Grace For The Journey
We live in a society that greatly values equality. That is understandable given that the founders of our nation thought this was important enough to include the statement, “all men are created equal,” as a fundamental presupposition for the nation to exist.
The founders meant that every
Person has the same intrinsic value.
Today, there are many that have latched onto the socialist idea of equality of outcome. A lot of political pressure is thrown these days by different groups in their efforts to gain equality of outcome at the expense of others. However,
The fact is that this socialistic idea
Can never be achieved because
People vary too much in intellect,
Physical ability, economic resources,
And social standing for there
To ever be equality of outcome.
Even if you redistributed everything evenly, it would not take long for some to increase what they have while others would squander what they were given.
There is only one area in
Which all mankind is equal,
And apart from divine intervention,
All will achieve an equal outcome.
That truth is found in our verses that we will study today.
Paul has begun his presentation of the righteousness of God in the gospel of grace by systematically proving the unrighteousness of man. Admittedly, this is not the way in which the Gospel is now usually presented in America. American Christians have been perverted by our culture and poor theology to the degree that . . .
The Gospel message has actually been
Distorted into a positive sales presentation
About how God can make your life so much better.
Yes, God does make your life better, but the Gospel Paul presents is predicated on first understanding the bad news that you are a sinner under God’s just condemnation. Only then does he present the good news that God has provided a way to redeem and
forgive you from your sin through faith in Jesus Christ who will change your life.
The Gospel is not about getting
A better life as if it is optional.
The Gospel tells us the only means
By which man can be made
Right with God and escape Hell.
In Romans 1 & 2, Paul demonstrates the unrighteousness of three categories of mankind. The immoral unrighteous and their spiral downward into depravity are presented in 1:21-32. Their ungodliness is obvious to all by their very behavior. The moral unrighteous have a higher code of conduct, but Paul exposes their unrighteousness in 2:1-16 by proving their hypocrisy. They condemn others for what they themselves also do. They do not even keep their own standards and are condemned by their own consciences. Paul uses the Jews in 2:17-29 as the ultimate example of the religious unrighteous. These are the people that claim to have a knowledge of God, yet they do not obey what has been revealed to them. The result is that they cause the name of God to be blasphemed. Neither knowledge alone nor religious heritage can make a person righteous before God.
Yesterday we looked at the first part of chapter 3 and the objections that some Jews had to Paul’s arguments that not all Jews would be saved from God’s wrath. What advantage would there be to being a Jew and following the religious rituals if they did not save a person and make them righteous before God? Paul answered that there are great advantages to being a Jew in every respect, the primary one was being entrusted with the very Word of God. They were told what God was like and how He wanted them to live. They were not left in the darkness of ignorance as were the Gentiles.
Some objected that if God did not save all the Jews, then He would not be true to His promises. In short, they were claiming that Paul was making God out to be a liar. Of course, Paul was not saying any such thing. The fact that some Jews would not obey God and thus were under His just condemnation does not in any way nullify God’s promises to the nation of Israel. God will fulfill all His promises to His people.
Others objected and even slandered Paul claiming that he was saying that sin would bring glory to God, so why not do evil that good might come of it. But Paul did not say any such thing. That would make God unjust in His judgment of man. There is no evil in God and God does not cause evil, and neither does God gain glory from sin. God is glorified in His overcoming sin through Jesus Christ.
Man’s Equality – All are Unrighteous.
As we now come to our passage for study in Romans 3:9-20, we find the only area in which all people are equal.
Every person is ungodly and unrighteous,
And unless there is divine intervention,
Every person will remain under
The just wrath of God upon sin.
In verse 9 Paul anticipates the next objection that would be given to him. Paul has demonstrated that God’s wrath abides on all those who are ungodly and unrighteous including the immoral unrighteous, the moral unrighteous, and the religious unrighteous. Is Paul claiming that he and his followers are somehow superior to everyone else and thus have escaped God’s wrath? Paul says, “not at all,” or “by no means.”
Paul has already charged both
Jews and Greeks with sin.
Everyone is born under
The just wrath of God and
It will take divine intervention
To change the matter. Why?
Because the very nature
Of man is against God.
Paul quotes from various Old Testament texts as he details out the natural character and conduct of man in verses 10-18. Paul also makes it clear that this is all inclusive by using the term “none” or an equivalent 6 times in this section. The only exception to the “none” is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
As we look at Romans 3:9-20 we see two very important truths . . .
1) The Sinful Character Of Man.
The overall character
Of natural man is
That he is unrighteous.
Paul states this emphatically by quoting from Psalm 14:1-3 which is repeated also in Psalm 53:13, “There is none righteous, not even one.” I like the paraphrase that personalizes this as, “There is none righteous, not even you.” No one is exempt.
