Today, we'll begin looking at the first doctrine of grace -- total depravity. This is a study about understanding ourselves in our natural state before we knew God. To help us do so, we'll take a look at Ps 53, and also a corresponding passage in the letter to the Romans.
(A) The Godless: defiant fools, none of them doing good (Ps 53: 1-3)
Psalm 53 begins with the words of the fool. The psalmist tells us that the fool says in his heart that there is no God. It’s his internal monologue, and he has already decided that this is how he is going to live. But who is this fool? And if he says there is no God, it’s either he really believes there is no God, or that he knows there is God but he wants to avoid submitting to this God.
Rom 1:19-21 goes on to describe this foolish person who rebels against God. Through the creation, God has revealed his invisible attributes, namely his eternal power and divine nature (Rom 1:20), but the people did not honor Him or give thanks to Him (Rom 1:20) and they are fools (Rom 1:21). Realise that what is being described here is not some misguided conviction, but a clear, defiant rebellion. If there is no God, who is God and who do they follow? They have set out to follow their own desires. Rebellion and hardness against God is total. There is no delight in God and no submission to the sovereignty of God. Ps 53:1 tells us the fool says this in his heart! We can stand before people and say and do the right
things, but what do we say in our hearts before God?
There are 3 results of the fool's defiance, and the psalmist describes the fool for us (Ps 53:1b). The fool is corrupt, does abominable iniquity and there is none who does good. This is a person that is self-focused and corruptions suggest not only a compromise of the morals, but something even more. There is evil and decay in the the fool's nature. The fool is also one who engages in extreme injustice and wickedness, and it’s not only directed towards fellow man, but is a Godward offensiveness. This person doesn't only do evil, but also does not do the good that they ought to.
How does God respond? God looks for those who seek Him (Ps 53:2). Even in His judgment, God is involved and not removed. He is a personal God who looks with the intention to find. God knows the hearts of man, and can perfectly find and deal
with it even without looking. But yet He did!
The word “all” remove all doubt that everyone has fallen away (Ps 53:3a) This levels out the playing field, as this is a depravity that affects every single human. The depravity is also corporate. It is mutual encouragement towards destruction, and we are all intertwined in the brokenness of this world such that “together” we have become corrupt (Ps 53:5b). But what will God find? Rom 1:29-31 gives us a list of all manner of unrighteousness. This passage, with its list of all manner of unrighteousness in verses 29 to 31 is really clear and detailed, and honestly quite easy for us to relate to. These verses in Romans show us who we are. Disobedient to parents? Heartless? This is true of all of us at some point in our lives, and these external symptoms have a real reason and deeper root told to us in Rom 1:28 — because they did not see fit to acknowledge God. "Therefore God gave them
up", as the repeated phrase in this chapter continues to tell us. What does this mean? It is not that He is causing us to sin. He sees what man repeatedly desires and is bent on pursuing, and lets go to allow man to fulfill his own sin nature and desire. This is what happens when the fool says there is no God, and rejects God's authority and rule in his life.
Is this a description of your life? If you are a Christian, this shows us who were once were, and what we have been rescued from. It is a sobering lesson because we are confronted with our sin nature here. We did not acknowledge God and were totally deserving of eternal punishment. We were not able not to sin. But there is also hope and grace, if you are a Christian. The only reason we are gathered to study God's Word, and have the tiniest desire to do so, is not because we have willed our hearts to do so. It is only because God has not let us go. We are only Christians today, tomorrow and have the hope for the future is not because we have done well, but because He has held us fast to Himself. Isn't this wonderful?
(B) The Evil: Face God’s judgment for they disregard God and His people (Ps 53: 4-5)
Evil and oppression appears to be a daily occurrence, as the description “eating up my people as they eat bread” in Ps 53:4 is meant to convey. This oppression and suffering is as common as bread is like a staple food. There is a disregard for the maker and a pure focus on consuming the bread (aka people) for personal satisfaction. The oppressors are also nonchalant about the way they inflict violence.
Yet despite the bravura displayed in Ps 53:1 and the wilful actions, the people are in terror when there is no real cause to be terrified (Ps 53:6). Why is this so? Despite their declaration of rebellion against God, the reality is that God does exist, and their rebellion has set them against God. These foolish evildoers have disregarded God, but God’s judgment is real despite their insistence and rejection of Him. Ps 53:5b tells us how God will act and it is a preview of the final day of judgment. We also see that His people will put them to shame. God will not tolerate evil and rebellion against Him.
(C) The Chosen: recipients of amazing grace - certainty of true restoration that brings lasting joy (Ps 53:6)
The psalm has been heavy and grim so far. Sin, evil and rejection of God is real, and that comes with judgment, if not now, then certainly in the future. But Ps 53 ends with hope. It speaks of salvation for God's people that comes from Zion. How does this salvation come about? Zec 9:9 speaks of the king that comes to the people and brings salvation. Salvation comes not by the people doing and working for it, but it comes to them! We now know that this salvation came not by us doing good, because we are more like the fool described in Ps 53:1. God saves His people only from the obedience of the true King, His Son. And because salvation is not our work, but entirely of God, the psalmist can declare with certainty that "when God restores the fortunes of his people" (Ps 53:6a), they can rejoice and be glad.
Previously, it was not possible not to sin, but now it is possible not to sin! We were once fools, defiant against God without a shred of goodness in us. Now, we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ, and given the knowledge of God in the light of the knowledge of Christ. The restoration of fortunes spoken of in this closing verse isn't just about material blessings in this world that will pass away. It speaks of our ultimate hope and the centre of our fortune — a life with God, and in His presence. This is much greater than anything we can own or spend on this world, and it has eternal value and significance.
Who are you today? Are you like the fool in Ps 53:1, living a life without God? If so, take some time today to ponder these words and speak to someone about it. Ps 53 and Rom 1 do have eternal life and death significance? Or perhaps you have placed your faith in the salvation that God has provided? If so, rejoice and take heart too. We were once depraved, but now we can join in the celebration, not because of anything we have done, but wholly because of all that Jesus, the true salvation from Zion has come. Though we still struggle with sin, sin no longer has a hold on us! Rest in the amazing grace that God has lavished on us, and continues to do so as we look forward to the day when our fortunes will be completely restored.