Psalm 53 - STILL Not Even One

Summer Psalms 2021  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  40:09
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God will ruin those who reject Him, but He rescues all those He has redeemed through Christ



Over the years I have had opportunities to teach a comparative religion course at Penn State—it’s been a while since I’ve done it, and I’m not sure if they’d ever ask me again, but I’d be happy to if they did. Every year the campus would hold a dinner for all the new faculty and adjunct faculty to introduce them to the policies and procedures of teaching undergraduate courses at Penn State. One of the very important pieces of information that is passed along each year regards the academic integrity standards for students—particularly when it comes to plagiarism.
Every semester that I taught, I would almost always have at least one student who would plagiarize one of their assignments. The policy was laid out very clearly in the syllabus that copying someone else’s work without attribution would result in a zero for the assignment. Most students understand that you cannot copy someone else’s paper for your assignment or copy other scholars’ work without attribution, but not everyone knows that it is also considered plagiarism to copy your own work that you submitted for a previous course! Just because you wrote it doesn’t mean that you don’t have to give a citation—even if it is your own work!
All of that came to mind as I was studying this week’s psalm, because Psalm 53 is almost a word-for-word copy of an earlier Psalm—Psalm 14! (There is a significant difference in verse 5, which we will explore later.) Now we certainly cannot accuse God of plagiarism—He is the one who inspired both of these psalms through the pen of David, after all—but there must certainly be an important reason why God chose to tell us the exact same thing again! (Actually, if you count the passage that we read earlier, Romans 3:10-18, you can say that God repeats these things three times in the Scriptures!)
So there must be something vitally important for us to understand about these verses, if God saw fit to include them over and over. (And so it will never do for me to just go back and copy the sermon I preached on Psalm 14 back in 2015!)
Perhaps one of the reasons that God saw fit to repeat this Psalm for us here is because the subject of this psalm is so pervasive in our lives. Both Psalm 14 and Psalm 53 begin the same way:
Psalm 53:1 (ESV)
1 The fool says in his heart, “There is no God”...
As one preacher put it, you can recognize when you’re fourteen the foolishness of the world around him—and then again when you’re fifty-three you find that nothing has changed! What we have for us here in these verses is a vivid description of just how deeply and completely the human race has been corrupted by sin. As we will see, there is no facet of our humanity that has not been twisted and poisoned by sin. This is what theologians call the doctrine of total depravity:
TOTAL DEPRAVITY: There is no part of our HUMANITY that has not been CORRUPTED by the EFFECTS of SIN
The doctrine of total depravity doesn’t mean that people are always as evil as it is possible to be, or that a person is incapable of a good deed—but it means that every single facet of the human experience has been corrupted by sin. And David gives us several descriptions of the ways that we have been corrupted by sin in our fallen state. What he is laying out here in this Psalm—and the instruction and hope that I want us to draw from these verses today—is that
God will RUIN those who REJECT Him but RESCUE those He has REDEEMED
We certainly live in an age where there is no shortage of foolish refusals to acknowledge God—and God’s people are suffering every day at the hands of people who “have no knowledge”, who “work evil” and devour God’s people like dinner rolls before a meal (Ps. 53:4). And so David writes this psalm to provide hope for God’s people in the midst of a generation that recklessly abandons any respect for God.
The first thing that we see here in Psalm 53 is a description of

