Theme: The Fault and Fountain of Sin
In this week’s lessons we look carefully at both what sin is and what it does, and then contrast that with our need for the Savior, who alone can deliver us from our sin.
Scripture: Psalm 53:1-6
The fault of sin. Another way we deal with sin so we can live with it and not feel too guilty is to minimize sin, thinking of sin as a weakness or imperfection perhaps but certainly not as a serious transgression that inevitably harms us and wounds others. It is evidence of our folly that we do this, but God is no fool and he “tells it like it is.”
God says that sinners are “corrupt” and that “their ways are vile” (v. 1). He describes them as having “turned away” from the correct path (v. 3). He says that they are “evildoers” who “devour” other people (v. 4). These terms describe sin accurately in terms of three basic relationships: our relationships to God, ourselves and others. As far as God is concerned, we have turned from him. Indeed, the verb is even stronger than this; it means that we have turned around entirely and are now pursuing a completely “anti-God” path. As far as we are concerned, we have become corrupt and vile. This means that we are destroying ourselves and that our sin is offensive both to God and others. As far as others are concerned, we are harming them by our actions. Sin is no small thing. It is a very great fault and very harmful.
The fountain of sin. “How comes it that men are so bad?” asks Henry. “Surely it is because there is no fear of God before their eyes.”3 It is because they say in their hearts, “There is no God” (v. 1).
I pointed out in our study of Psalm 14 that this does not necessarily describe what we would call theoretical atheism, that is, the atheism of one who literally denies the existence of a Supreme Being. We have quite a few theoretical atheists in our day, but an atheist like this was rare in the ancient world. What is in view here is rather what we might call practical atheism, that is, the outlook of one who would concede that there is a God but who would maintain that God has nothing to do with the world as it now is and therefore that God has no practical bearing on how we are to live or what we do. This is clearer in the Hebrew text than in the English translation, because in Hebrew the words “There is” in the sentence “There is no God” are missing, and what the text actually says is, “No God.” That is, “No God for me.” Whether or not God exists, the fool does not act as if there is one.
This is the source of our troubles, of course. I pointed out in our study of Psalm 8 that God has placed man in a mediating position in the universe, midway between God and the angelic beings, who are above him, and the animals or beasts, who are below. It is man’s privilege and duty to look up and so become increasingly like the one to whom he looks. But if man will not look up, if he determines to act as if “there is no God,” then the only way he can look is down, in the direction of the animals, and as a result he will begin to behave like animals. In fact, he will behave even worse than animals. He will multiply sin and invent new ways of doing evil (Rom. 3:28-32). His path will be downhill, and there will be no depths to which he will not go.
I have noticed by reading the newspapers and news magazines that as soon as people get disturbed by this obviously downward inclination and begin to search for standards—“community standards” beyond which we will not go—as soon as they do that, this is precisely where the culture does go. Sinners embrace the vice as soon as it is mentioned, so great is our self-destroying, beast-like, downward lemminglike run into the sea.
Describe how sin harms the three basic relationships mentioned in the lesson.
What is the difference between theoretical atheism and practical atheism?
Application: Do you know anyone who claims to believe in God, but who lives virtually as if he does not exist? Pray for opportunities to show them the foolishness of their thinking, and that by God’s grace they might come to know the Lord in a true and saving way.
3Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 3, Job to Song of Solomon (New York, London and Edinburgh: Revell, n.d.), p. 439.