Feb 26, 2023


God’s Invitation to Grace ❧ Part 19

Romans 3:9-20 ❧ Pastor, Dr. John Denney

There is a popular belief today that is pervasive in our society and in our world that says people are basically good and that belief is constantly being reinforced by psychologists, counselors even so-called religious leaders. The question I have is that if people are so good then why is the world so bad? Someone is not telling the truth. But the Bible tells us that all have sinned, and all have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:32). 

One of my favorite stories I read years ago is about a Dr. Howard from Australia who preached powerfully and unapologetically on the subject of sin. When the service was finished one of the church leaders came to the pastor’s study. “Doctor Howard,” he said, “we don’t want you to talk so candidly about man’s guilt and corruption, because our children, our boys and our girls, hear you discussing that subject they will more easily become sinners. Call a mistake if you will, but don’t speak so plainly about sin.” The wise pastor took down a small bottle from a shelf and showing it to the visitor said, “Do you see that label? It says strychnine – and underneath in bold, red letters the word ‘poison.’ Now I want to ask you, do you realize what you’re suggesting me to do? You advise that I change the label. Suppose I do, and paste over it the words, ‘essence of peppermint’; do you see what might happen? Someone would use it, not knowing the danger, and would certainly die. It is the same with the matter of sin. The more harmless you make the label, the more dangerous you make the poison!”  Most people don’t have a problem believing in sin. The problem is they don’t believe in it enough.  They’re too casual about it. Truth be known, we’re all too casual about sin.  

The Bible tells us what we already know about sin but don’t want to admit.  Like a man who knows there is something terribly wrong going on inside him, but he refuses to go the doctor.  Every day he wakes up and is reminded he’s not feeling right, but he shuts it out of his thoughts and goes about his day acting as though everything is fine.  He tells himself that if he ignores whatever this is, it will go away. It’s not that serious.  Besides, he thinks going to the doctor costs money and takes time, neither of which he has. And when did going to the doctor ever bring good news anyhow? So, not wanting to hear bad news, he ignores his condition and avoids the doctor. But all he imagines is the doctor giving him bad news.  The same doctor who gives him bad news is the same doctor who may very well provide a way of healing.  

This morning, as we open God’s Word, its as though we’re going to the doctor.  You probably won’t like what you hear.  It’s very unpopular.  In most circles it is highly offensive.  God is going to expose the dark side of our humanity. I want to remind you these are not my words, but God’s.  What you’re going to hear comes from God’s Word and He is not going to mince His words.  But God’s purpose is not to leave us as He found us. He has good news for us as well.  So, let’s save ourselves a lot of time by being honest with ourselves and with God. The sooner we are, the sooner we can get on to the good news.  So, God has some bad news and some good news. In Romans 3:9-21God exposes the dark side of our humanity showing us: 1) The charge of our sin, 2) The conduct of our sin, & 3) The consequence of our sin. 

  1. The charge of our sin. What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; 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.” (Roman 3:9-12). Paul wraps up all humanity in one lump sum saying, “We’re all under sin.  It doesn’t matter who you are, Jew or Greek (Gentile), religious, non-religious, moral, or immoral. We’re all under sin.” (“None” 4x’s, “Not even one” 2x’s. “All” 2x’s. Meaning: zero exceptions. All are charged with sin). 

What does it mean all are under sin? The word “under” literally means to be dominated by the authority and control of.  Paul described the nation of Israel under the Law as that of a schoolboy under the authority of a schoolmaster in Galatians 3:25.  In 1 Timothy 6:1 Paul says slaves were under the yoke of their master’s.  Paul says we’re all under the authority and control of sin.  He doesn’t say sins plural, but sin singular.  He’s making an important point here.  We’re under the authority and control of sin – that is we are dominated by a fundamentally evil dynamic; a cruel tyrant who has imprisoned humanity in guilt and judgement.  

Recently someone gave me a book titled, “Hell, (a guide).”  Catchy title.  I have to admit I was a little concerned when they first gave it to me! The book is written by author Anthony DeStefano who does a solid job of portraying a solid biblical picture of Hell.  His first chapter is entitled: “The Starting Point of Our Trip.”  He tells his readers the place to begin talking about Hell is not Hell itself, but “the state of our own souls.”  To understand Hell you must first connect it with evil since Hell is the final destination of evil people (DeStefano, pp. 1-2). No reasonable person denies the existence of evil. “The great masses of humanity have always known: evil exists and is all around us, even inside us, and there are no words to adequately describe how unbelievably vicious, violent, twisted, and abominable it can be.”  We see it in both the ancient and modern world.  In fact, if we thought the ancient world was filled with evil, we’d better think again. The most monstrous evil in the world has taken place in recent, more civilized, times. Between the years of 1900 and 2020, more than 150 million people were brutally butchered by totalitarian dictators and their regimes (p. 4).  The twentieth century and the twenty-first centuries reveal that for all the hype of things getting better, man is not evolving, he’s in fact devolving.  

DeStefano closes the chapter saying, “To understand the evil monsters who inhabit the bowels of Hell, you must first get in touch with the evil monsters inside your soul.” (DeStefano, p.12). He took the words right out of Paul’s mouth. That is exactly what Paul meant when he said, “all are under sin.”  Let’s be honest, all of us know what it means to be dominated by evil. They could be outbursts of anger, consuming bitterness, lapses into sexual sins, drinking binges, bouts of gluttony, lying, selfishness. DeStefano turns on a search light of honesty inside of each one of us saying, “Think about how many times you indulged in this behavior. Think the times you reveled in it.  Think about how many times you have resolved to do better or to change and yet, the second you encountered even the tiniest temptation, you slithered back into the mud” (DeStefano, p. 9).  Paul says all of us, without exception, are under the cruel and inescapable dominating power of sin.   