I. The COMPLETE CORRUPTION of Humanity (Psalm 53:1-5)

In our English translation, verse 1 sounds like a categorical statement on the non-existence of God, stated the way our modern philosophical atheists would say it: “There is no God”. And of course it is foolishness to deny the existence of God—the Apostle Paul says in Romans 1 that even though deniers know God exists, they refuse to honor Him. As we are fond of saying, an atheist is someone who says “There is no God, and I hate Him”.
But what David has in view here is not so much the philosophical rejection of God’s existence as it is the denial that God has any relevance in my life. The Hebrew underneath our English translation of Verse 1 literally reads, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘No God!’” in other words, “God has nothing to do with me. If He exists at all, He has no authority, no relevance, no business in my life at all.”
We hear this all around us today, don’t we? God is not so much denied in His existence in our society as He is mocked for His commands. We have even been treated to the spectacle of our nation’s highest elected leaders publicly mocking God, ending their prayer in the House of Representatives with “A-men and A-women”, and Rep. Jerry Nadler famously concluding his defense of the so-called “Equality Act” that “What any religious tradition describes as God’s will is of no concern to this Congress.” In other words, “We don’t care what you tell us is God’s will, we don’t care what you say He has said—we are not under His authority”. And God’s Word says that Representative Nadler and everyone in Congress who echoes those sentiments are fools.
The effects of sin in our world have completely corrupted every facet of our humanity—David goes on in this psalm to demonstrate several ways in which we are totally fallen. In verse 3 we read that
Our entire RACE has fallen (v. 3)
Psalm 53:3 (ESV)
3 They have all fallen away; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.
It doesn’t matter where you go, it doesn’t matter what culture or ethnic background or skin color or language or socio-economic strata you claim, every last person who has ever drawn breath in this world has been corrupted by the effects of sin. The foolish and destructive racism that is being enthusiastically embraced by so many people (including so many people within the Church) says that whiteness is a sin, but being a “person of color” is inherently less sinful, less evil. God’s Word has news for you, folks—every last one of us has been completely corrupted by sin. There is no one who is righteous, there is no one who has not fallen away from God. Red and yellow, black and white, all are wicked in His sight.
And that fallen condition means further (at the end of verse 3) that
Our total BEING has fallen (v. 3b)
“There is none who does good, not even one”. The doctrine of total depravity means that every faculty that we possess has been corrupted by sin. Now, this does not mean that fallen man is always as evil as possible all the time. If I have a neighbor who is an atheist, I can ask him to come water our garden while we’re on vacation and not have to worry that as soon as our tail-lights disappear over the hill that he’ll run over and douse our pepper plants with Round-Up!
Total depravity doesn’t mean that people are incapable of doing a good thing—I have known (and you have too) many people who reject God and deny His existence who can be helpful, friendly and kind-hearted. But what the doctrine of total depravity means is that eventually, inevitably, our hearts will succumb to sin and depravity. We cannot, in our natural state, say no to sin. The old theologians had a Latin phrase, non posse non peccare: "Not possible not to sin”—eventually, sooner for some and later for others, but eventually everyone will succumb to sin. As one theologian puts it, “We are not sinners because we sin—we sin because we are sinners!” (Sproul).
The doctrine of total depravity doesn’t mean that in our fallen state we are incapable of any good act. But it does mean that
Our standards of GOODNESS have fallen (vv. 1, 3)
Psalm 53:1 (ESV)
1 The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity; there is none who does good.
Psalm 53:3 (ESV)
3 They have all fallen away; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.
For us, goodness is determined by whether it has a profitable end. In other words, if our atheist neighbor tends our garden so that our pepper plants are still alive when we get home, we say that he has done us “good”. But God’s standard for a “good” deed is not just whether it results in a good result but whether it comes out of a good heart. This is what Jesus meant in Matthew 12 when he said
