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5. Shutting the Mouths of the Self-Righteous (Romans 3:9-20)

What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written, “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE.” “THEIR THROAT IS AN OPEN GRAVE, WITH THEIR TONGUES THEY KEEP DECEIVING,” “THE POISON OF ASPS IS UNDER THEIR LIPS”; “WHOSE MOUTH IS FULL OF CURSING AND BITTERNESS”; “THEIR FEET ARE SWIFT TO SHED BLOOD, DESTRUCTION AND MISERY ARE IN THEIR PATHS, AND THE PATH OF PEACE HAVE THEY NOT KNOWN.” “THERE IS NO FEAR OF GOD BEFORE THEIR EYES.” Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.

Preview

Paul declares in Romans 1:18-32 God’s condemnation of all mankind. This condemnation is based upon man’s rejection of God’s self-revelation through creation. Enthusiastically, the self-righteous Jews accept Paul’s words as an indictment of the Gentiles, failing to recognize they too are condemned. In chapter 2 Paul pointedly turns to the Jews, condemning them on the basis of their hypocrisy. They neither live in accordance with the standard by which they judge others guilty nor in accordance with what they teach. Paul presses on in chapter 3 to show the sinfulness of these self-righteous Jews as they justify their own sin, while questioning God’s justice for judging them. In this concluding section of Romans 3:9-20, Paul seeks to silence once and for all the self-righteous Jews. He does this by proving from the Old Testament Scriptures that Jews and Gentiles alike are under sin and worthy of divine judgment. Comparing themselves with others is certainly no basis for their own justification. He reminds the Jews of the function of the Law in their lives: the Law was not given to make them righteous; it was given to show them their unrighteousness.

Introduction

Needlessly, a Colombian Boeing 707 crashed on Long Island, New York this year killing 73 of the 159 people on board. The tragedy occurred due to the absence of one critical word which might have easily prevented the crash. Adverse weather conditions had backed up air traffic, and the airliner had failed in its first attempt to land. With their fuel supply almost gone, the control tower needed only to hear the word, Emergency, and priority would have been granted to land ahead of other planes. Cockpit transcriptions of the conversation between the pilot and co-pilot revealed that more than once the pilot instructed the co-pilot to inform the tower of an emergency. Asked if air traffic controllers had been informed, the co-pilot assured the pilot they had. But the co-pilot had not used the English word for emergency, but a word which indicated a less serious problem. For the lack of one critical word, 73 people died.

Unintentionally, the co-pilot’s choice of words minimized the problem which caused air traffic controllers to place the plane’s landing on a lower priority. When fuel ran out, the plane went down. How sad! And yet the condition of mankind is even more critical than that of the Colombian airliner. Men are sinners, under God’s condemnation, heading for eternal destruction! Minimizing the problem is even more disastrous than the Colombian co-pilot’s tragic error.

“Emergency!” might well caption our text in Romans 3:9-20. Due to sin, all mankind is in a state of emergency. For men, time is running out. Life is fleeting and uncertain. The return of our Lord and the day of judgment draw near. Failing to see our critical condition has eternal consequences. Because of this, Paul sums up the condition of all mankind in the words of Old Testament Scripture, showing both Jews and Gentiles “under sin” (verse 9) and in desperate need of God’s salvation.

Our text is Paul’s punch line, and therefore it is especially important. It is the conclusion of all that Paul has been attempting to explain in Romans 1:18–3:20. On the basis of Paul’s assessment of man’s problem, the solution is offered in the next major section of Romans. While the condition of mankind is critical, there is hope for all who receive God’s provision of righteousness in Jesus Christ.

The Structure of the Text

Once more, in verse 9, Paul raises the question of superiority for the sake of his audience. After a very brief answer (verse 9b), he turns to the Old Testament Scriptures as proof of his response (verses 10-18). After showing the universal sin and condemnation of all mankind, both Jew and Gentile, Paul concludes in verses 19-20 with a summary statement concerning the role of the Law in revealing man’s unrighteousness.