To be righteous is to be
Right before God
As God had originally
Created man to be.
To say that there are “none righteous” means that . . .
No man is characterized by having
The attitudes and doing the things
God wants them to do.
It is also to say that
Even when man does do
Something generally considered good,
It will not be for
The proper motive
Of glorifying the living God
Who created him.
Even his attempt
To do an act
Of righteousness will
Fall short and be as
A filthy rag before
The Holy God (Isaiah 6:4).
Is God Himself.
We are to be perfect, even as God the Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48).
None Who Understands: The quote goes on that “there are none who understand.”
How could man achieve righteousness
When He does not even understand
What it is or the God who
Set the standard for it?
God has placed within man a limited knowledge of Himself and in creation God has displayed some of His attributes, so much so that men are without excuse for not seeking God out to honor Him, yet . . .
Those are not sufficient to bring man
To a knowledge of the Holy One.
Man does not know or understand God, and as 1 Corinthians 2:14 states, he will reject even what he does know, for “a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” In other words . . .
Man does not and cannot understand
For even when he is presented the truth,
He judges it to be foolishness.
Inherent in this is man’s pride
By which he sets himself up
To judge by his own limited
And distorted knowledge.
It is God that judges man, yet man sets himself up to judge God. That is part of the reason that is so foolish to present the Gospel through marketing strategies even if they did not distort the message. Natural man cannot understand what is good for himself. He will judge the options presented based on his own sinful desires instead of what is right before God.
It should also be understood that God is not to blame for man’s ignorance. As already stated, God has already revealed Himself to man, but man suppresses the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). As Paul points out in Ephesians 4:18-19, man does not understand because he does not want to. His hardness of heart and callousness leaves him ignorant and excluded from the life of God. This truth is further pointed out in the next character flaw of natural man.
None Seek after God: “There is none who seek after God.” This is an aspect of man’s rebellion against God. God calls upon man to seek after Him and promises reward to those that will do so (Deuteronomy 4:29-31; Isaiah 55:6-7; Jeremiah 29:13), but natural man will not do so. This does not mean that man is not religious. Man is innately religious, but the god that man seeks is one of his own making. That is why it is silly to have what are popularly called “Seeker Services” targeting non-Christians. The non-Christian does not seek God, and if a ministry has a whole lot of non-Christians coming, and they leave feeling comfortable without radical changes in their lives, then you can be sure they are not presenting the true God. While we want to be “sinner sensitive” in the sense we want them to know what we are talking about and not unnecessarily offend them over non-Biblical issues and practices.
The Gospel does offend the sinner,
And the only way in which man
Will seek the true God is after
God initiates and draws
The person to Jesus Christ.
In fact, as Jesus Himself said in John 6:44, “No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.” God is not to blame, for the failure is on man’s part. God is to be praised that out of His great love He would initiate and draw rebellious man to Himself. Man’s inability to seek God is because of his sin nature. Man will not seek God on His own. In fact, as the next phrase states, they do just the opposite.
All Have Turned Aside: “All have turned aside.” Instead of seeking God, they have turned away from Him. The aorist tense used here indicates this is something they have already done and therefore one of the reasons they do not seek God. The brief picture presented by Paul here is presented in more fully by Jesus in Matthew 7:13-14, “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small, and the way is
narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it.” There is a path that leads to God, but man turns aside from that path to go by the broad way that leads to destruction. People do not choose the broad path knowing that it leads to destruction, though some may. Most people think the way they are going will get them to heaven. But as Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way [which seems] right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” Some are self-deceived, and some are deceived by others, which is
why Jesus warns about false teachers in verses 15-23.
Man does not seek out and follow
The path to God because he
Has already turned aside
To a wrong path.
The result is that they are spiritually worthless.
Useless: “Together, they have become useless.” The idea is that they produce “nothing of benefit,” or to use a common Biblical analogy, “they produce no good fruit.” John the Baptist warned that the fruit needed to be brought forth that was in keeping with repentance and that those that did not bear good fruit would be cast into the fire (Matthew 3:8-10). Jesus warned about the false prophets and that they would be known by their fruit, for a bad tree produces bad fruit and every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire (Matthew 7:16-20). The natural man has no spiritual value.
Man was created to bring forth
The fruit of righteousness
In walking in a manner
Worthy of the Lord,
Pleasing Him in all respects
And bearing fruit in every
Good work while increasing
In the knowledge of God
But natural man does not do good.
None Who Does Good: “There is none who does good, there is not even one.” The word “good” here refers to what is “morally good; that which has integrity, is excellent, and upright.” God is the standard of what is good, and because natural man is not good he cannot do what is good.
That does not mean that all men
Are as bad as they can be.
We have already seen that
In comparing the immoral unrighteous
With the moral and religious unrighteous.