Matthew 12:33–35 (ESV)
33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.
And so when David says in verse 1 that mankind
Psalm 53:1 (ESV)
1 ... are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity; there is none who does good
he is saying that even the so-called “good deeds” that we call good are still tainted and spoiled with such sin and corruption so as to make it impossible for God to receive them, like a hoodie that you wore to a bonfire that you think smells fine—but you smell like smoke to everyone around you! The doctrine of total depravity says that in the same way we are “nose-blind” to the stench of sin that clings to the best of our “good deeds”.
We are totally fallen—our entire race has fallen, our total being has fallen, our grasp on goodness has fallen, and David goes on to write in verses 4-5 that
We totally DESERVE PUNISHMENT (vv. 4-5; cp. Eph. 2:3)
These verses describe some of the ways that God will bring judgment on those who foolishly say, “No God!”, the ones who reject His authority or deny His existence. And this is the one major departure from Psalm 14. Where the earlier psalm focuses more on God’s protection for His people—
Psalm 14:5–6 (ESV)
5 There they are in great terror, for God is with the generation of the righteous. 6 You would shame the plans of the poor, but the Lord is his refuge.
Psalm 53 replaces that stanza with additional warnings of the judgment that falls on those who reject Him
Psalm 53:4–5 (ESV)
4 Have those who work evil no knowledge, who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon God? 5 There they are, in great terror, where there is no terror! For God scatters the bones of him who encamps against you; you put them to shame, for God has rejected them.
Look at the ways God judges those who reject Him— “They are in great terror, when there is no terror”—in other words, God judges those who hate Him by destroying their courage. Moses warned the Israelites in Leviticus 26 that if they rejected YHWH as their God, that He would judge them by making them cowards:
Leviticus 26:36 (ESV)
36 And as for those of you who are left, I will send faintness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies. The sound of a driven leaf shall put them to flight, and they shall flee as one flees from the sword, and they shall fall when none pursues.
Look around you today and you see the judgment of God on a people who refuse to acknowledge Him, (reacting with unreasoning terror and fear over a virus with a 99 percent survival rate, for instance.)
And the other judgment God sends on those who reject Him is found at the end of verse 5:
For God scatters the bones of him who encamps against you; you put them to shame, for God has rejected them.
The idea here is that those who reject God will suffer a shameful downfall. “Scattering the bones” of someone is a symbol of disgrace and shame—your body is thrown into the woods where scavengers will pick it apart and scatter your bones all over. You won’t even have a grave for someone to come to in remembrance of you—you will be forgotten and unmourned.
Imagine going to Washington D.C. and tearing down all the monuments to the Founding Fathers and going to their gravesites and exhuming their bones to be scattered across the landscape so that no one could ever go and pay their respects to them again! That is the fate that awaits those who arrogantly proclaim that God’s will is no concern of theirs!
And yet those temporal judgments are not the worst punishment that falls on sinners for their totally sinful rejection of God—Jesus says in Matthew 10:28
Matthew 10:28 (ESV)
28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in Hell.
The Scripture is clear that our utter and complete fall into sin, our total failure to love or obey God, our universal descent into corruption and wickedness deserves only one response from God—eternal punishment away from His presence in Hell:
Revelation 20:11–15 (ESV)
11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
God will ruin those who reject Him—in this life, and in the life to come. David has just spent the vast majority of this psalm describing the complete corruption of the human race in sin, the total depravity of our race, our being, our goodness. But then in verse 6 he makes a dramatic shift in his focus:
Psalm 53:6 (ESV)
6 Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion! When God restores the fortunes of his people, let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.
From the complete corruption of humanity, David now turns to

