Scripture Text: Romans 3:9-20
Are you basically good? Aside from some minor issues and some selfishness that we all have, are you basically a good person? People will say that we are basically good. People may admit that they are not perfect, but they will believe that they are still basically good people. We just need a little help. We just need to make better choices. We are not all that bad. Does Scripture say this? No, it does not! The problem with believing that we are basically good is that Scripture paints a different picture of us. Scripture reveals to us that we are far from basically good. It is true that God created the heavens and the earth and in the beginning it was very good. That is true. But since that time, we have done a really good job of messing up God’s good creation. All you need to do is just watch the news or read the newspaper and you will see it.
In the letter to the Romans, Paul has been building a case against those who may think that they are basically good, or who may think that they do not need God’s grace. To the Gentiles, Paul provided evidence of their sinfulness where he listed the various acts of evil they commit. To the Jews, Paul told them that they were no better off, for they do the very same things. Paul has been presenting a case that demolishes our way of thinking that says we are basically good people or that we can somehow be good enough to enter heaven on our own. It just does not work that way. There is one big idea Paul made here — we are all sinful — followed by three destructive behaviors that are indicative of our common sinful condition, and then a concluding statement that reminds us that our hope is not found within ourselves or within following the Law of God. There is something else that saves us.
We Are Equally Sinful
Last week, Paul asked the question, “What advantage did the Jewish people have, if being Jewish was not enough to make one right with God?” Paul answered that objection by saying the Jewish people had many advantages, first and foremost, having the Word of God. They did not have to guess what God’s requirements were. Our condition and God righteousness were clearly written in God’s Word for them to read and to know. We, too, have the Word of God that clearly presents our condition, God’s perfect holiness, and His righteous judgement on us. We do not have to guess these things — we just have to believe the One Who wrote it.
In the passage today, Paul asked a different question: “What then? Are we Jews any better off?” Paul had already made the claim earlier that both Jews and Gentiles are under the wrath of God. Paul had already stated that both Jews and Gentiles have sinned and will be judged by God. Paul stated in this passage that we all have the same condition. This reminds me of a scene in the movie The Avengers. The character, Dr. Bruce Banner, had an accident that left him with the ability to become an enormous, green, raging monster. When he became angry, he would become very strong — not a good combination. Dr. Banner would deal with it by trying to avoid it. One person in the movie, however, told Dr. Banner, “Son, you’ve got a condition.” The problem for us is that we have a condition, but we sometimes ignore it or we seek the wrong cure for it.
In verses ten through eighteen, Paul quoted several passages from the Old Testament. He was not making some new statement in this letter that the Jews had not heard or had not had the opportunity to hear. Paul was telling them exactly what God had already revealed to them — they were unrighteous just like everyone else on the planet. They had the same condition. To make this point clear, Paul quoted Psalms 14 and 53:
Romans 3:10–11 10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God.”
Paul probably could not have been clearer. No one is righteous, not even one person. You cannot rightly look at another human being and say that person is somehow a worse sinner than you. The only thing which separates those who have been declared right with God and those who have not been declared right with God is whether they have received God’s grace. You should not compare yourself to others. In regard to our condition, the penalty for that condition as well as the fix for that condition is the same for everyone. To make sure his readers understood this, Paul again stated the following:
Romans 3:12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.
Again, Paul emphatically stated that no one does good, not even one person. But is that the same as saying that we are “worthless”? Paul stated that we “have become worthless” or “useless”. That is quiet a strong statement. Would you influence many people by telling them, “You are worthless?” Is that even true? If you look at the two psalms that Paul quoted for this passage, it basically means they had become corrupt. All people are made in the image of God and therefore have intrinsic worth. Each human being is valuable because each bears the very image of our holy God. That image, however, is corrupted by our sinfulness. Sin destroys the goodness of God’s creation. To illustrate this, Paul provided several examples of our corrupt behavior.
We Have Destructive Speech
Paul again quoted the Old Testament, Psalms 5 and 140, to remind his readers how destructive our mouths are. We use our mouths a lot. We speak with them. We eat with them. We also use our mouths to deceive, to curse and to spread bitterness. James compared our tongues to a small fire.
James 3:5–6 5 How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.
If my mom hears this, I will probably be in trouble. I remember one time when I was younger and living with my parents, a neighbor came knocking on our door. She was very upset and told my mother, who answered the door, that the neighborhood was on fire. Our neighbor was almost hysterical, as you can probably imagine. The woods were on fire and it endangered the houses in the neighborhood. Unbeknownst to our neighbor, my mother had started a small fire near the woods to burn some debris. My mom thought the fire was out, but it had spread. What started out as a small fire became a real problem and a danger to the whole neighborhood.
