With Dale Ratzlaff
We pick up our study in Romans 3:10-20.
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 THEY HAVE 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, so 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.
This is perhaps one of the most condemning passages regarding human nature found in Scripture. Paul has previously shown that gentiles, moralists and Jews are all under condemnation. Then, we might ask, why keep beating a dead horse? His purpose is to show that his previous statements can be supported by the Old Testament Scriptures. In context these quotes refer to the natural condition of both gentiles and Jews, whether they are believers or unbelievers. Yes, and we were all unbelievers at one time. We were all in desperate need of God’s mercy and grace. In our natural condition, however, we all fit this description until we are convicted of our sin and fall on God’s mercy. I found it helpful to highlight Paul’s description of sinful mankind by highlighting his key ideas and listing illustrations of how they may apply in our culture today.
- “Their throat is an open grave”. Talk about “bad breath”! The way this is written in Greek indicates an open tomb that remains open, allowing the putrid smell of death to permeate the air. Rotting flesh is probably the worst smell one can experience. I am told that rotting human flesh, the very smell of death, is the worst of the worst. Obviously, Paul is using these physical characteristics to portray spiritual realities. Later in Romans 5:12 Paul will say, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.”
- “With their tongues the keep deceiving”. One of the tactics used by the enemy and those on the side of darkness is repeated deception. Most of us have heard the maxim, “Tell a lie often enough and long enough and people will sooner or later accept it for the truth.” Most of us could give specific examples of either people we have known or people in politics who “keep deceiving”. This is the tactic Satan uses continually. Jesus told the unbelieving Jews of His day, “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (Jn. 8:44).
- “The poison of asps is under their lips”. This is a picture of deadly, hidden deception. Poisonous snakes hide their fangs out of sight until they are ready to strike. “For the lips of an adulteress drip honey and smoother than oil is her speech; but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death, her steps take hold of Sheol” (Pro. 5:3-5).
- Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness” This is more than an occasional bad word spoken, perhaps when a person hits his thumb instead of the nail. Rather it is describing the person who has a foul mouth continually spouting out obscenity, vulgarity and filth.
- “Their feet are swift to shed blood”. I write this the day after two ISIS terrorists attacked two churches on Palm Sunday in Egypt killing 44 and injuring more than 100 all in the name of their god, Allah.
- “Destruction and misery are in their paths”. Last week we watched the results of Sarin gas being dropped on innocent people including small children. We ask ourselves, “How could a leader of a country do this to his own people?” There is no answer other than the sinful core of human nature.
- “The path of peace they have not known”. It seems there are so many illustrations of warring factions that could be referenced as illustrations. History is filled with war. And today as I write this, it seems that there are so many places in our world that desperately need peace but are belligerent, threatening, and ready to detonate weapons of mass destruction.
- “There is no fear of God before their eyes”. Here is the root of self-centered wickedness. It is also the reason our social fabric is rapidly deteriorating. There seems to be a certain competition in those who write the popular song lyrics, each rushing to outdo the other in poking disdain toward anything moral, righteous, and good.
In summary we have a graphic picture we might call “human depravity”. While we may not be as bad as we could be, yet every aspect of our being has been negatively affected by sin. I think this is the point Paul is making by listing the various aspects of human anatomy. History, as far back as we can trace, is a jaded book filled with unthinkable descriptions of the worst inhumane treatment imaginable. Yes, there are times, usually when society seeks to follow God’s moral principles, that righteousness appears to be taking root. Soon, however, the depravity of our fallen nature reasserts itself again.
The last two verses of our passage read,
“Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so 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.”
This verse has been interpreted in various ways. Years ago, I used to use this verse to prove that the law was given in Eden. My reasoning went like this. The Bible says that “sin is transgression of the law” (1 Jn. 3:4 KJV). Couple that with the statement of Paul above that the law only deals with those under the law. To that add so that “all the world may become accountable to God”. Therefore, if all the people of the world are sinners, and sin is only present under the law, then the law must be present from Eden.
The above reasoning makes good “proof-text” sense. However, my continued study of Romans has proven to me that is not what Paul is saying. Rather, the Jews held that at least some of their notable ancestors lived without sin. The Prayer of Manasseh, an apocryphal book probably written in the first century BC reads in part,
Thou therefore, O Lord, that art the God of the just, hast not appointed repentance to the just, as to Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, which have not sinned against thee.
The Jews had no problem believing in “human depravity” in reference to the “Gentile dogs”. Paul in his letter to the Romans has already clearly shown in the first two chapters that the Gentiles are under condemnation as are the Moralists. Now, listing the passages we have bullet pointed above from the Old Testament, he shows that even those who live under the law have not one word to justify themselves. Now “every mouth”—even the most self-righteous Jews, including their revered ancestors, stand guilty. He leaves no room for law-keepers to claim righteousness.
…because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.
‘This theology is worked out over and over again in Paul’s letters. The law was (and is) not designed to develop righteousness, but was designed to point out sin and drive us to the gospel.
These passages dealing with the overwhelming evidence of human depravity, documented from history, experience, and Scripture, are necessary to show our need for the gospel. In much of our culture today, God is no longer considered. God’s moral principles are being attacked starting in pre-school through higher learning. Even some of the cartoon characters kids are watching promote homosexuality and gay marriage. Moving up through higher learning, students are taught that there are no universal moral principles. Good and evil are personally defined. Personal responsibility has been replaced with trying to find some excuse for bad behavior. If there were ever a time that we all needed to understand the sinfulness of our human condition it is now. May God’s Spirit open our hearts to see our need, to cry out in repentance and turn toward our only hope of salvation in Jesus Christ.
Father, may I always realize my human condition as a sinful child of Adam. May that realization turn me (which is the definition of repentance) toward the good news that Christ has taken my place as a sinner so that I may take His place as righteousness. I accept anew my desire and determination to trust in Christ alone for His mercy and grace, so that I may bask in the full knowledge of who I am “in Christ.”