls them arrogant fools.
How is the blessed man described here? Who is the blessed man of Psalm one? Blessed is the man who does not act on the counsel of the wicked, who does not pattern his life after sinners, and doesn’t vaunt himself above God’s Word. In other words, blessed is the man who does not assume the posture of evil.
Positively speaking, and in contrast to that, is what follows. He does not ASSUME the posture of evil, but he CONSUMES the Scripture given by God. Verse 2- “but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” To delight, first of all, is to take pleasure in. Blessed is the man who takes pleasure in the Scriptures. For him, the law is like a sunny afternoon ride across the lake in a sailboat. It’s like a drive through Banff National Park. It’s like eating ice cream with cherished friends after dinner at the Keg. It’s even like the joys of married love expressed. These are pleasures, not pains. These are things we want to do. These are heart things, things of the soul and the affections. Blessed is the man who does not assume the posture of evil, but consumes the Scripture God gave.
I speak of law in terms of “Scripture” because that’s what law is. The word for law here is ‘torah.’ It’s rendered into English various ways. It might refer, and often does so, to the Ten Commandments and Mosaic Law. It may also speak of a body of priestly or legal direction. In Isaiah 1:10, it’s used to refer to ‘the word of the Lord’ and the ‘teaching’ of God. In Isaiah 8:16, it tells of prophetic injunction, or testimony. But its most basic meaning is ‘instruction,’ either human or divine. I’m convinced that here ‘torah’ refers, most specifically to the instruction given in the Hebrew Scriptures. This does, therefore, refer to the Law of Moses. And it may very well include the Prophets and the Psalms, God’s special, written instruction. This is, however, not to exclude the rest, that is, the revelation of God in its fullness, i.e. the entire Bible. Now, did I just contradict myself? Did I just erase two years of study in the book of Galatians? No, I did not. It may sound that way to you. But just because the blessed man of Psalm One delights in the Law does not mean New Covenant realities are undermined. I’ll explain in just a few minutes. Hang in there with me.
For now, notice two things about the blessed man’s pleasure in the Law, in this divine instruction. First, it is intellectual. He meditates upon it. He meditates upon it. He engages the mind. He muses upon the Scripture. He mulls it over in his mind. He thinks deeply and carefully upon it. This meditation is not that of the mystics where the goal is an empty mind. The action here involves a full mind, filled with scripture, deeply considering what it says.
Second, this man so delights in the law that he meditates upon it day and night, that is, continually. His relationship to Scripture is marked by delight and pleasure. It is an intellectual relationship. And it is also continual. There’s no issue with attention span here. This man has no ADHD or whatever it’s called. TV is no distraction for him. It’s not that he doesn’t do other things. But his life is such that he weighs everything in light of Scripture. He reads the newspaper, watches the news, watches a movie (maybe), observes the culture; whatever he does, whatever he sees he sees and appraises and responds to in light of the Scriptures. In fact his entire life is devoted to mastering and being mastered by the Word of God. Remember what God said to Joshua after Moses died, before he led the people over the Jordan to Canaan? “…be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you…This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it both day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” Translation: Master the Law, Joshua. And be mastered by the Law. Then you shall prosper!
Blessed is the man who does not assume the posture of evil, but consumes the Scripture of God. “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” Assume not evil. Consume Scripture, even Law, and this is the result: Prosperity! Success in all that you do! Blessed is this man; Let no one put asunder what God has joined, namely the blessed man and prosperity! Curious? Intrigued? Frightened? All the above?
What the “health and wealth” folks do not understand is what I will now explain. The Hebrew word rendered ‘prospers’ at the end of verse three basically means “to bring to successful issue/result.” It is used of the will of God, the word of God, a weapon, and a tree. In Isaiah 53:10, we read “the will of the Lord will prosper in his (that is, Christ’s) hand.” In Isaiah 54:17 it says “no weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed” (or, prosper). And here in Psalm 1:3, a tree is that which prospers. What does a tree have in common with God’s will, a weapon that works, a tree that yields it fruit, and God’s Word? Isaiah 55 beginning with the 10th verse: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, (11) so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed (PROSPER!) in the thing for which I sent it.” In other words, prosperity as defined not by culture but by Scripture, is the fulfillment of intended purpose. To prosper is to succeed in the very design or end of a thing. The Lord’s sovereign will prospers without fail. The Word prospers in that for which it is sent. A weapon prospers when it executes justice. A tree prospers when it bears fruit in its season. And the blessed man prospers in all that he does. He completely fulfills the purpose of his existence. In ALL that he does (like avoid evil and absorb God’s Law), he prospers. A Parenthetical Thought: Good News for The Faithful, but Small Church
Before we press on, I want to apply this to the church, to our church. I ask myself the question: “What does a blessed, and thus prosperous, successful church, look like? Is it big with hundreds, even thousands? Does it have a growing leadership team with an abundance of eldership experience? Is there live music with songs led by the likes of Keith and Krysten? Maybe, but not necessarily. Actually, those things might be indicative of an unsuccessful church, not in the eyes of men, but certainly in the view of Christ. What’s the church for, anyway? Ever give much thought to that? When writing to Timothy, this is what the apostle said: “I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth.” A church is as prosperous as it is both the support and mainstay of truth. There’s nothing about numbers here. Nowhere in Scripture are prosperous ministries defined in terms of numbers. Jeremiah’s ministry was just as prosperous as that of the apostles in the book of Acts, why? Because both prophet and apostle accomplished their God-given purpose, that’s why. The church is a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession for the purpose of publishing the excellencies of God (1Peter 2:9). The church that does this is a prosperous, successful church. Are we that church? I’ll let you decide.