So is our speech. We can use our small mouths to boast great things. We can use our small mouths to make big statements about ourselves — to make ourselves look better than others. We can use our small mouths to create great dissension among people. We can use our small mouths to inflict great hurt and division in the church. So bad is our speech, Paul compared it to the poisonous venom of a snake. The venom of a snake can at best be painful and at worst it can be deadly. So can our speech. What we say can be poisonous to others, and sometimes without our knowledge. We have to be careful with what we say to one another. We should strive to use our mouths to encourage one another, to create unity, to build up the Church of God, and when necessary, to correct one another in love. Be careful with what you say.
We Have Destructive Acts
Not only do we say evil things that are destructive, we do evil things that are destructive. Paul quoted Proverbs 1 and Isaiah 59 to remind us that people are quick to do evil.
Romans 3:15–17 15 Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 in their paths are ruin and misery, 17 and the way of peace they have not known.
Maybe you are not quick or desirous to hurt others, at least in the sense of shedding blood, but have you hurt someone by your actions? Have you been quick to be right or to be vindicated that you did not stop to think how your actions may negatively impact someone else? Have you been quick to have what you want that you disregard others? That is not what God would have you do. We ought to be quick to do good, not evil.
Paul described people as being quick to create ruin and misery. Their actions bring about destruction and distress in others. Worse than that, they do not want peace. They do not know how to be peaceful because they do not pursue peace with others. Dissensions, factions, conflict, desiring to be right, wanting what they want — these are the things they strive to have. These things are sinful. The Church is called to peace. The Church is called to unity. More than that, the Church is called to be a community. In the Body of Christ, there should be no “us” and “them”. There should only be “us”. We have all been called into fellowship with Jesus Christ and if God has brought you here to Good Hope, you have been called into fellowship with one another. Satan is an evil one and he will use you to create discord and dissension in God’s church. Will you allow him to do that? Will you be a tool of Satan or a disciple of Jesus Christ? The choice is yours.
We Have No Fear of God
Now, it is one thing to speak and do evil to one another. It is quiet another thing to speak and do evil to God. In fact, however, that is what sin is — an offense to God. Paul had already mentioned that because of our sin, we are under the wrath of God. In fact, when we sin, we are storing up wrath for ourselves. Some people sin in such a way that they have no fear of God. Many people have lost respect for God. They focus so much on His love or maybe even deny His existence, that they no longer fear Him. This is a dangerous place to be. Jesus stated that God is the one Person we should fear.
Matthew 10:28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
Paul quoted Psalm 36 to remind us that some people lack a healthy degree of fear for God. Certainly, God wants us to love Him and to worship Him. But a proper attitude of God is fear. God is our Creator and our Judge. To sin is to basically discount the holiness of God and to steal His glory. To sin is to not fear God as we ought to fear Him. If we did know God and fear Him, I suspect there would be much less evil in the world.
We Have Salvation Apart from the Law
As we have seen in this section of the letter, our condition is not described in a favorable light. We are totally depraved. If total depravity is the condition of every human being on this planet, what is our hope? How can we possibly pull ourselves out of the terrible predicament that Scripture so clearly presents of ourselves? God’s Word clearly reveals to us our sinful condition. God’s Word clearly presents to us the result of our sin — the wrath and judgement of God. God’s Word clearly shows us that we are hopelessly lost to believe that we can be good enough to earn our salvation. The purpose of God’s Law was to show sin, not to save us from sin. Being declared right before God has always been a matter of faith, which we will take a look at next week.
For now, Paul alluded to something apart from ourselves and apart from following the righteous demands of God. While it is true that we could be declared right with God by perfectly following His Law, no human being can do that, save one. Only one person has ever lived a perfect life and His name is Jesus Christ. So, what is our hope? We must look to Him Who lived a perfect and righteous life and Who gave His life for you so that you can have life in Him. Jesus was born to die in order to give life to those who believe in Him. Paul’s message to the Jewish people of his time, and the message to us today, is that we cannot be good enough for God. We cannot perfectly fulfill the requirements of God’s Law to make ourselves right before Him. The only thing which covers our sin and protects us from the wrath of God is the blood of Jesus Christ.
What shall our response be to this passage? Shall we go on fooling ourselves that we are not so bad after all? Shall we point our fingers at others believing that we are at least not as bad as them — maybe God will grade us on a curve? Shall we give up and believe that it does not matter what we do? No, no, and no! There is a better way, but it will cost you your life. It involves you giving up your life and the foolish idea that you are somehow free. Sin enslaves. The only way to be truly free and to be truly right with God, is to surrender your life to Him. You must surrender yourselves to Jesus Christ. The hymn I Surrender All beautifully describes this:
All to Jesus, I surrender,
All to Him I freely give,
I will ever love and trust Him,
In His presence daily live
You are a depraved human being, however, the good news is that God has provided the cure. He has demonstrated His love for you in His Son, Jesus Christ. Are you trusting in Him every day? Are you living for Him every day? Salvation is not just a one time event in your life. It is a way of life where God is working in those who trust in Jesus. The Good News of Jesus Christ is for our salvation, now and in the future, to everyone who believes in Him. Thanks be to God. Amen!
This sermon was delivered at Good Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, NC. More information about Good Hope may be found at the following site: www.GoodHopeBC.org.