But no man is truly good or does
What is truly good because
They do not meet God’s standard for it.
They are not godly.
They are not righteous.
They are not holy.
Paul again emphasizes the point that this applies to all men by adding, “there is not even one.” Not you. Not me. No saint. No one.
Paul details this out in verses 13-18
Sinful Speech: The first area of sinful conduct is the speech of the natural man. “Their throat is an open grace, with their tongues they keep deceiving, the poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.” This section is a compilation ofquotes from Psalm 5:9; 10:7; and 140:3. Jesus explained to His disciples in Matthew 15:18-19 that it was what came out of the mouth that defiled a man for they reveal what was in the heart. The speech of the natural man reveals the sinfulness
that is in his heart – evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders, etc.
The description Paul uses here is very vivid. When people die, we bury them. Partly this is out of dignity for the deceased. Partly it is out of concern for community health, and partly it is to protect people from the stench of the decaying body. Describing the mouth as an “open grave” pictures the rot and stench of the spiritual deadness of the heart. A person might try to cover it up with the perfume of flowery speech, but there is no life in the words.
The speech of the natural man is also deceptive. Sometimes this can be very flagrant and sometimes very subtle. People often try to get you believe what is not true in order to get something from you. Much of marketing practice today is simply sophisticated con-artistry and swindling. They want you to think you are getting much more than you actually are. Consider just how things are packaged.
Another form of deception is flattery. People try to impress you so that you will like and trust them. They will then use your good will toward them later to get what they want from you. The Bible warns in Proverbs 29:5, “A man who flatters his neighbor Is spreading a net for his step.” And in Proverbs 26:24-25, “He who hates disguises [it] with his lips, but he lays up deceit in his heart. When he speaks graciously, do not believe him, or there are seven abominations in his heart.” Also, in Proverbs 26:27, “A lying tongue hates those it crushes, and a flattering mouth works ruin.”
At other times the deceit is to try to hide the truth so you will not think badly of them or try to take advantage of their weaknesses. It is not so much that they want to get something from you as they want to protect themselves. But the truth is that deception is really just a form of lying, and lying is lying regardless of whether it is for personal gain or for self-protection. Revelation 21:8 is explicit in stating that, “all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone.”
The natural man’s tongue is poisonous. The asp is a pit viper. Similar to a rattlesnake, they have fangs that curve back into their mouths when they are closed, but project outward when they are opened. Attached to the fangs are poison sacks which release their deadly contents through the fangs when the snake bites into something. It was such a snake that had bit Paul when he was shipwrecked on the island of Malta (Acts 28:3).
Both John the Baptizer and Jesus called the scribes and Pharisees vipers because of the poisonous nature of their teaching. Jesus condemned them in Matthew 23:15, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel about on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” But the term can be applied to any false teacher, and that means parents, mentors and friends, not just the professionals. Words have meaning
and when they convey things that are not true about God and how He wants us to live, they are like a poison that goes into the blood and defiles the whole body. James 3:1 warns, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we shall incur a stricter judgement.” False teachers are bad enough, but most people pick up their erroneous beliefs about God and what life is about from their parents and friends. What have you taught others through your conversations and example? All of
us are teachers to someone.
Paul concludes this section with a quote from Psalm 10:7, “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.” To curse is to invoke divine punishment or harm to come upon someone. Bitterness here is in the emotional sense. It is open expression of an abiding anger. All of this together describes “the verbal venting of hatred, defamation, and insult. Two fancy words for this are “malediction” and “imprecation.” It includes cursing, cussing, swearing, expletives, railing, and slandering. We have all had people do this to
us, and we have all done it to other people. Your choice of words may not be as crude as others, but calling someone a jerk, a dolt, stupid, or an idiot is really the same thing. Jesus warned us about such expressions of anger in Matthew 5:22. The Christian is to “Let no unwholesome word proceed from [their] mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). Some years ago, I invented a phrase to remind myself of these truths. Instead of calling someone a name, I call them – Person In Need of Grace And Mercy. This reminds me of how I should treat others, and by the time I remember this phrase, I forget why I am were angry. Try it the next time someone does something that makes you angry – Person In Need of Grace And Mercy.
Sinful Actions: Sinful character will be expressed by sinful speech and both result in sinful conduct. Paul points this out in verse 15-18 which are taken from Psalm 36:1.
Murder: The first statement is, “their feet are swift to shed blood.” Murder is the final result of the desire that is expressed in the cursing and bitterness. Jesus equated the two in Matthew 5:21-22 stating that those who become angry and call others names or a fool are as guilty before God as the one who murders. 1 John 3:15 also equates the two saying, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life.” If hatred is given its full expression, it will result in murder.
