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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:Your atheism and what to do about it
Text:Psalms 14 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Living in a sinful world

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 99:1-3

Psalm 99:4-6 (after the law of God)

Psalm 46:1,2

Psalm 14:1,2,5

Hymn 71

Scripture readings: Genesis 6, Romans 3:1-20

Text: Psalm 14

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

We’re a church of atheists.  It’s true.  Let me explain.  We often think of atheism in terms of people who deny the existence of God, usually with their words and usually with some kind of intellectual reason to support their denial.  So how can I say we’re a church of atheists?  Didn’t we come here this morning to worship God and to hear him speak?  If that’s the case, then surely we believe he exists.  How can we be a church of atheists? 

Here’s the thing:  atheism is more than a denial of God with our words.  It can also be a denial of God with our lives – with our thoughts, deeds, and words.  Atheism can also be a denial of God with what we do and what we leave undone.  Each time we sin, we actually deny God and his claims over our lives – effectively denying his existence.  All of us still have the remnants of the old nature, and we have to admit that those remnants stink with the rot of atheism. 

What we see in our lives is what we call practical atheism.  It’s not the intellectual atheism that has all sorts of arguments to refute Christian claims.  It’s a practical atheism which makes all sorts of rationalizations to excuse a life which fails to meet God’s standards.  This sort of atheism infects even Christians and it’s this sort of atheism that’s revealed by God as foolishness in Psalm 14.  God exposes this practical atheism in our lives and then also shows what needs to be done about it.

“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”  The first thing we need to understand is that the word ‘fool’ here isn’t an insult.  It’s an objective description of a certain kind of person.  In the Old Testament, a fool is someone who acts foolishly in a moral sense.  The foolish are those who reproach the righteous and blaspheme God.  Strikingly, the foolish are also usually part of God’s covenant people.  They know better.

So, David observes how a certain kind of person (a fool) makes a claim that there is no God.  Notice how this claim is made in his heart.  In other words, he doesn’t necessarily say it out loud.  It probably wouldn’t be prudent to say such things out loud in Israel.  You can imagine what would happen if all of us were to say out loud what we were really thinking in our hearts last week when we did this or said that.  All our good appearances would be gone.  We’d be revealed for the sinners we really are.  So it is here too.  The fool only makes his atheistic claims in his heart because to do otherwise would be risky.

It’s out of the heart that the lifestyle emerges.  Our Lord Jesus said in Matthew 15:19, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.”  Then it only makes sense that David moves from what’s going on in the heart to what’s going on in the life.  Foolish people have corrupted themselves and they do vile, rotten things.  The fool says in his heart that there is no God.  The psalmist observes that there are no good works among such people.  This serves to emphasize how this practical atheism isn’t an intellectual problem, but a moral one.  Humanity’s problem isn’t a lack of information, but a twisted, degenerate heart that results in reprehensible behaviour.  Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick...”  Jeremiah goes on to say that this condition of the heart incurs God’s judgment.  Therefore, our greatest need is a Saviour.  We don’t need a therapist or a life-coach or a manager, but one who can save us from our hearts and the wrath of God that our hearts provoke. 

This disturbing observation of David is meant to drive us to find that Saviour in Jesus Christ.  Because the reality is that verse 1 is a description of my life and yours.  We might not deny God with our words, but more often then we care to admit we’re like the folks described in Titus 1:16.  We profess to know God, but we deny him with our works.  We need a Saviour who can deliver us from the curse of sin – who can render us righteous before God.  We also need a Saviour who can deliver us from the power of sin – who can transform and sanctify our lives so the lies of practical atheism lose their allure.  Praise God we have such a Saviour in Jesus Christ!  With his Holy Spirit, Jesus is the one who makes us into believers with both our lips and our lives.          

With verse 2 we turn from the psalmist’s observation to God’s evaluation.  David says that God looks down from heaven on the sons of men.  These words are reminiscent of Genesis 6, especially verse 12 where we’re told how God looked down upon the earth and found that humanity was corrupt.  Almost the exact same words are used as in Psalm 14.  While the same words aren’t used, the same idea is also there in Genesis 11 with the tower of Babel.  In both instances, what followed was judgment.  When God looks down from heaven, the results are usually not good. 

