December 9, 2016 • Life for Leaders
God looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. Everyone has turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good,
not even one.
If you have a sense of déjà vu when reading Psalm 53, it’s because this psalm is virtually identical to Psalm 14. Lining up these two psalms in parallel columns, you’ll find that they differ only in a few minor details. How curious! It’s as if those who collected the psalms must have believed that the message contained in this particular poem was so important that it was worth repeating twice, almost verbatim.
The duplication of this poem is surprising because its message is not altogether encouraging. Psalm 53 doesn’t end up on posters featuring peaceful nature scenes. If it were up to me, I would have made sure Psalm 23 appeared more than once in the psalter. But, I believe the truths of Psalm 53 (and Psalm 14) speak incisively to our lives, especially in this time of history.
Psalm 53 begins by criticizing fools who deny God’s relevance to their lives and therefore commit all measure of evil. From our perspective, it would be easy to begin to think of people we know who fit this mold, people other than ourselves, of course. We like to think of ourselves as good people, unlike those who think or act differently from us.
But then we get to verses 2 and 3. Here, God looks down upon all people and sees all of us to be lacking in goodness. The divine conclusion: “There is no one who does good, not even one” (53:3). With hyperbolic rhetoric and poetic intensity, the psalmist underscores the truth that all of us, to one extent or another, share in the folly of those who reject God and do what’s wrong. Thus we mustn’t let the fact that some “fools” seem to us to be more foolish than we are become an excuse for us to ignore our own failure to live according to God’s wisdom. We all need to admit that, at times, we are the fools.
In Romans 3, the Apostle Paul quotes this passage from Psalm 53 (or 14, see Rom. 3:10-12). He concludes that all people have sinned and fall short of God’s glory (3:23). This bad news of human folly sets up the good news of the Gospel, namely, that “all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (3:24). Thus, we must not boast of our right standing with God, since it’s nothing that we have earned. God does not love us because we have earned it. God does not save us because we are good. Rather, God is gracious to us in spite of our folly and failure. Through his grace in Christ, God loves us, saves us, and calls us to live our whole life in response to his grace.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Do you ever look upon others in their folly as a way of building yourself up?
How might Psalm 53 alter your perspective and practice?
Do you truly believe you are saved by God’s grace in Christ? If not, why not? If so, are you living each day in response to this grace?
Gracious God, you know how easy it is for me to look upon the folly and evil of others in order to build myself up. I can think, “At least I’m better than they are!” But this psalm reminds me of my own folly, even the folly of thinking that somehow I am categorically better than others. Today I’m reminded of the fact that all have sinned, including me. Left to my own devices, there is no way I can cleanse myself of sin or be righteous in your sight.
Yet you have done what I cannot do. Through Christ, you have declared that I am righteous. You have drawn me into a right relationship with you so that I might live in a new way, set free from folly. Help me, dear Lord, to live each day for you and by your power. Though I will continue to sin, may sin’s hold on my life diminish. May I flourish in goodness because of my relationship with you.
All praise be to you, gracious God, because, having seen the evil of humankind, you reach out in love to save us . . . including me! Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online Bible commentary: God’s Justice, the Solution to Our False Judgments (Romans 3:21–26)
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.