“God looks down from heaven on the children of man to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all fallen away; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.” – Psalm 53:2-3
I read through this chapter today as a part of my Bible reading plan, thinking about how different the presuppositional statements within these verses are from what we hear coming from the world’s various religions, which is essentially this: man is basically good and inclined to do good at any given moment. But then also I thought about how, unfortunately, we hear essentially the same thing coming from within the church many times: you are all basically good people because you give so generously and also God loves you. This message, in itself, is a disservice to the glory of God because it fails to deliver the entire message of His Gospel that He has so graciously declared to us in the pages of Scripture. Yes God loves His people. But how is that He has loved us? Why is His love so amazing?
Unless we understand what it is that we are being saved from, and understand the depth of our depravity, we will not understand how great is the love of Christ in sacrificing Himself in our place on the cross. The Scriptures are emphatically clear about our natural moral condition. We need to be honest about Scriptures’ assessment of our condition before God, lest we miss the heart of Christianity: the Gospel. And even after our conversion, it is necessary to see ourselves as, “simul iustus et pecator,” that is, simultaneously justified yet sinful, otherwise, to grow in Christ, we will trust ourselves instead of Christ for the power to progressively change (the only way to change in the way that glorifies God).
This chapter also made me think about this verse: “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). Unless God moves in me by His Spirit, I do not properly feel and view myself like this and I can’t stand it. My own heart is so inclined and prone toward evil, I cannot even begin to comprehend it. Jeremiah affirms this: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9-10). I certainly cannot. I am not supposing to know my heart exhaustively, but am proclaiming that we can know our hearts truthfully from God’s Word. We need God’s Spirit to show us, increasingly, the offense caused by our hearts in relation to the glory of God. These verses are a great place to start.
This is not a popular set of verses to the world and in much of the church these days, because they expose us all for what we really are by nature, inherited from the fall of Adam: God-haters, God-despisers. That is not a well-received message. But the Scriptural truthfulness of it cannot be negated. As opposed to what the world says, we are naturally opposed to any good that pertains to glorifying and honoring God. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we seek His demise and seek to set ourselves upon His throne. This is the heart-essence of what sin is: exchanging the glory of God for our self-imposed religion (Romans 1:22). Sin says that we, mere humans, are the starting point of all that is true, right and good in the universe. How this grieves the Lord’s heart that the Author of all that is would be blatantly ignored in all of our words and deeds!
In a culture of positive-thinking, where any negative message, association or connotation is taboo, this message grates against us as a people. It destroys our pride. It destroys any self-value we think we possess. To the world, this statement is utter foolishness and opposes its set norms for how we view ourselves and all reality. This message goes against the self-deceived state we perceive within our own hearts, that we are basically morally good people.
In all reality, without the Gospel, this message is the worst possible news and should cause us to despair. But we do not stop here. We view ourselves in this way, truly, only to point to a great Savior we have in Christ, that He would rescue us from our plight of blindness and unresponsive heart-hardness under the wrath of God due to us for our deep-seated perversion.
Sin has corrupted us, by nature, from the inside out, not the reverse, from the outside inward. Jesus affirms this: “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person” (Matthew 15:11). Also, “.. out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). Our nature determines our outcome. Until our heart is supernaturally repaired by the power of the cross, we remain unable to do anything good that glorifies God.
World religions state that to solve our problems we work from the outside inward through moral working and toiling to constrain, mold and shape our hearts into something good (good in relation to other men, remember). Many would even phrase Christianity to be within the same sphere of messages. Yet historic, Biblical Christianity says the opposite: only until your soul is cleansed by the blood of Christ of its poison, which at its core is obstinate toward God, can you do anything pleasing to God at all. Anything. This means that even the most benevolent work done toward other men, if not done through faith in Christ, in service toward His glory, itself is sin. This is what Paul meant when he said, “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin,” (Romans 14:23) and also when the writer of Hebrews says, “And without faith it is impossible to please him” (Hebrews 11:6).
Many times, when we think of our moral state, we often compare ourselves merely in relation to other people. But when we do this, we can actually look pretty good (puffed up in our own pride and self-righteousness), especially when compared against Hitler or someone of equal insidiousness. Think about the response of the Pharisee “praying” in the temple as compared to the response of the tax collector: “The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!'” I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:11-14).