We may thus summarize the structure of our text:

(1) The question of superiority (verses 9-10a)

(2) The testimony of the Old Testament (verses 10b-18

(3) The condition of man in general (verse 10b)

(4) The sinful condition of man (verses 11-12)

(5) The sinful conduct of man (verses 13-17)

(6) The self-confidence of man (verse 18)

(7) The task of the Law (verses 19-20)

The Question of Superiority
(3:9)

9 What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin.

The self-righteous Jew simply wanted to be better than the Gentiles. Judging and teaching others the Law did not accomplish this goal. This only raised the standards so that the judges and teachers of the Law failed to live up to it themselves. The advantages of being a Jew did not help either. Added privileges brought with them added responsibilities. The questions Paul raises in chapter 3 continue to become more and more pointed. One might even call them crass. In verse 9, the question is plainly asked: “Are we better than they?” This they had hoped for, but Paul’s answer forbids any such thought.

“No way!” is the essence of Paul’s answer in verse 9. He has already charged both Jews and Greeks to be under sin. Why does one condemned sinner wish to compare himself with another in order to show himself better? Imagine three men on death row, all convicted murderers. The man in cell one was a drug dealer, who ordered the death of many of his rivals and whose drug dealing destroyed countless lives. The man in cell two killed five fellow-employees in a fit of anger. The third condemned criminal hired an assassin to murder his wife. The human tendency is for the man in cell two to compare himself with the man in cell one, judging himself the better man. The man in cell three compares himself to the other two and feels he is better than both. But on the day of execution, what difference does it make? They have all broken the law, and they are all sentenced to die.

The real issue is not the appraisal of men but the judgment of God. If a Jew is better than a Gentile, God must say so. He has not said so. In fact, God has continually condemned the Jews and the Gentiles for their sin. God has treated the Jews and the Gentiles impartially. God has condemned the Jews and the Gentiles equally. Paul turns to the Old Testament Scriptures to prove his point.

The Testimony of the Old Testament
(3:10b-18)

As it is written, “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; 11 THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; 12 ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE.” 13 “THEIR THROAT IS AN OPEN GRAVE, WITH THEIR TONGUES THEY KEEP DECEIVING,” “THE POISON OF ASPS IS UNDER THEIR LIPS”; 14 “WHOSE MOUTH IS FULL OF CURSING AND BITTERNESS”; 15 “THEIR FEET ARE SWIFT TO SHED BLOOD, 16 DESTRUCTION AND MISERY ARE IN THEIR PATHS, 17 AND THE PATH OF PEACE HAVE THEY NOT KNOWN.” 18 “THERE IS NO FEAR OF GOD BEFORE THEIR EYES” (Romans 3:10-18).

Our study of verses 10-18 begins by making some observations concerning the segment as a whole.

(1) Verses 10b-18 are not actually Paul’s words; they are his citation of portions of the Old Testament.

(2) The Scriptures Paul quotes are almost all from the Book of Psalms, with one citation from Isaiah. Texts cited are:

Verses 10-12

Psalm 14:1-3; 53:1-4

Verse 13

Psalm 5:9; 140:3

Verse 14

Psalm 10:7

Verse 15-17

Isaiah 59:7ff.

Verse 18

Psalm 36:1

(3) The broad context into which these Old Testament quotations are cited is that of man’s sin and God’s righteous judgment. After Paul’s introduction in Romans 1:1-17, we come to the first major section of the book (1:18–3:20). This section establishes man’s need for a righteousness other than his own. Paul’s concluding words concerning man’s sin and condemnation are found in Romans 3:9-20. The dominant theme of our verses must therefore be man’s sin and God’s righteous wrath.

(4) These texts are cited by Paul to prove his statement that “both Jews and Greeks are all under sin” (verse 9). The condemnation of the Gentiles is a point readily acceptable to the Jews. Paul’s major effort has been to convince the Jews of their own sin and to show that they too are under sin. These passages from the Psalms and Isaiah prove that God’s condemnation of man’s sin, as stated in the Old Testament, is universal, including both Jews and Gentiles.

(5) These Scriptures are not randomly cited but are woven together to prove Paul’s point. They suggest the following structure:

  • Man’s condition (verses 10b-12)
  • Man’s conduct (verses 13-17)
  • Man’s confidence (verse 18)

(6) These citations begin and end with man’s disregard for God. In verse 11, we read “there is none who seeks for God.” In verse 18, we read, “there is no fear of God before their eyes.”

(7) Sin plagues the whole human race, without exception. The sinfulness of man is universal, including both Jews and Gentiles and excluding no one. All mankind is described as “under sin.” There are no exceptions.

(8) Sin plagues the whole man, without exception. Every man is affected by sin. Every man is affected by sin in every dimension of his life. Consider the various types of cancer. Some cancers are contained, so that cancer can be eradicated by surgical removal. Other cancers are systemic, wide-spread. Sin is systemic. There is not one area of our life free from the devastating effects of sin.