But Paul is not making this charge on his own. He bases it on God’s Word.  Beginning in v.10 he is going to string together seven supporting quotes from the OT.  Together they form a topical message on sin with fourteen Heavenly indictments or counts against humanity.  This was a rabbinical method of teaching called Charaz (literally stringing pearls).  We do the same thing today.  To get a handle on this litany of indictments, Vv. 10-12 point to the character of our sin. Vv. 13-17 The conduct of our sin. V. 18 The cause of our sin. And Vv. 19-20 The Consequence of our sin. 

In Vv. 10-12 Paul points to passages that reveal the character of sin. “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.”  this God says is the character of your sin. No one is righteous, no one understands, no one seeks God, all have turned aside, all have become useless like sour milk, not one does good, not even one. These are not the words of man but the words of God the ultimate judge against all humanity.

Someone might disagree and say I seek God. Or they might say I do good. How can you say no one does good. Only God can say there is none righteous because God is not measuring righteousness by our standard, but His. We measure good by others.  Paul measures good by God.  He is the only true criterion of rightness.  In the same way there is and can only be one magnetic North and that all other points of the compass find their identity in relationship to North, so righteousness is found solely in the character of God.”  There are people “heading south from God’s north…(and) other people stray from the north in as many directions as there are points on a compass (Briscoe, p.78). The point is no one does right all the time. I’m not always right. You’re not always right. Only God is always right. And that is what Paul is saying. Look at your neighbor and say, “I’m not right all the time.” Now, I know some of you are surprised by this, but it is true. God’s charge against us for our sin is supported through the evidence of our character that falls short of the perfect character of God in whose image we were made.

  1. The conduct of our sin. 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.” (Romans 3:13-17).  In these verses Paul talks about our speech. He describes four organs associated with speech — “throat, tongue, lips, mouth.” our speech gives away the dark power of sin that lurks in our hearts.

Sometimes when you go to the doctor for a checkup, he says stick out your tongue. Why does he do that? Because by looking at your throat he can diagnose your help. Paul says that’s what God does spiritually for us. God says, “Stick out your tongue let Me see what you’ve been saying. Let’s see what you’ve been talking about and I can tell you what your heart is like.” The living Bible translates verse 13 as, “Their talk is foul and filthy like the stench from an open grave. Their tongues are loaded with lies everything they say has the sting and poison of deadly snakes.”This is a quote from Psalm 140:3. It’s pretty obvious what he’s saying here. The things we say can poison bring to the lives of others.  James 3:5 tells us that the tongue is a spark that can set a whole forest on fire. You have in the power of your tongue the ability to build up or tear down. Many of you live every day with memories whether good or bad of things people have told you that have been burned into the hard drive of your memory. And the wounds they have left in your life can only be healed with God’s help.

Next, he says their feet are swift to shed blood, destruction and misery are in their paths, in the path of peace they have not known. Paul is describing a crime scene from the nightly news.  It is hard to believe Paul penned these words two-thousand years ago!  The dark side of humanity has not improved with time.  It has gotten worse. I want to ask those who believe the world is getting better and better, how? 

  1. The consequence of our sin. 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 (Romans 3:18-20).  The final pearl Paul strings together is there is no fear of God before their eyes. There is no fear of the consequences of sin.  No fear that one day they will give an account of their lives before the One who made them.   Yet, God plainly says, all people accountable to Him. You did not make yourself.  You are accountable to the One who made you. 

Recently I had a conversation with an older man about the jolting speed with which our world had changed in the past few years.  I was particularly interested in what he had to say since I knew he is committed to not becoming a Christian or having anything to do with Christ. Though he is a very congenial man, he doesn’t believe in God and wants nothing to do with Him.  He jokingly shared that getting old wasn’t so bad when you realize old age only lasts for a little while and then you die.  Nothing will matter then.  You cease to exist.  There is no fear of God. 

I thought, how strange – and how sad!  But the Bible says one day he’ll stand before God’s judgement seat, and he will not be able to utter a word in his own defense.  How I pray that day does not come for him! How I pray he turns to Christ before it is too late!  The only difference between those in Hell and those in Heaven is grace.  

Paul says everyone who rejects Christ will be judged under the law. The law was never given to save a life but to reveal the sinfulness of sin.  Just look at the Ten Commandments.  No one has kept all ten.  James 2:9 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. We’ve broken some of them multiple times. But one would be enough.  It only takes one leak to sink a boat.  It only takes one pen to pop a balloon. Martin Luther “The principal point of the Law is not to make men better but make men worse. That is to say it shows them their sin. That by the knowledge thereof they may be humbled, terrified, bruised, and broken. And by this means driven to seek grace and so come to that blessed Seed [that is Christ].”  

There are many today who don’t want to hear about the dark side of our humanity – the terminal disease called sin. But that is like going to a doctor who knows you have something terribly wrong but doesn’t tell you.  If there is something wrong, you want the truth! The only One who can heal us of our sin and its horrifying consequences is the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Great Physician in whom we can find healing, hope, and a new life.  He is the only One who can free us from our sin and give us the peace we long for in our souls.  Not many chapters from now in the book of Romans, Paul is going to say, Having been justified by faith, we now have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ(Romans 5:1).  Jesus alone can break the power of sin in our lives and free us from our guilt before God.  Only through a personal relationship with Him can we find healing and eternal life.  He does not tell us how bad off we are and then abandon us in our sin-fallen condition.  He invites us to believe in Him, ask Him to forgive us, and receive His gift of forgiveness and new life. 

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