So it is here in Psalm 14.  The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man – notice that the psalm has now gone as broad and universal as possible – we’re no longer dealing with a fool or fools among the covenant people, but with all humanity.  God looks down on everybody to see if there are any who show insight.  He looks to see if there are any who seek him. 

And what does he find?  All of humanity has turned aside.  They haven’t turned back to God, they haven’t repented, but they’ve turned aside or turned away.  The language here is interesting because it’s so broad and universal.  David even includes himself here.  Even though David was described as the man after God’s own heart, even though we have so much evidence in the Bible that David did repent from sin he committed, here he gives God’s evaluation of all mankind and it includes himself.  Apart from grace, everybody is in a dangerous spot, in danger of God’s judgment, just like humanity in the days of Noah. 

God’s evaluation confirms David’s observation in verse 1 that there “is none who does good.”  In fact, God goes even further, there isn’t even one.  When it says this in verse 3, the same words are used as in verse 1 and the conclusion is inevitable:  everybody is a fool.  We’re all fools.  Everybody is inclined to practical atheism.  There isn’t even one person who does good.  But hold on, someone will say.  This is a bit extreme.  We wouldn’t have to look far to find people in our community who are doing good and many of them are not believers.  So is this really true:  “there is none who does good, not even one”?  There’s a video on the Internet of the author and preacher John Piper.  The video is entitled “John Piper is Bad” and it’s some words of John Piper mixed in with a well-known pop-song from the 1980s.  Piper was speaking about the doctrine we call total depravity.  One of the comments under the video reads, “The doctrine of total depravity is stupid... Saying a human cannot do a righteous act without the Spirit of Christ in them is not only theologically bankrupt, it is also intellectually bankrupt. A mother in a jungle who has no knowledge of Christ and the Scriptures who sacrifices her life to save her child has committed a righteous act.”  This is the way many people react when they first hear about the doctrine of pervasive depravity.  How do we respond? 

Our response has to focus on the difference between the way God evaluates and the way people evaluate.  God has high standards of righteousness and goodness that are intricately tied up with his character as a righteous, good, and holy God.  The Bible is clear that there’s no way we can meet those high standards.  Human beings evaluate differently than God.  Man looks around and he can see his fellow man doing what we call civic good.  Through God’s restraining power, people aren’t as bad as they possibly could be.  So we can say that there’s a lot of civic good done in the world.  But none of it is regarded as righteous or good in God’s eyes.  All of it is stained with sin.  So, Psalm 14:3 is correct, as far as God is concerned, “there is none who does good, not even one.”  Fallen humanity is a desert without an oasis, a night without a star, a hell without a bottom. 

Paul takes these words into what he says in Romans 3 where he’s trying to argue for the point that both Jews and Gentiles are under the curse of sin.  The way Paul uses these words confirms how they have a universal application – these words describe all of us.  And we can take our cue further from Paul and say these words point us to the Redeemer.  Among the children of man, there was one who did do good.  None of the negative things described in Psalm 14 apply to Jesus Christ.  This Psalm presents us with the complete opposite of the earthly ministry and life of Christ.  There was a man who was righteous, whose deeds were pure, who always did good.  He never turned aside from God and never had to repent.  He understood, he sought God.  He was perfectly obedient and he was that Saviour that Paul preached as the only righteousness of the Christian.  Jesus Christ must be your only righteousness, loved ones   

The need for this Saviour is further highlighted in verse 4.  Here we read more about the ways of unbelief.  At this point, the Psalm shifts to consider specifically those who aren’t believing in God and following him, the evildoers.  Evildoers never learn -- literally they have no knowledge.  That means more than just knowing in an intellectual sense.  It means they’ve rebelliously rejected any meaningful healthy relationship with God. That extends to relationships with people because they continually oppress, they destroy people around them just as naturally as though they were eating a sandwich.  And what’s more, they don’t pray, they don’t call on God with their words – why should they when they’ve rejected a relationship with him?  So obviously, where there’s no prayer, there’s no new life.  Where there’s no prayer, a healthy relationship with God is absent.   

