King David was one of the great heroes of faith and one of the most righteous men who ever lived. However, he committed a horrible sin with Bat Sheva that included murder, adultery and lying. He repented deeply for that sin and wrote the poignant poem of grief over his own wrongdoing in Psalm 51 (“Create in me a clean heart”), that has become such a source of comfort to so many over the centuries.
David had a deep revelation not only of his own sin, but also of the fact that everyone has sinned. This understanding of “universal sin” has become a foundation of faith and was also poignantly expressed in Psalm 53.
The evil man has said in his heart, “There is no God.” They have become corrupted and abominable in wrongdoing. There is no one who does good. God looks from the heavens upon the sons of man to see if there is a wise man seeking God. They have all gone backwards together; they have become filthy. There is no one who does good, not even one. – Psalm 53:2-4
David repeats the same words in Psalm 14. There is not even one person who has done good.
David’s son Solomon, the wisest and likely the wealthiest man who ever lived, also received the same revelation. He reached a pinnacle of righteousness after building the Temple in Jerusalem. As he prayed, the glory cloud filled the Temple and fire fell from heaven.
Yet he also sinned horribly. His enormous blessings turned to temptation that he could not withstand. At the very prayer of dedicating the Temple, when the fire fell, he said:
If they sin towards you, for there is no man who does not sin, and you become angry with them… – 1 Kings 8:46
The same words of this prayer are also recorded in 2 Chronicles 6:36. There is no one who does not sin. Sin makes God angry. The fact that everyone sins, is NOT an excuse to keep sinning, but a universal call to humility, repentance, and seeking forgiveness. It puts an end to all self-righteousness and condemnation of others.
All have sinned. All deserve punishment. All need to repent. All need to ask forgiveness.
Solomon repeated the same thought in Kohelet/Ecclesiastes:
For no man is righteous on the earth who does good and does not sin. – Ecclesiastes 7:20
Recognizing that you have sinned is the first step in understanding the need to be forgiven. Until a person sees that about himself, any talk of salvation or grace seems irrelevant. I have seen that challenge in Israel, with religious Jews, with secular Jews and with Arab Muslims.
Modern secularists tend to see moral fundamentals as old-fashioned and outdated. They accept a “consensus” code of morality; but that consensus usually ends up eroding due to social pressure, particularly on issues such as sexual purity and respect for authority. Moral law points out sin. If moral law is irrelevant, then you don’t feel you have sinned. You are “beyond morality.” You can do whatever you want; no one is going to tell you what to do; “just do it.”
Orthodox religious Jews tend to have a black and white viewpoint. They are right and everyone else is wrong. They don’t need to repent because they already are religious. They are the true Jews; the secular are the sinners. Jews are righteous; Gentiles are sinners. Of course, the situation is much more complex than this oversimplification. Yet the basic attitude is that religious Jews are righteous while secular Jews and all Gentiles are sinners.
A similar dynamic can be found among Christians. Extreme liberals take the secularist viewpoint of no moral demands at all. Extreme conservatives take the religiously hypocritical view of being self-righteous and condemning others.
Therefore, it is important for us to know these verses which clearly state that all have sinned. Until that principle is established, there is very little room for progress in a dialogue.
A similar viewpoint is expressed by fundamentalist Muslims. They are righteous because they are serving Allah. It doesn’t matter what the atrocities of ISIS, Al Qaida, Ayatollahs, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad have been. They are right and all others need to be killed or enslaved.
Both post-modern rejection of morality, AND self-justifying religiosity make it difficult for a person to deal with the fact that he himself is wrong. If one starts with an assumption that one is right and everyone else is wrong, then the heart is closed from the beginning.
The biblical position is that ALL have sinned.
Widespread judgment against sin can be seen in the flood of Noah, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the Ten Plagues in Egypt, the death of the generation of Israelites who left Egypt, and the destruction of the first and second Temples in Jerusalem.
[Other references to universal sin can be found in Genesis 3:24, Micah 7:2, Psalm 130:3, Psalm 143:2, Proverbs 20:9, Job 4:17, Galatians 2;16, etc.]
The cry of David and Solomon leads to the prophecies of Isaiah, which state that human sin demonstrates our need for atonement and for a savior. We have ALL gone astray. Someone else needs to take our punishment.
We all like sheep have gone astray; we have turned each one to his own way. And the LORD has put on Him as a punishment the iniquity of us all. – Isaiah 53:6
The Law and the Prophets show us that we have all sinned, and point us toward a savior who will take the punishment that our sin demands. Thus, the Law and the Prophets form the moral introduction to the Gospel.
The conclusion that we have all sinned becomes the starting point of the message of salvation. We all need salvation because we have all sinned. Thus begins the logic of the “plan of salvation” as described by the Apostle Paul:
For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. – Romans 3:23
Anyone who thinks he hasn’t sinned is deceiving himself, whether he claims to be a believer in Yeshua (Jesus) or not. The Apostle John said that if one says he has not sinned, he is essentially lying. Self-righteousness is the basis of self-deception.
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. – 1 John 1:8
Let’s remember this whenever we find ourselves in arguments. Everyone is saying, “I am right, and you are wrong.” However, essentially, we have all sinned and all need to change. When both sides realize that they are at least partially wrong, then there is an opportunity to pursue the truth.
When any person realizes that he has done wrong, then he is open to the process of being reconciled to God. Yeshua is the only perfectly righteous man who ever lived. He is the Lamb who took away our sins. In Him alone we find the grace and truth we all need.
This article originally appeared on Revive Israel – Tikkun Global, May 7, 2022, and reposted with permission.