(9) The verses cited by Paul describing the sinful conduct of men focus on two parts of the anatomy: the mouth and the feet. From “head to foot,” man is a sinner. Men even succeed in putting their foot in their mouth. Paul’s selection of the mouth and the feet imply the totality of sin’s penetration and devastation.

(10) These texts describe man as purposefully and persistently practicing sin. Sin is not described as a condition which flares up from time to time but a condition which is continually active and evident. Man does not slip up; he is on a continually down-hill slide.

(11) There is not so much as a word concerning man’s goodness, or a hint of optimism concerning man’s hope of improvement or deliverance, due to his own efforts.

(12) In the context of these cited passages, there is a certainty concerning God’s judgment of sinners.

For Thou art not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness; No evil dwells with Thee. The boastful shall not stand before Thine eyes; Thou dost hate all who do iniquity. Thou dost destroy those who speak falsehood; The Lord abhors the man of bloodshed and deceit (Psalm 5:4-6). Do all the workers of wickedness not know, Who eat up my people as they eat bread, And do not call upon the Lord? There they are in great dread, For God is with the righteous generation (Psalm 14:4-5).

There the doers of iniquity have fallen; They have been thrust down and cannot rise (Psalm 36:12).

Therefore, justice is far from us, And righteousness does not overtake us; We hope for light, but behold, darkness; For brightness, but we walk in gloom. We grope along the wall like blind men, We grope like those who have no eyes; We stumble at midday as in the twilight, Among those who are vigorous we are like dead men. All of us growl like bears, And moan sadly like doves; We hope for justice, but there is none, For salvation, but it is far from us. For our transgressions are multiplied before Thee, And our sins testify against us; For our transgressions are with us, And we know our iniquities: Transgressing and denying the Lord, And turning away from our God, Speaking oppression and revolt, Conceiving in and uttering from the heart lying words. And justice is turned back, And righteousness stands far away; For truth has stumbled in the street, And uprightness cannot enter. Yes, truth is lacking; And he who turns aside from evil makes himself a prey. Now the Lord saw, And it was displeasing in His sight that there was no justice (Isaiah 59:9-15).

(13) There is, in the context of all the texts cited, a deep sense of confidence and hope, based upon the person and the provisions of God.

But let all who take refuge in Thee be glad, Let them ever sing for joy; And mayest Thou shelter them, That those who love Thy name may exult in Thee. For it is Thou who dost bless the righteous man, O Lord, Thou dost surround him with favor as with a shield (Psalm 5:11-12).

The Lord is King forever and ever; Nations have perished from His land. O Lord, Thou hast heard the desire of the humble; Thou wilt strengthen their heart, Thou wilt incline Thine ear To vindicate the orphan and the oppressed, That man who is of the earth may cause terror no more (Psalm 10:16-18).

Oh, that the salvation of Israel would come out of Zion! When the Lord restores His captive people, Jacob will rejoice, Israel will be glad (Psalm 14:7).

Thy lovingkindness, O Lord, extends to the heavens, Thy faithfulness reaches to the skies. Thy righteousness is like the mountains of God; Thy judgments are like a great deep. O Lord, Thou preservest man and beast. How precious is Thy lovingkindness, O God! And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Thy wings. They drink their fill of the abundance of Thy house; And Thou dost give them to drink of the river of Thy delights. For with Thee is the fountain of life; In Thy light we see light. O continue Thy lovingkindness to those who know Thee, And Thy righteousness to the upright in heart (Psalm 36:5-10).

And He saw that there was no man, And was astonished that there was no one to intercede; Then His own arm brought salvation to Him; And His righteousness upheld Him. And He put on righteousness like a breastplate, And a helmet of salvation on His head; And He put on garments of vengeance for clothing, And wrapped Himself with zeal as a mantle. According to their deeds, so He will repay, Wrath to His adversaries, recompense to His enemies; To the coastlands He will make recompense. So they will fear the name of the Lord from the west And His glory from the rising of the sun, For He will come like a rushing stream, Which the wind of the Lord drives. “And a Redeemer will come to Zion, And to those who turn from transgression in Jacob,” declares the Lord. “And as for Me, this is My covenant with them,” says the Lord: “My Spirit which is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your offspring, nor from the mouth of your offspring’s offspring,” says the Lord, “from now and forever” (Isaiah 59:16-21).

