Romans 3:9-20- No One Is Righteous
Explanation- It is here that Paul brings home this reality of man’s total depravity. All have sinned, all have fallen short, and all have gone astray. Who then is better off than the next? Is the Jew in a better position than the Gentile? ‘Not at all,’ Paul exclaims. There are none righteous and none who understand the ways of the Lord apart from divine intervention. His ways are higher than ours, and His thoughts greater. No man seeks God without first being drawn. The doctrine of man’s total depravity is of utmost importance in terms of salvation and redemption. There are those who believe that there is some inherent good within themselves, which places them in a better position to choose the ways of the Lord. Paul puts to rest any arguments in favor of this twisted view by placing all men under the just condemnation that the law prescribes. If salvation were possible through the mere effort of the will, then Christ died in vain!
Paul, in poetic fashion, describes our fallen plight.
‘None is righteous, no, not one.’ Our depravity is total and complete. There are not even the first fruits of righteousness that dwell within us that could correct our standing before God. Our works are defiled and tainted with the righteousness that comes from self (which is no righteousness at all). Left to ourselves, our good deeds are as filthy rags before the awesome purity of the Lord.
‘No one understands.’ Our minds are dulled and unable to perceive the truth without the aid of divine revelation. Spiritual realities are but foolishness to the natural man, for he pays them little regard. We are like brute beasts following the scent of impure lusts and believing it to be a worthy pursuit.
‘No one seeks for God.’ How can a man who does not understand even the beginning of God’s ways seek after the Holy One? He dwells in unapproachable light, and there is no darkness in Him. How then can we, who clothe ourselves in darkness like a garb, approach (or even desire to approach) such a magnificent being? Certainly, every man is a worshipper in his basest form, but the idols which our hearts erect are deaf, blind, and dumb, and we too become as they are.
‘All have turned aside.’ As David said in Psalm 58:3, ‘The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth.’ It is not as if we were once in right standing with God and then somehow lost our footing. The Scripture tells us that from our birth, we have gone astray and turned from the One who formed us.
‘Together, they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.’ The result of this miserable plight is that man in his fallen state has become utterly worthless and is unable to perform even the simplest of good that the law demands. Again, this is not just applied to some, but to all who are under the curse of Adam.
All of these so far have expressed the position and standing of a lost man before God. Paul then goes on to describe some of the rotten fruit that is produced from such a life. He first presents the works of the tongue, which spews lies, curses, and bitterness. He uses the vivid imagery of an open grave and the venom of an asp to describe the filth of the heart that overflows from the tongue. He then speaks of the overall way of the lost sinner when he says that their, ‘feet are swift to shed blood.’ Wherever such a one goes, ruin and misery is sure to follow. There is no peace on the path of the unrighteous. Paul finishes this ‘poem’ with these words, ‘there is no fear of God before their eyes.’ This is the reason why all of this evil is possible. If the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, then mankind, without this fear of God, is utterly foolish. There is not a willingness to depart from such folly when a healthy fear of the Lord is not present. Therefore, without the intervening grace of Christ, all men will continue down this path of wickedness like sheep led to the slaughter.
Following this, Paul states that whatever is written in the law is written for those who are under the law. This would include all of those who have not come to a saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. If every man is under the law, then no man can rightfully boast before God, and therefore, we all are accountable to Him for breaking His law. This is why the law is unable to save a man. The law exposes our sinful nature. It shows us the ways in which we have fallen short of God’s glorious standard of perfection and are deserving of judgment. Even if we were to keep the entire law perfectly, yet sin in one area, we would be just as guilty as if we broke the entire law. Our offense is not increased because of the law itself, but because of who it is who we are sinning against. When a man breaks an earthly law, he receives an earthly punishment. When a man breaks a divine law, he receives a divine punishment. Our sin is against a holy, righteous, pure, and perfect God, and He demands such ways from us as well. He has given us His standard of perfection in the law so that we might see the error of our ways and see the inability within ourselves to adhere to what He has commanded. Without the law, we would have no knowledge that what we do is offensive to God. Certainly, conscience provides some form of a prick when we fall short, but conscience does not provide us with a written code that we can set before our eyes and use to examine ourselves. As Paul stated earlier, the conscience can be wounded beyond repair and not function as it was designed to. This is why the law serves such a great purpose; it shows us our need of a Savior.
Application- As we consider the doctrine of total depravity, let it not bring us to despair. God has provided a remedy for our miserable estate. He has shown us that every man at his best state is altogether vanity, and we are worthy of His wrath. Yet He does not leave us here. If we were only given the law without any hope of remedy, then we would indeed be without hope, but God has provided a remedy in the person and work of Jesus Christ. It was He who followed the law to the last letter and satisfied its requirements. He then laid down His life and bore the Father’s just wrath, which was to be poured out upon us. Those who are granted the gift of faith in Christ are, in turn, clothed in the righteousness of Christ. The wages that we had earned from our sin have been transferred unto Him, and we have been granted the fruits of His obedience. Although we were utterly undone, Christ made way for us to be free from our guilt and has offered the hope of eternal life in the light of His presence!