And this depravity not only affects others, not only affects the people who are oppressed by it.  It also personally affects those who are depraved.  At the beginning of verse 5, we read, “There they are in great terror…”  Romans 1:32 tells us everyone knows the righteous judgment of God that’s coming.  And Romans 1:18 tells us that people in unbelief suppress the truth in unrighteousness.  They push it down and try to deny it and avoid it.  But Psalm 14:5 says they can’t.  Their depravity causes them terror, fear, and anxiety – see where the foolishness of practical atheism eventually takes you.  They know something isn’t right, but they can’t and won’t do anything about it.  Some unbelievers learn to cope with this dread or suppress it through any number of different means, so it might not always be evident.  But God’s Word says it’s there at some level.  When we speak with unbelievers we can keep this in mind.  We can gently probe and ask questions that may be used by God to bring these suppressed truths to the surface.  Then we can also have the opportunity to be instruments so God can wipe away that terror with the blood of Jesus.

While evildoers are overwhelmed with terror, there are also the righteous.  God is in their midst.  God is with those who believe him and believe his promises for salvation in Jesus Christ, whether that was in the Old or the New Testament.  The righteous are those declared righteous by God and whose lives are being shaped by God.  God is with them, working for them and in them.  The righteous will have the opposite of the great terror and anxiety experienced by unbelievers  -- they’ll have peace, contentment and quietude. 

The righteous are also described as the poor in verse 6.  When we hear the word “poor” we often think of homeless people or perhaps those living below the poverty line.  But that’s not the way the Bible necessarily uses that word.  Here the poor aren’t those who aren’t rich, but rather those who are exploited, abused, manipulated and oppressed by the wicked and the violent.  They don’t necessarily lack in money.  They’re people in deep need and difficulty, people who then humbly seek help from the LORD.  And when they do, God is their refuge.  Humanly speaking, the poor are insecure and they’re unable to cope in the face of calamity.  So they turn to the LORD and they find security.  They find someone who can harbour them and preserve them in the face of distress.  In other passages, we often find this word “refuge” used in combination with other words like rock, strength, defense, and fortress.  God is the strong place to which the poor in spirit can flee for help and safety.  He is our refuge, your safe place. 

Now when the Bible teaches us that the LORD is our refuge, that doesn’t guarantee us we’ll be unaffected by calamity and crises in this life.  Most of us have enough life experience to know better.  We’ve trusted in God and believed that he is our safe place, and yet our loved ones still get sick.  We get sick.  Our friends and family die.  We still have problems in our relationships.  There’s sometimes trauma.  Hardships of various sorts are still there.  Yet because of Christ God gives us the hope that all these things in this life will somehow be turned for our good.  Because of Christ, God gives us the hope that in the hereafter we’ll all live under the canopy of God’s glorious presence where we will be sheltered and protected forever.

That hope is captured in the last verse of the psalm.  Here we have a prayer of God’s people, calling out to him because they desperately need his salvation.  The earnest wish is that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion.  Why Zion?  Zion was where the presence of God dwelt in the days of David.  God was there in a special way in the holy of holies.  David’s plea is that salvation would come from God, that God would deliver his people not only from oppressive unbelievers, but also from unbelief itself, from the ravages of practical atheism.  David cries out for salvation from the curse and power of sin in the lives of God’s people.                            

In the days of David and still in our day, we live under the shadow of this sinful age.  This shadow can be compared to a sort of captivity.  When verse 7 reads, “When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people,” we can also translate that more literally as “When Yahweh restores his people from captivity….”  This release, this freedom is what David expected God to do in the future.  God began to fulfill that with the incarnation of Christ and his earthly ministry some 2000 years ago.  In Luke 3, we read that when he went into the synagogue in Nazareth early in his ministry, he began by reading from Isaiah 61:1,2.  He had come to proclaim freedom to the captives and to set at liberty those who were oppressed.  Indeed, he did that during his time on earth.  But there’s far more to come.  We look forward to the day when Christ will set us completely free of all the effects of sin and death in this age.  When we read the last chapters of the Bible, we see God portrayed as the ultimate and eternal refuge of his people.  So the prayer of David here in Psalm 14 also has to be our constant prayer today as we look for the return of Christ.               