(14) These passages which Paul cites are not unusual in the Psalms or the rest of the Old Testament. By citing these texts, Paul seeks to prove that which is clear, emphatic, and repeated in the Old Testament Scriptures. Paul did not need to grasp for a few straws or a few obscure texts. He simply cited some of many passages he might have used to make his point.

Having considered verses 10-18 as a whole, let us now look at these verses one by one. Verse 10 informs us that Paul is citing Old Testament Scripture to prove his point that both Jews and Greeks are under sin. The last half of verse 10 is the beginning of Paul’s citation from Psalm 14:1-3 and 53:1-4.98 The introductory statement, “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE,” very nicely sums up the matter. It serves as a kind of title for the remainder of his quotations.

Verses 11 and 12 then proceed to describe the condition of fallen man. “THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS,” we read in verse 11. Understands what? No one understands virtually anything. At best, man only sees things from his own limited perspective. He cannot fathom the wisdom and knowledge of God. He cannot fathom God’s ends or His means. He cannot fathom His mercy and compassion. And so man would never have predicted what God performs (see Romans 11:33-36). Man can only see from an earthly, human vantage point and from the perspective of time. God sees and knows all and views all things from the perspective of eternity. At best, we see “in a mirror dimly,” and we “know in part” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

In addition to man’s natural limitations, there is the hindrance of sin. Sin dims our eyes and dulls our mind so that our grasp of reality becomes greatly distorted. The unbeliever, in his or her sin, does not see well at all, and so their knowledge and understanding is defective. This is true of the Gentiles:

This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality, for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness (Ephesians 4:17-19).

And it is also true of the Jews:

But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; BUT WHENEVER A MAN TURNS TO THE LORD, THE VEIL IS TAKEN AWAY (2 Corinthians 3:14-16).

Satan blinds the eyes of sinners (2 Corinthians 4:4) so that their understanding is defective. No wonder there is none who understands.99

Fallen man does not see clearly—he does not understand. Neither does he seek correctly. Sin is evident in men because we do not seek God. Fallen men continually seek after the wrong things. From the beginning of time, man has looked upon God as One who withholds from him that which is good, rather than the One who is good and who is the source of all that is good. Man’s turning from God and his twisted understanding go hand in hand.100 It is a sad but certain fact that when men reject the knowledge of God which could save them, their minds are made dull, and their lives are given over to sin (see Romans 1:18-32; 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12).

Verse 11 speaks of man’s sin as expressed toward God; verse 12 speaks of man’s sin as expressed toward men. “ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE,” the psalmist states. Men do not just miss the truth, as though they failed to see it. Men turn aside from the truth. It is a conscious rejection of truth. And so Paul can say of those who thus turn, “they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20).

Sinful men have turned from the truth to what is false and from serving God to serving themselves. Men have also changed themselves. They have changed from a creation of God, which He looked upon and called “good” (Genesis 1:31), to that which has become “useless” (Romans 3:12). This term describes food which turns bad and becomes corrupt. It is used of milk which turns sour. The usefulness of man has been turned to corruption by sin. And so Paul can say, in the words of the psalmist, “THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD,101 THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE” (Romans 3:12).

Man’s condition determines and directs man’s conduct. Samplings of the conduct of sinful men are given in verses 13-16. Two parts of the anatomy are in view: man’s mouth and his feet, his words (verses 13-14) and his works (verses 15-17). Man’s mouth is selected because it is the most difficult member of the body to control (see James 3:1-12). While men struggle with sin in different areas of their lives, all struggle with sin in the matter of their speech. Sin is perhaps nowhere as evident and as commonplace as in man’s speech.

Man’s throat is like an “open grave.” Not merely foul and corrupt, it is actually defiling, as an open grave was to the Jew. The tongue is not used for conveying the truth as much as it is used to deceive, to give people the wrong idea. The mouth is not only defiling and deceiving, it is deadly. The lips are like those of the serpent. Underneath is a sack of poison, poison administered “by mouth.” Cursing and bitterness flow profusely from the mouth. Sin finds no more willing servant.

From the head to the foot, man is sinful. And so the psalmists speak of the feet of the sinner, symbolizing our lifestyle, our walk. Violence and hostility are found everywhere in fallen mankind. Men’s “FEET ARE SWIFT TO SHED BLOOD” (verse 15). This is part of the reason so much violence is found in the media. Media experts know men love violence, and so they give men what they want. Those of us who are not violent as criminals often wish violence upon the criminals. Man’s violence may be sanctified by such expressions as “self-defense,” “upholding the law,” “punishment” or “military action,” but it is very often simply our own violence and eagerness to shed blood. Everywhere man’s inhumanity to man is apparent. While the word is too commonly used today, abuse often describes man’s relationship with his fellow-man. The opposite is peace. The “PATH OF PEACE” is not known to sinful man (verse 17).

