Text: Psalm 31:1

In you, O Lord, I put my trust; let me never be ashamed; deliver me in your righteousness.


Halloween, October 31st, is one of the most celebrated holidays of the year. During the last half of October Halloween decorations adorn homes and properties. One can hardly drive down a street without seeing on front porches and lawns witches, scarecrows hung in effigy, demons, ghosts, goblins, monsters, and huge cobwebs with hairy spiders, not to mention the brightly lit faces of the pumpkins.

I personally choose not to celebrate Halloween. For years I have referred to Halloween as the devil’s birthday – a time when he and the black arts are glamorized. Therefore, I want no part of it.

If people understood what the Lord says about the devil and that the black arts are to be avoided, and if they had the spiritual understanding to see the devil’s involvement in the black arts and haunted houses, which so intrigue them, they would no more want to celebrate the devil’s birthday on Halloween than they would rejoice over finding a rattlesnake in their beds.

We, who understand the gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and what our dear Lord has done through the ages to bring it to us, also celebrate on October 31st. We don’t celebrate Halloween. We celebrate the Reformation.

The Reformation was that period of history when our dear Lord striped off the wraps of men’s false teachings from the gospel and enlightened the world with it through Martin Luther. Through the Reformation our Lord made his light of grace shine brightly in a world enshrouded in darkness, so that we can now rejoice in the Scriptural truth: “For God, who said, 'Light will shine forth out of darkness,' is the One who has shone in our hearts the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6).

Martin Luther saw the first glimmer of the gospel when, in his early years as professor of the Bible at Wittenberg University, he prepared his lectures on Psalm 31:1: “In you, O Lord, I put my trust; let me never be ashamed; deliver me in your righteousness.” He had been taught that the righteousness of God was God’s justice, which demanded a righteousness from us and threatened us with punishment for not being righteous like he is. This righteousness of God terrified Luther, because he knew he was a sinner and he feared the horrible wrath of God that threatened him. So when he saw in this psalm verse that the psalm writer prayed that the Lord would deliver him in the Lord’s own righteousness, Luther wondered why the psalm writer would utter such a prayer. For Luther understood the righteousness of God to condemn, not deliver. At a later date the Lord made the light of the gospel shine in Luther’s heart, showing him that the righteousness of God was that righteousness which God credited to sinners through their faith in Jesus Christ for their salvation. Once that understanding dawned on Luther, he saw the gates of heaven open to him.

What Luther came to understand was the doctrine of justification. We will now look into Psalm 31:1, which proved to be so critical to the onset of the Reformation, that we may grasp what it means to us. We will discuss “Justification--By Grace, By Christ’s Righteousness, By Faith.”

This psalm is a prayer of an Old Testament Christian to be delivered from his enemies. His archenemy is the devil, who is intent on destroying him in hell through sin and false beliefs. From a spiritual perspective the Christian hates the false religions inspired by the devil, which turn against the Lord and which the devil uses to taunt and persecute Christians. In Psalm 31 the Christian prays for deliverance from these enemies: the devil, sin, false beliefs, the pagans who cling to them and persecute God’s believers, and the condemnation of hell which is their end and which threatens the Christian, too, because of his sins.

In the first verse he prays, “In you, O Lord, I put my trust; let me never be ashamed; deliver me in your righteousness.” This entire psalm is the plea of a Christian surrounded by those enemies who threaten to destroy him and his faith. He prays as one who is guilty of sin himself and deserving of nothing but the Lord’s punishment. For he confesses in the psalm that his life is consumed by anguish and his years by groaning; his strength fails because of his guilt.

Yet in this opening verse the Christian confesses he put his trust in the Lord. The Hebrew term for our English word "trust" properly means to take refuge, and thus trust, in the Lord. The Lord -- the very one whose Word says in Psalm 5:4: “For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; No evil dwells with you, -- allows himself to be a haven and a place of refuge for the sinner who deserves only his wrath and punishment in hell. The Lord’s willingness to permit such a sinner to come and to stand in him as a place of refuge is amazing. It reveals his sheer grace and mercy. He permits the sinner to come to him and to rest at peace in him. Thus in the Judge of sinners the sinner finds refuge, peace, and deliverance from all evil, from the enemies of his soul, and from the punishment of hell itself. For this reason the believing sinner puts his trust in the Lord.

From the psalm writer we learn how to meditate and pray in a God-pleasing manner. We must first come to grips with our sins. We must realize they separate us from the blessings of God and make us worthy of nothing but his wrath in hell. We can come into his presence to seek the refuge of his salvation only when we humble ourselves to pour out our heart’s anguish over our many sins, which condemn us. With pain of heart and fear of his wrath we throw ourselves at his feet, claiming no worthiness of our own, and seeking the shelter of his sheer grace and mercy. When we meditate and pray in this manner, he shines the light of his love on us, welcomes us with open arms, and shelters us in the refuge of his grace and salvation.

