“The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good. The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge? Who eat up my people as they eat bread, and call not upon the Lord. There were they in great fear: for God is in the generation of the righteous. Ye have shamed the counsel of the poor, because the Lord is his refuge. Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion! When the Lord bringeth back the captivity of His people, Jacob shall rejoice, and Israel shall be glad.”
Psalm 14 has a tension within it that I would like to draw out and consider. The tension in this Psalm is the tension that makes up the big story of the whole Bible. Therefore understanding it will help us to understand everything else we find in the Bible.
This is the tension presented in the Psalm: how can all mankind be corrupt and yet there be a “people” of God, “a generation of the righteous?”
This Psalm comes to a terrifying climax in its description of mankind, “there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” Now we might try many ways to get out from under this declaration but in the end we will find ourselves stuck because unfortunately the Apostle Paul quotes this passage in Romans 3 and applies it to the whole of the human race. And as we know from the scripture itself, “In the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established.”
The reality of the whole Bible is that humanity is corrupt. “We all have sinned (in the past) and come short (in the present) of the glory of God.” That doesn’t mean that humans don’t sometimes do good, beautiful, meaningful, loving things. What it does mean is that there is a bend in humanity away from God. Sadly, we were created by God for God but, as the Apostle Paul says, we have chosen to “love the creature more than the creator who is blessed forever.”
Religion teaches us that there is something wrong with the things we do. So if we stop doing bad things and start doing good things we will be alright. Contrary to Religion, the Bible teaches us that the problem is not with what we do, WE are the problem. What needs to be dealt with, or “saved” if you will, is not our actions but our selves. Therefore God is not on a mission to make us better people, God is on a mission to make us new people.
Psalm 14 starts with a hopeless picture of humanity but then in verse 4 God says he has a “people.” How could that be? It gets more puzzling in verse 5 when God says there is a “generation of the righteous.” What’s going on here? Is this double talk? In one place all humanity is filthy and in the next place there are some who are righteous?
This is the tension. And it is very important that we feel the weight of this. The Bible says there are a people of God. There is a righteous generation. The Bible also says all of mankind is hopelessly wicked because they have rejected the knowledge of God. So the question is how?
The “how” is found in two places in this Psalm. In verse 4 it says there are those that do not “call” upon the Lord. That’s the first hint at a solution to this tension. If there are people who do not call upon the Lord that must mean that it is at least possible that there are some people who do “call” upon the Lord. Then in verse 6 those that are described corporately as the “generation of the righteous,” another title for those who God calls “my people,” are also called individually the “poor” for whom the “Lord is his refuge.” There is the answer!
Those who, seeing themselves as poor and needy, take refuge in the Lord are transferred from the “children of men” into the “generation of the righteous.” Being a Christian, being “saved”, is not about being Righteous for God it is about receiving Righteousness from God. Being a Christian is not about being strong for the Lord it is about being strong in the Lord. Christianity is about seeing ourselves as we really are, poor and helpless, and seeing God as He really is, strong and helpful.
We are only God’s people, we are only Righteous, we are only taking refuge in the Lord when we realize that God made Jesus to be sin for us that we might be made the Righteousness of God in Him. When we see and believe that Jesus is our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. When we say, “the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ” “whom God set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood.” Only when we see that being right with God cannot be achieved it can only be received are we saved.
So let me ask you two questions. First, how do you see yourself? If you see yourself as good with a few flaws you are way off track. If you see yourself as screwed up deep down, poor and needy, then remember that Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Second, how do you see God? Those who are right with God see Him not simply as Judge or King but as Father and Lover. Now that may sound strange to you. If it does it’s probably because you haven’t yet seen yourself as you really are and therefore you can’t appreciate what God has done to save you.
So I invite you to look at the Cross of Jesus. And consider this, you and I are so screwed up that nothing could possibly fix us apart from the torture, punishment, and death of God. But God loves us so much that He is willing to go through that in order to save us from our own corruption. When that sinks into us it produces within us an overwhelming love for God and it changes us from the inside out.
Have you seen yourself for who you really are? Have you seen God for who He really is?