Verse 18 is the last Old Testament citation in our text, summing up the condition of mankind: “THERE IS NO FEAR OF GOD BEFORE THEIR EYES.” This appears to be the flip side of the coin. In verse 11, Paul turns our attention to the psalmists’ statement, “THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD.” On man’s part, there is no positive attraction to God, and thus man does not seek God.

Now Paul refers to Psalm 36:1, in verse 18, informing us that sinful men is not afraid of God either. Men are not attracted to God so as to seek Him (verse 11) nor are they fearful of God’s holiness and judgment. Thus, men feel free to go about their sin with no sense that they will be judged for their sins. For the sinner, God is thought to be unworthy of man’s worship and devotion and unworthy of man’s fear and reverence. With these perceptions of God, man is free to go about furthering his own interests without regard for God or man. Truly, man is sinful and worthy of the wrath of God.

The Task of the Law
(3:19-20)

19 Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God; 20 because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.

Our passage began with a question concerning the superiority of the Jews over the Gentiles. Paul brushes this question aside as he reminds his reader that condemned men should not trouble themselves with the futile activity of comparing themselves with other condemned men. All men, Jew and Gentile, are unrighteous. All men are under divine condemnation. Comparisons among condemned men are foolish and useless. The universal condition of condemnation has been demonstrated from the Old Testament.

The possession of the Law made the self-righteous Jew feel superior to the Gentile. Paul has just used the Law to show the Jews how far short of its standard of righteousness they fall. The Law was not given to the Jews to cause them to feel superior to the Gentiles or so they could earn righteousness by their good works. The Law was given to men to show them how far short of God’s righteousness they fall. The Law was given to men to show them their need for a righteousness which was not their own. The Law was given to men to show them their need for grace.

While the Law was given to the Jews to shut their mouths (verse 19), the Jews used the Law as an excuse to open their mouths. They opened their mouths in teaching the Law and in judging others by it. They opened their mouths, objecting to their equal treatment with other sinners. In these final verses of Paul’s argument (verses 10-18), it is the Law which is speaking. When the Law speaks as it has here, men’s mouths should be closed. Not one word should be spoken in objection. Not one word should be spoken in self-defense. The guilty sinner should listen to the sentence which God has pronounced in silence. Too much has already been said by the self-righteous. It is time to be quiet.

Conclusion

Had the Jews any respect for the Law at all, they would cease to speak words in their own defense or in judgment of others. They would be silent since the Law has spoken, condemning them of sin and showing how far short of God’s required righteousness they fall.

Man’s sin is a far more serious problem than any man can comprehend. Not only is all mankind stricken with sin, but there is no human cure for it. Perhaps worst of all, sin is self-concealing. Sin blinds the heart and mind of the sinner to where he is unwilling or unable to admit that it even exists. Sin is also something like the disease of leprosy, which affects the nerves of the body so that pain is no longer recognized. The leper can do great harm to himself, without knowing it until it is too late. Sin is like this. It dulls the senses and the mind so that the sinner fails to sense his own guilt before God. Sometimes the sinner even looks at God as the guilty one.

Like the crew of the Colombian airliner, the critically important matter is recognizing the seriousness of the dilemma and acting accordingly. Men must cease comparing themselves with others, and see themselves in comparison to God and to His Law. Men must cease to make excuses for themselves and raise questions concerning God’s righteousness and justice. We must admit that we are unrighteous in God’s sight, and that He is righteous in judging us. Men must cease striving to earn their own righteousness and receive the righteousness God has provided for us in the person of Jesus Christ.

Men are so fallen, so unrighteous, so sinful, that they do not even recognize their own condition nor grasp the good news of the Gospel. We are so desperately twisted in our thinking and in our values that we do not even recognize the truth, let alone respond to it. This is the bad news.

The good news is that God has pronounced judgment on man’s sins in order that some might be saved. God pronounced judgment on Jesus Christ, punishing Him in the sinner’s place so that a man’s sins can be forgiven, and he can be declared righteous on the basis of the righteousness of Jesus Christ! Christ Jesus came to accomplish this on the Father’s behalf. The gospel has been given and is being proclaimed to lost men so that they might hear the good news. The Holy Spirit has been sent, to “convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment” (John 16:8-11). God brings to life those who were “dead in their trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1-7). God gives the blind eyes to see, and the deaf ears to hear, so that they may understand and be saved.