Let us see ourselves spiritually as the miserable wretch who is caught in a dangerous thunderstorm. The devil’s lightning bolts of temptation are flashing all around us. He intends to strike us down and destroy us. We are caught in a driving down pour of the world’s sins, which pelt us no matter which way we turn. While we are running to escape from the devil’s lightning bolts of temptations and from the deluge of the world’s sins, we find ourselves slipping and sliding and falling in the darkness of sin time and again. We feel the winds of judgment blowing down our necks, threatening to hurdle us headlong into hell. But then, as we are running headlong to seek some place of refuge from this horrible storm of iniquity, which is threatening our life, there before us stands the Lord. He is like a welcoming storm shelter just waiting for us to run into him for refuge and safety and deliverance. Because we are able to take refuge in him and find salvation in him, we are able to sense with much appreciation the sheer mercy and grace of God, which is extended to us sinners. We will not perish after all, for our gracious Lord loves and saves us.

For this reason let us also say, “In you, O Lord, I have put my trust and taken refuge. My certainty of salvation rests solely in you.” When we confess our sins and lost condition, and we seek refuge in the mercy of God, then we are justified, like the tax collector who prayed, “God, have mercy on me the sinner.” For Jesus said: “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified. (Luke 18:13,14)

We are justified only when we are delivered in our Lord’s righteousness. If we have truly humbled ourselves before God to run and take refuge in him from the guilt of our sins, we know there is no way that we can be a refuge and haven of righteousness to deliver ourselves. We are not a sheltering refuge of salvation for ourselves from the guilt of our sins and the danger of hell’s punishment any more than the gopher can find shelter under its own shadow from the hawk that is swooping down to devour him. The Lord our refuge must deliver us in his righteousness, or we have no righteousness surrounding us, which will save us.

With these few words of Psalm 31:1 the Holy Spirit strikes down a justification before God on the basis of our own works. Our works in the sight of God remain tainted by sin and are no better than filthy rags. Since the Lord has said in Psalm 5 that he takes no pleasure in evil and the wicked cannot dwell with him, we cannot expect to come into his heavenly presence and find refuge from everlasting condemnation in our sin stained, filthy rags. We must be pure and holy like the Lord is.

Revelation 7:14, 15 state: “They washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, they are before the throne of God.” These verses teach us that the saints in heaven are there because they have had their own filthy rags washed and purified into white robes through the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ. Having taken refuge in his cleansing blood, they are able to stand before the throne of God -- righteous, holy, and acceptable to God for all eternity. The cleansing blood of Jesus is our only refuge of righteousness from punishment in hell, too.

This psalm teaches us that we are able to approach God acceptably and be justified with the forgiveness of our sins and the righteousness of Christ only when our Lord himself delivers us through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. If we do not have his deliverance through the cross, we have no deliverance and we are still in the outer darkness of condemnation. If we are to be justified, it cannot be by us but by the righteousness that comes from God through faith in Christ Jesus our Savior. Paul clarified this in Romans 3:21, 22: “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law (meaning our works of obedience to the law), has been revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, namely a righteousness from God through faith in Jesus Christ, for all who believe.

The delivering righteousness of God comes through faith in Christ. This points out the other important means to our being justified and declared righteous. It comes through faith to those who believe it. The psalm writer was granted this light of understanding too, for note his beautiful confession of faith: “In you, O Lord, I put my trust; let me never be ashamed.” The psalm writer took refuge in the Lord’s righteousness for deliverance. He put his trust in the Lord for the righteousness that would save him. Jesus Christ is that Lord of righteousness. Jeremiah 23:6 states: “And this is his name that he will be called: 'The Lord Our Righteousness.'

In the saving righteousness, which comes from God through Jesus Christ, we also must put our trust for deliverance. The Holy Spirit is teaching us through Psalm 31 what the condition of our hearts must be if we are to take refuge in the Lord for deliverance from the devil, sin, and hell. We must have believing hearts anchored in Christ. We must believe that through his perfect life and through his redeeming sacrifice on the cross we are delivered from the devil’s accusations that we are guilty of sins for which we must be punished eternally in the outer darkness of hell. When we have such believing hearts, then the saving righteousness of Christ belongs to us, as it does to all who believe in Jesus. When we have such believing hearts, we have been truly enlightened with the light of the gospel. We then can sing out with the psalm writer, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” (Psalm 27:1)

Having been justified by grace, by the righteousness of Christ, and by our faith in him, we will never be put to shame according to Psalm 31:1. Our enemies -- the devil, his ungodly followers who persecute us, sin, and hell, will not be the victors over us. We will be delivered from them to enjoy the life without end in heaven.

This is the gracious good news that our Lord brought to light for us through the Reformation. So let us rejoice and celebrate on October 31st, not in the devil’s birthday -- Halloween, but in the Lord our refuge in whom we have deliverance. Amen.