When that return happens, God’s people will truly rejoice and be glad.  There’ll be no more mourning or sadness – our hearts will leap for joy endlessly.  Today already we can begin to do that, because already now we do know the beginnings of this freedom.  Because of Christ, sin no longer has a death grip on us – its curse has been defanged.  We can rejoice and be glad today already, even as we look for the fullness of joy on redemption’s day. 

Loved ones, the point of this psalm is to drive home to God’s people the ugliness and foolishness of unbelief.  On the flip side, the Holy Spirit wants to make faith and life with God in Christ attractive to us.  This psalm began with practical atheism among God’s people, but then extended to the corruption of everyone and then specifically to the wicked over against God’s faithful ones.  God wants us to ask:  where are we in all this?  Certainly, all of us still have the remnants of our old nature and so we still experience depravity in our lives.  And we also know that practical atheism is a reality because all of us sin and each time we do sin, we deny God and his claims over us.  But what we do with that revelation determines whether we’ll be among the evildoers of verses 4 to 6 going from bad to worse, or whether we’re among the righteous, the poor in spirit who humbly go to God looking to him for refuge and deliverance.

Unbelief has consequences.   There are also the remnants of unbelief in us.  When we recognize that, the consequences must be humility and repentance, calling on God – remember: prayer is something the wicked won’t do.   So you pray and you find refuge in him.  Pray and say, “O Lord, I hate all the evidence of practical atheism in my life.  Forgive me for it.  I want to more and more live out of Christ.  I’m thankful for my Saviour and his work.  I want to fight against sin.  Help my unbelief!  Lord, help me and save me!”  And when we pray like that, God will answer.  With his Spirit he’ll strengthen our wills and make them come alive so we increasingly want to do what is good in his eyes.  We will gain understanding and we will more and more seek after him.  He’ll make us hunger and thirst for him and for his Word.  With his Holy Spirit, he’ll shape us into people who don’t oppress, exploit and manipulate others.  In other words, he’ll make us look more like Christ our Saviour each day.        

In the introduction, I said we’re a church of atheists.  But there is more to say.  We’re also a church of people united to Christ by faith.  We are being changed.  We’re both sinners and saints.  This is a tension we have to live with in this age, though as we make progress in sanctification the tension does begin to let up.  But it’ll only be finally resolved in the hereafter when we’ll be completely holy.  Till then, God’s Word encourages us to look for the salvation of his people and pray for it earnestly.  AMEN. 


Father in heaven,

We rejoice at the announcement of Christ our Saviour that he came to bring liberty and freedom.  We’re glad for his work here on earth and his ongoing work in heaven.  Father, we look for the completion of that work.  We do earnestly pray for the full salvation of your people to come from your presence.  We humbly ask that our Lord Jesus would come quickly to bring the fullness of our redemption.  As we wait for that day, help us to continually look to you as our refuge.  Help us with your Spirit to continually call on you.  Help us to fix our eyes on Christ our Redeemer.  Father, please give us more grace so we hate our sin with deeper hatred, so that if we deny you with our lives, we truly repent and seek your forgiveness.  So Father we do that right now too.  We confess to you the practical atheism of our lives, our depravity, our stubborn love affair with sin.  Have mercy and forgive us because of the perfect obedience and suffering of Jesus our Lord.  Help us to go on from here today intent on being those who do what is good in your eyes, who call on you, who do not oppress, exploit and manipulate our neighbours.  Help us to be filled with compassion and love for those who are still walking in darkness, dead in sins and trespasses.  Give us opportunities to speak with them so they too can be saved.  O Father, please grant us your Spirit in richer measures so we’d more and more be conformed to the image of Christ. 

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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