Recognizing the severity of man’s sin problem is of vital importance. For then we see the immensity of the task of saving men from their sins, to which God committed Himself and which He fulfilled. It also informs us of the radical transformation which salvation brings in a person’s life. Salvation is much more than believing a few facts about God and man. It is much more than admitting our sin. It is more than simply asking God to help. It is the complete abandonment of all of our self-righteousness. It is knowing our own utter helplessness. It is recognizing the immensity of our sin and its offense toward God. It is trusting in Jesus Christ as God’s only provision, and as our only hope. It is the transformation from darkness to light, and from death to life. It is not a decision to be taken lightly, but a decision of the most serious consequence.

Becoming a Christian begins by placing our faith in Jesus Christ, but it is only the beginning of a lifetime of change, of growth, of transformation. Because of the depth of our sin, our thinking must be turned upside-down and inside-out. Our actions must be drastically transformed. Our motives must be exposed and exchanged for those consistent with the heart of God. Recognition of the severity of our sin is an indication of the radical change which trusting in Jesus Christ should produce. Easy believism minimizes the depth of man’s sin, of God’s love and grace, and of the change which God has purposed to produce in the life of the Christian.

It is not surprising that lost sinners do not and cannot understand all that Paul is saying in this text. What is disappointing is that all too many Christians do not really believe Paul’s words either. Do we really believe that “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE”? Do we believe that “THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS GOD”? Why then do Christians talk of children as though their hearts were predisposed to love and to seek God? Children are foolish and gullible. The Bible teaches this, especially Proverbs. Children do not seek God any more than adults do. Children are lost and must be convicted and converted, just like adults. Conversion is humanly impossible, but divinely provided, promised, sovereignly purposed and supernaturally accomplished.

God’s Word informs us that all sinners have turned from God and have become useless. Why is it Christians say of lost men and women, “If they were ever to become a Christian, they could do great things for God”? Apart from God’s provision, men cannot be saved. Apart from God’s provision, men are of no use to God. While we are responsible to believe and to obey, it is His work of salvation, and the glory is to be His as well.

It is not at all surprising to find lost sinners looking inward to find self-love and self-acceptance. But it is greatly puzzling to me how anyone who professes to have come to faith in Jesus Christ can deny the gospel by doing likewise. What is there about us that we should feel good about, if these words from the Psalms and Isaiah are true? What is there about ourselves that we should love? If God cannot accept us just as we are, why should we try to do so? If man’s condition required the suffering of Jesus Christ on the cross as punishment, of what is there to boast? If God cannot accept us as we are, why are we trying to accept ourselves? It is God’s acceptance in Christ which we desperately need and in which we should boast. Let us cease looking inward for something about ourselves to love and about which to boast.

Let us even cease looking inward to scour our souls, to scrutinize the depth of our sin, and to rid ourselves of it. As I understand this text, and the Bible as a whole, such effort is folly. The psalmist looked to God. As he beheld God’s righteousness, his own sin became evident. And as his own sin loomed before him, the grace of God and His provision of salvation overwhelmed him. We do not need to focus in-ward; we need to focus God-ward. When we look to God we see Him as He is, we see ourselves as we are, and we see His grace and salvation as an ever increasing bounty of His blessings.

Let us not linger here, in the mire of our own sins or in those of our fellow-men. Let us press on to the glory and the grace of God as displayed in the gospel, in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ.


98 You will notice that these two psalms are very similar, but not identical.

99 Even the Christian’s understanding is imperfect and partial (see 1 Corinthians 13:12).

100 Paul has already pointed out the relationship between man’s turning from God and his darkened mind (see Romans 1:19-22, 28).

101 The term rendered “good” here is not the usual one. The idea here is a mixture of “right” or “righteousness,” “goodness,” “kindness,” and “generosity.” It is used both of God (see Romans 2:4; Titus 3:4) and of men (see 2 Corinthians 6:6; Galatians 5:22; Colossians 3:12). While men may do those things which appear to be good, the basic motivation for doing them is evil and self-seeking. Sinful men do not seek God’s interests nor those of their fellow-men, but only those things which further self-interest.

Related Topics: Hamartiology (Sin)