While we find it commendable that people will restrain themselves to some degree, for all of us would rather be called names than murdered, we must keep in mind that God looks on the heart and judges it. The natural man may be constrained in carrying out what he desires, but God knows the heart.
A tract some years ago recounted a reporter meeting one of Hitler’s henchmen at the Nuremberg trials after WW II. The meeting caused him to break down weeping for he realized that this vile man who was responsible for a large part of the holocaust was really no different than he was. He was confronted with his own sinfulness and realized how easily it was for a supposedly good person to carry out unspeakable evil if given the opportunity. Praise the Lord that this man came to Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of his sin, but that is the true nature of the human heart and the actions that will follow if
given the chance – feet that are swift to shed blood.
Destruction and Misery: This describes the physical and emotional devastation that follows the natural man’s actions. He breaks things into pieces resulting in harm to others. This includes not only physical property, but people too. Our post-Christian society continues to move away from the Christian moral standards that once held it in check, and as it does so, the number of crimes committed by people for the sheer evil pleasure of destroying things and hurting people continues to rise. That is what we
should expect from natural man. But keep in mind here that this destruction does not have to be something expensive. Think about when your children were little. Did they not exhibit a natural desire to break and damage things just to do so? Whether it is smashing their toys, hitting, scratching, biting the other kids, or striping the leaves of the shrubs, all of it demonstrates the evil that is in the natural man from early on.
No Peace: “The paths of peace they have not known.” The world cries out for peace, but there cannot be peace because the evil in the natural man will always destroy it. At the collapse of the Soviet Union, American politicians started talking about how they wanted to spend the “peace dividend” since the focus of so much of our military defense spending no longer exited. It was sheer foolishness, because all men, not just the Soviets, are inherently evil and military force must be ready and available to stop them
from carrying out their evil desires. There will not be peace until the Lord Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace returns to reign in Jerusalem.
2) The Cause Of This Sinful Conduct.
The cause for man’s sinful speech and
Actions goes back to their sinful nature.
Though God has revealed Himself to man so that all people are without excuse, man purposely suppresses the truth in his unrighteousness. He is so bold in this that, “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Both creation and the evidence around us of God’s wrath upon the ungodly cry out that He should be greatly feared, but like an ostrich with its head in the sand, sinful man willfully ignores the evidence and so he does not fear God.
Consider what the Bible says in 2 Peter 3:3-7, “Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with [their] mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? For [ever] since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.’ For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God [the] heavens existed long ago and [the] earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. But the present heavens and earth by His word are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.”
They willingly suppress the truth in unrighteousness and thus do not have the proper fear of their Holy Creator who currently subjects them to His wrath in letting them reap the consequences of their sin, and who will bring eternal judgement upon them.
The Bible says a lot about this fear . . .
Proverbs 9:10, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”
Proverbs 8:13, “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; Pride and arrogance and the evil way. . .”
Proverbs 1:7 adds that, “Fools despise wisdom and destruction.”
The point is simply this . . .
All men are equal in the sense that
No mere human has ever or
Will ever meet God’s standard
Of righteousness in themselves.
All men are naturally ungodly
And unrighteous, and so they are
Justly under God’s wrath and condemnation.
- Man cannot be saved by His heritage, for salvation is not genetic, but individual.
- Man cannot be saved by his own efforts to be righteous. His very deeds condemn him.
- Man cannot be saved by his own will or the will of another
person. His own will is contrary to God’s.
Salvation is all of God and man
Has no hope except in God
Intervening and bringing them
To Jesus Christ for salvation from
Their sins through faith in Him.
John 1:12-13 puts it this way, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, [even] to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
Those of us who are Christians
Should praise God for
His infinite mercy and grace
That has been poured out on us.
We have in no way earned
What we have received.
We in no way deserve
What we have received.
All praise, honor, and glory are to be given to Jesus Christ for this precious gift of salvation from sin and being made righteous!
For those who are not yet true Christians, you may be wondering how this can happen? Not by anything you can do or initiate. You can only respond to what God is doing in you.
- Is God convicting you of your sinfulness? Then repent, that is, turn from your sinful deeds and attitudes and to God to do what He says.
- Is God convicting you of your unrighteousness? Then plead with Him to give you an understanding of the righteousness of Jesus Christ and His payment for your sins on the cross that you might receive His forgiveness and be clothed with His righteousness through faith in Him.
- Are you afraid of God’s present wrath and future judgement? The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge and wisdom. Cry out to Him for mercy and you will find peace in Him through faith in Jesus.
- Are you realizing how ignorant and foolish you have been? Then pick up a Bible and start discovering God’s revelation of Himself to you.
- You may not even be sure God is there, but if you will call out to Him, that in itself demonstrates that God is working in you, and He will cause you to understand His revelation of Himself.
This is God Word …
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!