This is the conclusion of Nathaniel’s series on Practical Atheism from Psalm 14. In case you missed them, here are Part One, Part Two, and Part Three.
“Christian Loses his Burden” Etching by William Strang found in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress
So can a christian even seek after God at all? Are we pursuing the unattainable? Well, yes and yes. Part of seeking God is accepting what He says, even if it makes you feel bad about yourself. Only when we admit the rottenness of our condition can we see our need for His salvation and begin to seek Him, to value what He values, and to hate what He hates.
A Call to Repentance
The late great DC Talk opened their hauntingly poignant song “What If I Stumble” on the double-platinum selling album Jesus Freak with this quote from the admittedly controversial Brennan Manning:
The single greatest cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyles. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.
It is worth pausing a moment to consider whether or not we live like those who believe.
Be careful with your cream pies. We shouldn’t mock the philosophical atheist. Of course, neither should we defend him. Instead, we should beg him to join us in deep contrition and earnest repentance for our failure to acknowledge God in how we live our every moment.
We may be shocked by the revelation of the waywardness of our own hearts, but is God surprised by our frequent disregard of Him? No, He’s used to it.
Before Paul used this Psalm in Romans 3 to illustrate mankind’s universal need for salvation in Christ, before David wrote Psalm 14, before the nation of Israel had driven their enemies out of the Promised Land, God told the Israelites through Moses that they were not being given the land because of their righteousness, but because of His covenant with their forefathers, and because of the exceeding wickedness of the natives of the land. Check out Deuteronomy 9 for more details. Here’s verse 6:
‘Know, then, it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stubborn people.’
And while Moses communicated to the people all of God’s marvelous works, all of the promises of blessing, and all of the warnings of consequences should they become unfaithful to their covenant with God, the LORD tells Moses at the end of Deuteronomy that soon after he dies, they will forget their God.
He wasn’t surprised then. He isn’t surprised now. But He continues to graciously call us to repentance.
The Antidote to Practical Atheism: Gospel-Grounded Godliness
As Christians, we are no more deserving of God’s grace than the oft-forgetful Israelites–or the most flagrant atheists around us. At best, we are more aware of the depths of our own depravity and our desperate need for God in every moment of every day. If we truly understand this, we will be ever more grateful for the means of salvation that He has provided through faith in Jesus Christ!
That salvation is really the key to all of this. All I am suggesting is that we live our lives as Christians in the light of the same good news that brought us to God in the first place: that Jesus died for wretched sinners like me.
I am a wretched sinner, I have disregarded God—His will, His glory, and my need for Him—pursuing instead my own agenda. I must repent of this disregard of God, this practical atheism. I must trust in the Lord Jesus Christ: for forgiveness of my sins, and for direction and power to live my life according to His word and purpose.
And I must do this not only in the initial moment of my conversion, but in every moment thereafter, so that the Holy Spirit can make me more like Him until He takes me home to be with Him.
I can’t fix the philosophical atheists. I can’t fix you. But I can attend to me. I am very cognizant of the tendencies in my own heart and life to both philosophical atheism and practical atheism. I must repent. I must continue to remind myself of the gospel of grace in Christ Jesus. I must seek more and deeper awareness of the presence, work, and will of God in my life.
After condemning ungodliness, Jerry Bridges explains the goal of pursuing godliness in every aspect of our lives:
Our goal in the pursuit of godliness should be to grow more in our conscious awareness that every moment of our lives is lived in the presence of God; that we are responsible to Him and dependent on Him. This goal would include a growing desire to please Him and glorify Him in the most ordinary activities of life.
Above all, pray that God will make you more conscious of the fact that you live every moment of every day under His all-seeing eye. While you may not be mindful of Him, He is certainly aware of you and sees every deed you do, hears every word you say, and knows every thought you think (see Psalm 139:1-4). Beyond that, He even searches out your motives. Let us then seek to be as mindful of Him as He is of us.
May we be mindful of His presence, knowledge, power, wisdom, goodness, holiness, grace, truth, justice, mercy, faithfulness, and tender love for those who are His. And may we repent when we lose sight of Him.
Dear Father! How far short of Your glory I fall! Please sober me under this Psalm that teaches that no one, especially not I, does good, or seeks You as You deserve. Please confront me with my sin, and help me to trust in You, in Your forgiveness of my sin, and in Your work to cleanse me from it. Make me more like Jesus, in whose name I pray. Amen