What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written: ‘There is no-one righteous, not even one; there is no-one who understands, no-one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no-one who does good, not even one. Their throats are open graves; their tongues practise deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes.
The epistle to the Romans is the greatest letter ever written, and it starts with a comprehensive analysis of the plight of man. Why do armed men kidnap 200 teenage girls and sell them into slavery? This is the 21st century. Why should British prisons be full to capacity? Why should drug addiction be as common as it is today, more so than in our entire history? Why should millions of people search for horrific pornography on the web every single day, including young boys surfing the net for degradation.? Why are almost 200,000 babies aborted and killed each year? Why the killing in Syria, and the threat of civil war in the Ukraine, and the tyranny in North Korea? Why is mankind in the plight that it’s in? Clearly wealth, and higher standards of living, and education, and democracy don’t have the sanctifying and elevating roles that humanists hoped for when they led people to turn from the Lord Jesus Christ.
For nearly three chapters Paul has been building slowly towards the verses before us. Firstly he has shown that the whole world is under the wrath of God (1:18); the Gentiles are guilty (1:18-32); the moralists are guilty (2:1-16); the Jews are guilty (2:17-29); and all excuses that our sinfulness is not that important but that it can be to God’s glory is unacceptable (3:1-8). That is precisely where we are and now it’s our turn to be arraigned before God, in the divine tribunal and to hear God’s verdict on our lives.
1. THE CHARGE BROUGHT AGAINST US.
Paul now restates the basic charge, and it is this, that “Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin” (v.9). Then Paul calls for witnesses, Mr. Throat, Mr. Tongue, Mr. Lips, Mr. Mouth, Mr. Feet, Mr. Eyes all speak up one by one and they say what they have heard and seen about us all. Then Paul concludes that it is obvious that there’s no one who can be declared righteous in God’s sight.
Paul lays out the charge this way: “What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin” (v.9). Who’s got the advantage in the eyes of God? Anyone? Do the Welsh have it? No. Do the Jews get a special dispensation from the Almighty? No. Is it some other group? Answer: No one is better off. We’re all sinners before God.
Paul is laying out the universality of sin. It has infected every part of the planet and every branch of the human race. No group is exempt. The Jews are guilty, the Gentiles are guilty, the moral man is guilty, the religious man is guilty. To make it more personal, the rich man is guilty—but so is the poor man. Lakeside, Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan where the well off reside are guilty – but so are the former Welsh mining Valleys which are amongst the poorest places in the UK. Men are guilty – but so are women. It matters not how you divide the human race, the nations influenced by Christianity, the nations influenced by Islam, the nations influenced by Hinduism, the nations influenced by Buddhism and the nations influenced by communism – all the people in all such nations all alike are found guilty before God. There is the hegemony of Emperor Sin. The rulers of the earth take counsel together against the Lord and against his anointed.
How are they, exactly? The key phrase is this, that they are “under sin.” It’s a military term that means to be under the authority of someone else. It was used for soldiers who were under the authority of a commanding officer. It means to be under the control of someone else or something else. In this case, it means that the human race is under the domination of sin. We are all part of the dominion of sin. Man outside of Christ is under the control of sin and he is helpless to escape from it. Sin speaks to every single person and says to them, “Do it your way!” “Yes,” they say. He tells them, “Ignore the Bible. Pretend that God doesn’t exist. Never pray. Don’t think about death and eternity. Change the conversation when a Christian starts to bear witness to you. Never go to church,” and because they are under sin’s rule they do what they’re told. Not that sin coerces us into doing what we don’t want to do, but sin makes us want to do what we ought to flee from – as if it were a growling rabies dog! All the world is deceived by sin, corrupted and blinded by its power. The attitudes and imaginations and actions that deserve the wrath of a sin-hating God we give vent to by nature. Paul calls us elsewhere “the children of disobedience” (Cols. 3:6). Who is our father? Mr. Disobedience. We are chips off the old block of defiance. It is not that we ‘do’ sins, but we are sinful by nature. We are under sin’s rule. Jesus Christ spoke to the men and women of Jerusalem and exhorted them to come to him, that he would spread out his wings and they would be absolutely safe under his protection, but they wouldn’t come. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem that refused to escape from being under sin to come under the care of this loving, gentle saving Lord! Men and women are not innocent victims of sin. We are rather co-conspirators with sin against God.