The Pharisee compared himself to others and their works, yet the tax collector only compared himself to the majesty of God, to which he cries out in response, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” The tax collector saw God’s holiness, and like Isaiah and Ezekiel before him, knew that he was eternally ruined unless God was merciful toward him. God’s sovereign mercy was His only hope of being delivered. And it was in the heart of this response that Jesus declares that man to be justified in the presence of God rather than the Pharisee. We would do well to pay attention to the criteria used by each person when assessing their moral condition. And the criteria is set forth plainly in the Scriptures mentioned.
How is it that we are appropriately humbled in the presence of God? In the Scriptures, we see not how other men view us, but how God views us. Consider the Psalm at the beginning of this article: when “God looks down from heaven on the children of man to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God [i.e. the true God, as opposed to idols made in our own image from the ground upward] … They have all fallen away; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.” No one. This is a radical indictment of the human condition before the Lord. This is a radical indictment of my own heart in relation to God. We are more sinful than we dare even to believe.
It is of the utmost urgency that we see ourselves as being this bad. If we don’t, we can easily miss the Gospel altogether, because we view ourselves as not being that bad off that we would need to rescued. “But to admit our condition as being this bad off would flatten any pride or contribution we could possibly have! Correct?” Exactly. Naturally, before conversion, we are not in the same moral state like Adam was before the fall, as the world presumes, having the ability to choose good (that glorifies the Lord) or evil (which is an outright slap in His face). No, after the fall, we lost all inclination toward godliness in any manner.
We are all blind to Him and His goodness as a result of the fall. We are all naturally hardened toward Him under His just wrath that we have earned … That is until by His sovereign, infallible, unfailing grace through the death and resurrection of Christ, the Spirit brings us up from the dead through the message of the Gospel that breathes life into our dead souls. In our sin and unbelief in the Gospel, we are not merely a forest going through a drought spell that needs a little rain. Rather, we are a burned out forest, that only by the supernatural power of Christ can we be brought back to life, to flourish to His glory.
We need to be born again of God’s Spirit, that is raised from among the spiritually dead, to perceive, let alone even act upon the grace of God given us in the cross of Christ. This is the message of John 3 to Nicodemus. And it is through the cross that this new birth of our souls is even effected to begin with. Apart from God’s work in us to turn toward Him, we are hopeless to change. For in our sin, we will only choose that which is displeasing in His sight. We need the Spirit to reach into our poisoned hearts and breathe new life in us, in order that we may effectively see, repent, and believe upon the Lord Jesus for eternal salvation. There is no hope without Him to begin this or even bring it to completion upon the Day of His return.
After believing, in order to change and become like Christ, we still, even then, do not trust ourselves for this. Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). We must return every day to His cleansing power, flowing like a fountain of eternal life, whereby we may be progressively changed into His likeness. Even after conversion, apart from solely trusting Christ to work in us, even in our good works, we are hopeless to rightly glorify God. Though we may be saved, our hearts are still corrupted and incline themselves naturally toward evil. Just look at David’s adultery with Bathsheeba and subsequent murder to cover it up.
Therefore, we must always be on our guard for sin and its deceits, returning to this truth daily, that we are desperately sinful and inclined to do that which dishonors God. For it is when we properly see this that we can then turn to Christ in hope to deliver us. The Gospel, from the beginning (conversion), to the end (glorification upon death) and every point in between (sanctification), is our only hope of eternal life. Return daily to the Gospel of Christ, for in it, the power of God is revealed for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16), both long-term (eternally) and short-term (temporally). The Lord Jesus alone, not politics, not great leaders, not great movements, not any other religion, no none of these; Christ alone is our only hope to be rescued from our terrible blindness under God’s just hand! Have mercy on us Lord Jesus, for you are the only hope of life now and forever.
Those of you who are outside His saving grace, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. “But what if I see my need from these passages and yet struggle to believe Him?” Cry out to the Lord like the father of the son whom Jesus healed when he said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). Also, consider the words of Jesus in this passage: “‘Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.’ When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, ‘Who then can be saved?’ But Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this [salvation] is impossible, but with God all things are possible.'” The answer is that only God can save you and give you eyes to see Him, ears to hear Him, and a heart that loves and trusts Him. And only He can give you assurance that you are His. Cry out to Him to save you and turn your heart toward Him, and in the sincerity of your heart, trust that He will make good on His promise to do exactly those things. It is your only hope. “For all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13).