But no, all have turned away;
     all have become corrupt.
No one does good,
     not a single one!

I remember when I first resolved to read through the whole Bible. I was
in high school, and it seemed like the godly thing to do. But as I
began making my way through Scripture, I kept stumbling upon verses that
were unsettling to me. Sometimes what a verse described seemed
abhorrent to me. Other verses just seemed wrong. Now I believed that the
Bible was God’s Word and was always true. But what was I to do with
verses that seemed to be, well, false?

Psalm 14:3 was such a verse. I encountered this verse as it was
quoted in Romans 3:12, where it says, “All have turned away; all have
become useless. No one does good, not a single one.” As I read this, I
thought to myself: “Wait! How is this possible? Somebody does good. I
have seen people be generous to the poor. I have watched people love
difficult people. And I have even done some good things in my life. So
how can the Bible say that no one does good, not a single one?”

Some people, when they come to verses like Psalm 14:3, quickly
conclude that the Bible gets it wrong. But, whether they believe in
biblical authority or not, they are not reading Scripture with the kind
of attentiveness that literature deserves. All responsible reading pays
attention to the genre of the material and its context. So, when we
approach the Psalms, we must remember that they are poetry. Psalm 14:3
isn’t a piece of prosaic legal material. Rather, it is a poetic, indeed,
hyperbolic expression of the pervasive sinfulness of humanity. Poetry
says, “No one does good, not a single one.” Philosophical discourse
might say, “All people do wrong, but some people do what’s right some of
the time.”

Psalm 14:3 appears in a poem that laments the sinfulness of all
human beings. In the end, the good that we do cannot erase our sinful
behavior. Thus, Psalm 14 ends by asking a paramount question: “Who will
come from Mount Zion to rescue us?” (14:7). Who is able to save us? Only
the Lord (14:7). He alone is able to restore his people, and ultimately
the whole world.

In Romans 3, Paul quotes Psalm 14:3 in order to set up the need for a
savior. Yes, no one does good. Both Jews and Gentiles fall short of
God’s righteousness: “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of
God’s glorious standard” (Rom. 3:23). This is the bad news that prepares
the way for the good news: “Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares
that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed
us from the penalty for our sins” (Rom. 3:24). Truly, everyone does what
is wrong. No one does good and good alone . . . except for Jesus
Christ, our Savior, through whose goodness we are righteous in God’s

verse like Psalm 14:3, a verse that somehow seems wrong to you, what do
you do? Do you ever believe that you can be good enough to earn God’s
favor? How does the reality of your sinfulness impact your relationship
with God?

PRAYER: O Lord, as you know, there are many passages
of Scripture that are disconcerting to us, things we don’t understand,
or things we understand but don’t like. At times your Word is crystal
clear and compelling. But then there are other times . . .

Help us, Lord, to understand your Word correctly. By your Spirit,
may we pay close attention to the text and its context. Help us to be
accurate readers.

And when we come upon things that we don’t like, help us not to
reject your Word as something less than true. Rather, teach us to dig
deeply, to think, to pray, to converse with others, to wrestle with
Scripture so that we might be changed by it.

Finally, gracious God, thank you for your salvation, for reaching
out to us even when we were sinners. Thank you for your grace poured out
through Jesus Christ. Amen.


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This devotional comes from The High Calling: Everyday Conversations about Work, Life, and God (www.thehighcalling.org). You can read my Daily Reflections there, or sign up to have them sent to your email inbox each day. This website contains lots of encouragement for people who are trying to live out their faith in the workplace. The High Calling is associated with Laity Lodge, where I work.

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