This is the number one problem for every one of us, and for the whole population of our town. Our problem is sin. It is not the symptom, but the disease itself. It is not merely the guilt that accumulates; it is the power it exercises over us. Any solution to the human predicament that does not deal with the sin question is like putting a sticking plaster on our chests over the heart whose valves are increasingly non-functioning.
2. THE PROOF PAUL BRINGS TO SUPPORT HIS DIAGNOSIS.
In the next few verses Paul lays out an appalling picture of the human race. He does it by stringing together a number of Old Testament passages. See how he says, “As it is written” in verse 10. You see the authority of Scripture? We are appealing to you to face up to your sin on the authority of what Paul writes here in the letter to the Romans. “Listen to God’s word,” I am saying to you. Paul is saying much the same to the congregation in Rome. They have not yet received any New Testament Scriptures, no gospels and no other letters. This is the first, but the Christian Jews did have their knowledge of Old Testament Scriptures, and even though the majority were Gentiles living in Italy the apostle wanted to establish in their minds a biblical attitude of trust and obedience. So he teaches them the problems of universal and total depravity from the word of God and that established his perspective beyond all disputation. Scripture is piled upon Scripture for cumulative effect: “The Bible says,” “The Bible says,” “The Bible says.” Eventually the point breaks through to even the hardest human heart. Sin has affected every person everywhere; we are all under the dominion and lordship of sin. Then he goes on to say that it has affected every part of every person.
Have you ever said, “I’m not so bad. In fact, I’m a pretty good person.” Let’s consider these verses and see how we feel! Where does the apostle begin?
i] There is the sin in our character (v.10), “There is no one righteous, not even one.” Here is God’s evaluation as he looks down from heaven. He doesn’t see a single righteous person – not even one. But how can this be? How can God look down at 7 billion people and not see even a solitary righteous man? Isn’t this an overly-harsh judgment? We all know some great people. We all have loved some fine men and women who weren’t Christians. Some are our dear relatives and we respect them greatly. What do we mean when we say that they are not ‘righteous’ men and women? They are hard-working, faithful in their marriages, have high moral standards, help out in voluntary work, are diligent in their vocations, good bosses and good work-mates. You go on a bus tour vacation to Spain and while you are there you get close for two weeks to a couple. You admire them and you enjoy their company very much; it was a happy holiday, but they reveal that never bother going to church. Aren’t they righteous people?
The answer is that God judges by a different standard than the one we use. Most of us are satisfied with relative values, in other words, we look at the late Jimmy Saville or a certain neighbour and we say, “Well, I’m certainly not as bad as him.” We compare ourselves with some relative whose behaviour makes us look good. But God doesn’t judge that way. When he looks down from heaven, the standard he uses is his own sinless perfection. He compares us to his own spotless holiness, his own steadfast love, his own wisdom, his own perfect justice which can bring every consideration into play as he sees us. And compared to God’s own perfection, there is no one—not even one person—who comes close to being righteous in his eyes. Where, then, will you find a righteous man on the earth? In Wales? No. In Scotland – they’ve got some canny people up there? No. In India where the holy men lie on beds of nails? No. In South Korea with its vital religion? No. In Saudi Arabia where there is Mecca? No. In Thailand with the Buddhist monks? No. In Israel among the Hassidic Orthodox Jews? No. In some religious survivalist group living by themselves in Wyoming? No. In the papacy in Rome? No. In a nunnery? No. Not one woman there. In a monastery? Nope. Is there anywhere in all the earth where we could find a truly righteous man? The answer is no. From the perfection of God and the standard set in heaven where they all do the will of God there isn’t a single righteous person the whole world over in the entire human race.
ii] There is the sin in our minds (v.11). “There is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.” Here is the ultimate truth about our condition. Not only are we sinful in our natures, but there is no one among us who understands what’s wrong, the plight of man and the reality of the power of God, that Jesus is God’s Son and the only Saviour. The world has to be reached with knowledge and truth. It needs to be informed. Then Paul adds that there is no one who truly seeks God. Men are evasive about the command of the gospel, “God commands all men everywhere to repent.” Men are evasive about the clear invitations, “Come unto me all ye who labour and are heavy-laden and I will give you rest.” What do we do? We bow our heads and nod sagely and kindly, “We’re seeking” we say, hoping that that will silence that persistent Mr. Evangelical. But we are not to be silenced. Silence is the speech of death. “Where are you seeking?” we ask them. “Are you seeking in India, or Nepal? Are you seeking in a granite monastery in Germany? Are you going to live alone on an island off the Welsh coast and seek there?” No you are not. The Lord is the good Shepherd and he comes seeking for us. He is seeking you in the reading of these words, in your attendance at a Christian gathering, in your attention to a Christian preacher. He is nigh you in the gospel message. It is a great sign that the hound of heaven is dogging your footsteps and is seeking for you. Left to oneself no one seeks God.