II. The COMPLETELY FREE GRACE of God (Psalm 53:6)

Just as your eyes are dazzled when you come out of a dark cellar into brilliant summer sunlight, I hope the eyes of your heart are dazzled by the brightness of the hope that David’s pen unleashes here in this verse! Even though the human race utterly deserves to be dismayed, destroyed, scattered and shamed because of our utter sinfulness, God has sent His salvation out of Zion for us! In the original Hebrew it reads that “Oh that YeshuAH for Israel would come out of Zion!”
As David wrote this he was intending it to be a prayer for God to deliver His people from the hand of the wicked who “devour God’s people like bread” (v. 4). But there is a greater question that begs to be answered here: If indeed as we have seen the entire race of humanity has every last one been utterly corrupted in every way by sin, then where do these righteous people come from?? How can God call any of this sinful, fallen race of rebels “His” people??
The answer can only be that if anyone can be called one of “God’s people”, it must be because God Himself” has made them righteous! We can read Verse 6, “Oh, that YeshuAH for Israel would come out of Zion!” and know that indeed God has sent Yehshuhah, Jesus, to us to save us! The entire witness of the New Testament to Jesus’ work for us points to the fact that
He REGENERATED us (Rom. 5:8-9; Eph. 2:8-9; John 1:12-13)
John 1:12–13 (ESV)
12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
Romans 5:8–9 (ESV)
8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.
Ephesians 2:8–9 (ESV)
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Not because you were just a little “less depraved” than your neighbor or had done a few less smelly good deeds, not because there was anything lovely or worthy or pleasing about you—you were just as corrupt and filthy and rotten and decaying in the hateful putrescence of your sin as anyone else. And for no reason other than His good pleasure He chose to save you! You could not know Him or want Him or call on Him unless He called you first!
And when you recognize that fact, when you see clearly how utterly incapable you were of wanting or choosing Him, when you understand that if it hadn’t been for God choosing you, you would still be mired in that filth and corruption and death with no way out, the only possible response that you can have is to
“ When God restores the fortunes of his people, let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.”
When you were still a sinner, when you were still as totally corrupt and evil and wicked and morally disgusting in every facet of your existence, Jesus Christ willingly laid down His life for you! And even now as you struggle with the sin that still grabs at you and the wickedness and depravity that still tries to cling to you and drag you down and pull you away, the mercy and grace and love of Jesus Christ holds on to you more powerfully than any sin that besets you!
As the Apostle John writes in his first epistle:
1 John 2:1–2 (ESV)
1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
Even if you do fall into sin, Christian, Jesus stands as your Advocate, your Friend, your Rescuer who has removed the wrath of God from you so that you stand in His righteousness before your Father in Heaven! What greater rejoicing can anyone have?
And as you rejoice over His mercy to you, knowing what you were apart from His grace that called you to Himself,
REMEMBER what you once were
apart from Him.
Let this truth of your fallenness apart from God sever once and for all the judgmentalism with which you look on your friends and neighbors in the world! When you understand who you were (and who you still would be) apart from the righteousness Jesus has given you, there is no one out there that you can look down on! Never forget: God saw your depravity far more clearly than you see the sinfulness of your neighbor--and He still chose you! So what do you have to feel superior about?? Yes, they are wicked; yes, they devour the innocent for their own personal gain; yes, they hate the knowledge of God and refuse to acknowledge Him or call on His Name--and so did you before He brought you to Himself! So sever the root of judgmentalism by looking to what you were apart from Jesus! (T. Thompson, Not Even One, Sermon, Bethel Baptist Church, 07/08/2015)
And finally, Christian let the truth of what you were before Jesus saved you cause you to
REACH OUT to those who are far from Him
Let the truth of your fallenness apart from Christ ignite your compassion for the broken people all around you! Because you are cut from the same cloth as they are! You feel the same pain, you experience the same grief, the same loneliness, the same craving for love and acceptance, the same desire for freedom from guilt and shame! Open your eyes to look at that individual you are tempted to judge, and remind yourself that the same grace that God showed to you when He saved you, He now means to show through you to share the Good News of salvation to them!
And so look around us, church! Look at the people around us in this town! How many of them are broken by their sin, desperately looking for some relief from their shame, or falling into despair that they will ever find rest for their souls or meaning to their lives! You see them every day--whether they carry the outward signs of their fallenness in ravaged and wasted bodies, or whether the desolation and corruption is concealed inside well-manicured and well-dressed professional appearances.
Look with the eyes of compassion that have been opened by the grace of God in your own life--and let that marvelous grace that reached you in the depths of your sin be the power that compels you to love them, embrace them, and accept them. To love them the way Jesus loved you--in spite of their filth, in spite of their corruption, in spite of their bitterness and unpleasantness and dishonesty and treachery and self-centeredness and unloveliness. Let the love and grace and forgiveness and compassion of Jesus move through your hands and feet, Church, so that we might be a declaration of the mercy of our sovereign God for the misery of our sinful world. (Thompson, ibid.)
And friend, if you are here this morning and you recognize that depravity in your own life, if you have been fighting a running battle to deny God’s authority and refuse His presence—can’t you see that it is a battle that you will never win? God’s Word offers a gracious warning to you today: The path you are on will only lead to terror, shame and oblivion—and nothing in this life can compare with the terror of the eternal wrath of Almighty God descending on you forever, the unrelenting shame of your corruption exposed and punished for all time, the oblivion of being forever cast out of God’s presence and away from any of His comfort, relief or attention ever again.
God has appointed you to be here at this moment, He has brought you here out of His grace and mercy so that you can hear this invitation from His Word—He has sent His salvation out of Zion, He has made a way for you to be re-born out of that radical corruption, that total depravity of sin, and He has given you ears to hear His call today! So don’t turn away, don’t push Him off—this is the day that He has appointed for you to come to salvation in Him. Hear His call, cry out to Him for rescue. He will not cast you aside, He will receive you and utterly forgive you and make you His own child! So come—and welcome!—to Jesus Christ!
Hebrews 13:20–21 (ESV)
20 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.


What does the theological term “total depravity” mean? What are some ways this term is misunderstood? In what ways are we as human beings “totally” affected by sin?
What is the difference between the way we understand an act to be “good” and the way God defines what is a “good” act? Read Matthew 12:35 again. What is Jesus saying about the relationship between our deeds and our heart?
The Bible says that we were completely incapable of choosing to follow God apart from His choosing us first (1 John 4:19). How does God’s undeserved mercy towards you when you were His enemy cause you to rejoice in Him? How does recognizing His grace to you in your sin affect the way you view those who are currently rejecting Him?
Spend some time this week praying for the person in your life who is the most hostile toward God—ask Him to bring that person to Himself, and praise Him that since His wonderful grace could reach you, it can certainly reach them!
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