But the blessed man prospers in all that he does. He succeeds in his God-ordained purpose. The End of the Wicked (4-6)
Not so the wicked. Concerning the wicked, their end is made abundantly clear in the final three verses. But first, notice the contrast between the blessed man and the wicked. “The wicked are not so,” says the Psalmist, “but are like chaff that the wind blows away.” The wicked are not like that prosperous, fruitful tree, bearing leaves that do not wither. Chaff is what this Psalm calls them. You know what chaff is. I need not tell you. Is it not the stuff leftover after threshing, the useless, worthless by-product, the refuse of the harvest? Is it not the stuff the wind cradles and makes airborne once the combine makes its pass? Such are the wicked: Chaff the wind drives away. They are chaff the wind blows away. They may be prosperous in the eyes of men. Countless millions may even admire them. They may ooze style and dazzle the eyes, but they lack substance. There’s no gravity to them. There’s nothing of eternal value with them. And if they do not love the Lord, they are but chaff. They will not stand in the judgment, nor in the assembly of the righteous, but will perish. They are chaff that the wind drives away. Next time you see a sinner prosper and be successful in the eyes of the world, who walks in the counsel of the wicked, who stands in the path of sinners and sits in the seat of scoffers, just think to yourself: Chaff that the wind drives away! Blessed is the man who does not assume the posture of evil, who consumes the law of the Lord, and thirdly, who keeps himself from the doom of the wicked. Who is the Blessed Man?
So, who is the blessed man of Psalm 1? Who is the one who assumes not evil, consumes the Law of the Lord, is prosperous in all that he does, fulfilling his God-ordained purpose, keeping himself from the doom of the wicked? Two Scriptures tell us. Just listen carefully. “Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled’” (Lk. 24:44). It’s no wonder the blessed man of Psalm one delighted in the law of the Lord! Did you think the blessed man was you? Psalm one is not about us, not ultimately! We’re not irrelevant; there is application to be made here. But that application is to be made in light of the fact Christ is the blessed man, not you or me! To read this any other way is to misread it and thus invite self-righteousness, or despair! John Fry, in 1842, wrote:
I have been induced to embrace the opinion of some among the ancient interpreters (Augustine, Jerome, etc.), who conceive that the first Psalm is intended to be descriptive of the character and reward of the JUST ONE, i.e. the Lord Jesus.
But Scripture, not history, must determine these things. So, the second Scripture text is the second Psalm. There is a reason Psalm 2 comes after Psalm 1, even as Galatians 2 follows Galatians 1. Let’s quickly compare Psalm 1 with Psalm 2. Psalm 1:1 speaks of the counsel of the wicked. Psalm 2:1 and 2 speak of the counsel of the wicked. In Psalm 1:1 those who sit in the seat of scoffers scoff at God’s Word. In Psalm 2:4, He who sits in the heavens laughs at the words of the wicked. Psalm 1:4-6 speaks of judgment upon the wicked. Psalm 2:5-12 speaks of wrath. Psalm 1:6 speaks says “the way of the wicked will perish.” Psalm 2:12 says, “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way.” The two Psalms, like two pieces of art, are meant to be viewed together, side by side. And here’s the kicker: Psalm 1;1 says “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor suits in the seat of scoffers; his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Psalm 2:12: “Blessed are all those who take refuge in him.” Jesus Christ is the blessed man. He is the man who did not assume the posture of evil. And He did so for God, and for us. He is the man who was consumed with the law; He was so for God, and for us. He prospered in all that He did, even in the death upon a cross! Jesus Christ fulfilled the purpose God had for Him; and He did so for God and for us. And Jesus kept himself from the doom of the wicked that He might be a refuge from the wrath of God for us. So, run to him! Run to Christ! He is a safe place; all who by faith are in him will never know the end of the wicked. The blessed are those in Christ.