Paul does tell his listeners in Athens in a city full of altars and temples to seek God, in other words, to literally go down the streets of the Greek capital passing all the temples and altars and go looking for a worshipping community, a gospel church, where they might hear of God’s love in sending his Son, that whosoever believes in him might have eternal life. Seek for the best ministry! Seek for a church where Christ is loved. It is not a luxury to be where the offers of the gospel are made. You need the word of God. And if you are restless for the gospel and are going to meetings and visiting websites where Jesus is exalted then be encouraged, for it can only be because the Holy Spirit is working in a heart will you find such a response. Without that inner wooing of the Spirit, no one would ever come to Christ.
This helps explain why the world is so messed up. A Prime Minister who is confused about God will ultimately be confused about the ordinances God has made. Because he is confused about something as basic as marriage then the solutions he proposes will always be inadequate. His solutions are based on a faulty worldview, they will come to failure again and again. Write it down. A warped view of God leads to a warped view of the world and that leads to warped thinking which produces wrong ideas, empty solutions, and bad decisions. But it all starts in the mind; “There is no one who understands or seeks.”
iii] There is the sin in our activities (v.12). “All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” Sin is to miss the target. The master archer teaches his son how to shoot an arrow, holding his arm straight and pulling back the string with the arrow until it touches his lips and then to aim straight at the deer. God tells us what is the target, to have no other gods but him; to fall before no idol; not to take God’s name in vain; to keep the first day special; to honour your father and your mother; do no violence; avoid any sexual sin; do not steal or lie or covet. That is the way to aim straight in life, but “all have turned away” (v.12). The whole human race has turned away from God. Not one is heading for God to love him with all the heart and to love one’s neighbour as oneself. There is this total absence of goodness in mankind, and the result is total corruption.
Let’s be honest and say that even as we read these words, there is something in us that still may resist this harsh conclusion because of the kindness and affection we’ve all received from grand people who’re not Christians. Verse 12 tells us that when God looks down from heaven, he sees a race of people who’ve become “worthless.” You understand what I’m saying? God looks for the love and delight that he gets in heaven down here amongst the nations of the earth, but it as different here as a morgue is from a happy family. No one here is loving God the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. We are like a cluster of old bananas, going brown and soft. We have all “gone bad” in the eyes of God. Concerning doing good – there is no one! Concerning indifference to God – everyone!
This is the most damning indictment of all. All have turned away, like an axle that goes out of alignment and as we steer we have to fight it. All men have an inborn tendency to move away off the path of God’s choosing. You know what Isaiah says in chapter 53, “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own path.” George Frederick Handel picked those words up and he used them in the Messiah and he set the words to a rollicking tune as they all sing in a jig, “All we like sheep . . . have gone astray . . . we have turned to his own way” bouncing merrily along as though they were hikers. No one, alas, is on the right path, no one does what is good; everyone does what is evil.
It is important to understand Paul’s perspective in saying these things. Is he suggesting that there is absolutely no one who does any good in any sense at all? No, he’s not saying that. No one is as bad as he could be, or as he will be. Nelson Mandela was a far better person than the local man who killed little April Jones. Thank God, there is such a thing as the milk of human kindness. Some people are incredibly evil while others seem almost saintly. It would be pointless to deny that truth. Then how do you reconcile the obvious moral differences among people with the sweeping conclusions of this 12th verse? The answer lies in the basic difference between relative and absolute goodness. In the sense of absolute perfection, there is no one who does good. No human being could ever meet that standard. Within the boundaries of human nature, however, some people are much “better” and some are much “worse
Perhaps an illustration will help. Let’s suppose that you took a boat ride out into Cardigan Bay. When the boat gets half a mile offshore, you turn to gaze at the Aberystwyth skyline. Seen from a horizontal perspective, the skyline is quite dramatic – you see the Cliff Railway and the Camera Obscure, the National Library and the University buildings up Penglais Hill and there are hundreds of other smaller buildings. As you look from Cardigan Bay, it’s easy to pick out the tallest buildings.
Now let’s suppose that you were flying from Birmingham to Dublin at 35,000 feet. When you are directly over Aberystwyth, you look out of your window at the town. What do you see? From that vertical perspective, all the buildings look flat to you. The National Library of Wales seems no taller than the railway station. What makes the difference? Perspective. When we judge relative goodness, we’re looking from the horizontal perspective. Seen in that light, there really is a difference between Mother Teresa and the Yorkshire Ripper. But when God looks down from heaven, our relative human goodnesses disappear. Sin “levels” the human race so that when we are compared to God’s infinite perfection, Paul’s conclusion in verse 12 is correct: “There is no one who does good, not even one.”
What is the conclusion? There are no redeeming features in the human race. Not in the so-called “good person” nor in the evil law-breaker. From God’s standpoint, both are wholly corrupt.
iv] There is the sin of our lips (vv.13-14). Paul now shows how sin has infected the various parts of the human body, starting with the organs of speech. “Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.” The apostle is using four different words for the various organs of speech—throats, tongues, lips, mouths – each one showing how thoroughly sin affects the things we say. Our speech is …
Corrupt—Throats an open grave
Deceitful—Tongues practice deceit
Uncharitable—Poison of vipers on our lips
Blasphemous—Mouths full of cursing and bitterness.
Why does he spend so much time describing our organs of speech? Because sin is seen most often in our words. Jesus himself said, “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34). Whatever is in the heart will eventually come out. One translation of the first part of verse 13 reads like this, “Their talk is foul and filthy like the stench of an open grave.” Our speech has the smell of death about it. Our words reflect the state of spiritual death inside us. Is this why we talk about “dirty” jokes and “gutter language” and is it a coincidence that so many of our “dirty” words have to do with human excrement and perverted sex? Isn’t this a reflection of the decay inside the human heart?
Why do sinners love “dirty” talk and double entendres and lacing their speech with blasphemies? Why do children love trash talk? Because inside your heart is a rotting corpse, and the stench of it comes out of your mouth. There was a time when I would listen to comedians, especially those who came from Liverpool. How witty they were, but today you can’t listen to comedians on television. Filthy language and four letter words are necessary for so-called funny men today.
v] There is the sin of our feet (vv.15-17). Here are verses that well describe the contemporary U.K.. “Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.” In the UK today killing the innocent is perfectly legal. Please read Dr. John Ling’s new book entitled Bioethical Issues. Understanding and Responding to the Culture of Death (DayOne). Read at least the opening chapter on the culture of death in which we and our children live our lives. In 1990 our parliament sanctioned the creation and use of human unborn children for infertility treatment and for research purposes. As a result some 250,000 embryos are created in the UK each year and at least 50 per cent of these are deliberately destroyed, ‘discarded’ or allowed to perish. That is one country. In all the world the number killed each year in that way runs into the millions. There are also constant campaigns to legalize the termination of the lives of the elderly in what is known as euthanasia. In England and Wales in 2011 31,000 girls under 18 conceived and almost half of their pregnancies ended in abortion. One in every four women in Great Britain has had an abortion, and since the Abortion Act of 1967 the number of legal abortions carried out here has been well over seven million, more than all the people killed in all the wars in British history. “They that hate me love death.” One hundred per cent of us in this congregation are going to die. Every day in England and Wales 1,360 people die. Life is cheap in the UK, but funerals are expensive. Violence is all around us. In this month of May so far a teacher has been stabbed to death in her class room. Two teenage girls have been expelled from their school for attempting to poison their teacher. Mark it down. Wherever man goes, sin soon follows. Death and destruction follow his steps as night follows day. And the Scripture comments on the misery and dis-peace that this brings to a million lives; “ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.” That is the fruit of the culture of death.
vi] There is the sin of our eyes (v.18). “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” This is Paul’s final indictment. They care nothing about God or what God thinks about them. Why is that true? Because when men reject God, they lose everything. No fear of God simply means living as if God did not exist, and believing that at death one is going to be snuffed out however you have lived, so let us eat, drink and be merry because tomorrow we die, and that is the exact state of millions of people today. They aren’t atheists per se, but they might as well be. They are practical atheists, living as if God did not exist. They ignore his ways, flout his commands, disregard his word and violate his statutes. For them, God might as well not exist, so little thought do they give to him.
3. ALL MEN CAN THUS BE DESCRIBED AS TOTALLY DEPRAVED.
When you take these six statements together, they become the most damning indictment imaginable: Sin in our Character; Sin in our Mind; Sin in our Heart; Sin in our Lips; Sin in our Feet; Sin in our Eyes. Sin has infected and affected every part of our being. There is no part of any of us that can be described as a sin-free zone. To say that man is totally depraved is not to say that he is as bad as he can be or will be, but it means that sin has affected every part of his being – his mind, his emotions, his conscience, his capacity to evaluate and report and judge, his will, his intellect, his moral reasoning, his decision making, his words and his deeds. No part of man’s being is exempt from the debilitating effects of sin. Someone put it like this, “If sin were blue, we’d be blue all over.” Part would be dark blue, part would be sky blue, part would be light blue, but every part would be blue in one shade or another.
Our depravity means that there are the evil seeds of every kind of wickedness are inside us all, a seed may lie dormant for years and then suddenly germinate without warning, and we are in trouble. Many people are offended at the somber diagnosis of God’s word, many educationalists and psychologists and singers and writers. They may not deny that they are sinners but they are convinced that their sin isn’t bad enough for God to condemn them to hell. What they don’t understand is that any sin is wholly unacceptable to God. Let’s suppose we invited you to the Men’s Breakfast one Saturday soon, and some of the deacons were cooking omelets. There in the church kitchen on the counter were several mounds of chopped onions, green peppers, ham and sliced mushrooms. Nearby was a bowl of grated cheese. While you waited in the schoolroom the deacons reached into the refrigerator for the eggs. To their shock they discover that we were fifteen men, but they had only a dozen eggs, and then it got worse, two of the eggs were rotten. There wasn’t time to go to the Spar and get fresh eggs so those cooks said to one another, “No one will notice. We’ll just mix the rotten ones in with the good ones.” In a few minutes when they were serving the omelets, you began sniffing the air. “What’s that funny smell?” “Oh, don’t worry about that. A couple of the eggs had gone off, but we just mixed them in with all the rest.” Would you chew and swallow that omelet? No, you wouldn’t. You have too much respect for the effects of Salmonella Enteritidis.
Neither will God accept your life when you let your sin be stirred into your good works. Just as the stench of rotten eggs would make the whole omelet putrid, even so the stench of your pride completely cancels out the value of your good works. I am saying that these verses before us show us all the extent of our sin. It has so invaded our lives that any attempt to please God on our own is doomed to failure. God won’t accept your life when sin is inter-mingled with your good works. You life is a mess. What have we seen here?
i] Sin has ruined our relationship with God. We are rebels against God. We do not fear him and we are not seeking him. We have marginalized God and are ignoring him. We have no fear for the infinite and omnipotent holy God who made us and gave us life and will one day judge us. Sin is not principally about doing bad things to other people. You’ve been very decent towards others but you’ve ignored the God who has blessed you all your life through. You don’t seek him, don’t fear him and don’t want to know him. So it doesn’t matter what you do for people when you are treating the King of the universe with such disdain.
ii] Sin has certainly ruined your relationship with people. Paul talks here of our tongues deceiving people, those who trust us and love us, those we depend on, and we’ve deceived them. And there are others and we have poisoned their lives and made them bitter people. They wish they’d never met us. Under pressure we retaliate with bluster and cursing.
iii] Sin, even the worst crime, can be forgiven. The best news in all the world is that the God we have treated so badly has made a way by which he can forgive us while remaining holy and light and hating sin. The entire book of Romans and the whole Bible and Christianity declares that God in his mercy has made a way of salvation from sin, from its domination, its guilt, and its reward.
If today you will believe in Jesus Christ, turning from your sin and trusting in him, then his knowledge will replace your foolishness, and his virtue replace your defilement and his sacrifice obtain your forgiveness. All that will happen if you entrust yourself to him as your Lord and live for him, and by his grace day by day. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. If you renounce all forms of self-justification, and self-salvation, believing right into him, then the very righteousness of God will be yours as a gift, and replace your unrighteousness for which the Lamb of God died on the cross to pardon. I beg and beseech you, on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God. Trust in him for his great salvation.
10th May 2014 GEOFF THOMAS